The Ups and Downs of Telecommuting

March 3, 2010 at 6:53 PM | Posted in Board, Community Partners, Development | 6 Comments

cartoon by Doug Savage

Not many people enjoy commuting. They may love their jobs, but the daily roundtrip to and from the office can wear a person down after a while. If you’ve ever been in rush hour traffic on Lee Highway, Arlington Boulevard, the 66, or heaven forbid the beltway, then you understand all too well what I’m talking about. Luckily for me, my commute is only a few seconds long. Google maps may put the trip at 2,817 miles, but I’m traveling at the speed of electrons, so that distance is covered in the blink of an eye. I’m the grants and publications specialist for the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, and I live in San Francisco.

I’ve been with the Literacy Council since the summer of 2005, when I lived in Fairfax and attended graduate school at George Mason University. But since late 2007, I’ve been living in San Francisco and commuting via the internet every day of the work week. Though my job has remained the same, my experience of it (and my coworkers’ experience of me) has changed since I began e-commuting. There are benefits and drawbacks to an arrangement such as this. The key to making it work is accentuating the former and minimizing the latter.

So what are the benefits? One is the retention of institutional knowledge and accumulated expertise, which is fancy talk for this simple fact: the longer you stay in a job, the more you know how stuff gets done. And knowing how stuff gets done means you can do it more quickly and efficiently than someone who doesn’t. I speak from experience; when I first joined the Council, I scrambled for a while—not because the way things were done didn’t make sense but because they were new to me. We’ve all been through it. You start a new job, and it takes some time to get up to speed. Examples of the institutional knowledge I’ve gained (or contributed to) while working with the Council would include my familiarity with the language and statistics we use in the 100+ proposals we submit each year to secure funding for our educational programs. It would also include the relationships I’ve developed with parties outside our organization such as the salesman and pre-press workers at the various print shops we deal with and the points of contact at some of our key donors. And it would definitely include the relationships between me and my coworkers, which brings me to the potential drawbacks.

It can be a challenge maintaining the spirit of collaboration and solidarity that arises quite naturally when you work in the same physical space as your coworkers. If you’ve ever been to the Literacy Council’s office in Falls Church, you know how open the setting is, how conducive it is to sharing information and fostering a sense of common purpose. Most of our desks are out in the open. There are no walls or doors separating most of us, and as a result some very productive discussions arise, and a lot of valuable ideas get shared.

We’ve tried to simulate this through conference calls and IMing (real time text communication over the internet). While IMing does provide the same basic information sharing function as face-to-face speech, there’s just no substitute for actually being face-to-face. It’s a common occurrence at the LCNV office: two or three people are discussing something—a program development or a way to track statistics—and then someone else joins in the conversation with some new ideas, and before you know it a solution has materialized out of an unplanned meeting of the minds. It’s exciting stuff. Plus I just plain miss my coworkers. They’re some of the most intelligent, dedicated, and fun people I’ve ever worked with.

All in all, e-commuting is going well, and I think all parties involved have benefitted from the arrangement. Back in ’07, I when I decided to return to California, where I was born and raised and where my parents, whom I love dearly and who aren’t getting any younger, still live, I had assumed that I would have to resign a job that I’d come to enjoy and respect. So when our Executive Director suggested working remotely, I was flattered by the offer and glad to give it a shot. But I shouldn’t have been surprised by the idea. That’s one thing I’ve come to expect from the Literacy Council—people facing new challenges with creativity and resolve.

~Matt Kollmeyer, Grants and Publications Specialist

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6 Comments

  1. AWESOME. We are lucky to have you, Matt.

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  2. Matt – we miss seeing you too, but we’re glad you’ve been able to stay with us, even remotely!

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  3. Come and visit anytime!

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  4. Am I the grim reaper? Is that what the cartoon suggests? And if so, do you really want me to come visit? 😉 I miss you guys, too.

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    • we’re so happy to still have you!

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  5. […] Staff | Leave a Comment Tags: announcement, conference, networking My most recent (and first) blog post addressed the rewards and challenges of working remotely for the Literacy Council, which I’ve […]

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