Telecommuting -


Last week CIO magazine ran an article titled: “GettingClueful: Seven Things the CIO Should Know About Telecommuting. ” It's a short and pithy piece thatcontains some excellent advice for any boss who is either reluctant totry telecommuting, and for those flirting with a pilot program.

Telecommuting, for both workers and bosses, is hard, is doomed tofail when not carefully managed, yet can yield some phenomenal returns.When successful the entire organization wins: home workers are moreproductive, the company saves overhead costs, and those left in theoffice suffer fewer distractions.

The article claims that telecommuters are more productive withoutoffering any supporting evidence. For that read “Peopleware:Productive Projects and Teams,” by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister.The authors' decade of experiments with programmers showed thatprogrammers who work with minimal interruptions are much moreproductive than those without.

The best 25% were nearly three times as productive as the worst 25%.Unfortunately DeMarco and Lister don't break the data down more finely,but given those results for the top and bottom quartiles, it's prettyclear that the top 5 or 10% must have a staggering productivityadvantage as the worst performers.

Many other researchers have replicated their results. The conclusionis that for complex mental tasks like programming, interruptions arethe primary productivity killers. We build an intricate mental model ofour task which collapses into pieces when the PA blares some inaneannouncement, a coworker answers his phone, or a well-meaning butmisguided associate stops by the cubicle and to ask where the coffeefilters went.

Disciplined telecommuters insulate themselves from interruptions,and thus can work extremely efficiently. Even if one were not able toobtain the DeMarco and Lister numbers, and “only” managed a 2x boost,that means the manager gets two folks for the price of one.

Home distractions can be plenty alluring, too. The TV, fridge, kidsand dog all vie for one's attention. But, with some restraint and awell-planned office the worker has nearly complete control of thosesorts of interruptions. At the office they come in asynchronously anduncontrollably.

Yet few embedded developers telecommute. Reasons are many. Most arebogus. Sure, meetings are important, social interaction is a criticalpart of most jobs (and lives) and, yes, we must be available for theboss.

Though perhaps it's impossible to work from home 20 days a month,most of us could manage a day a week. In that one day we'll skip thegrueling commute, probably put in more than the requisite 8 hours, anddo a couple of days' worth of work.

It's true that sometimes the need for expensive lab equipment bindsus to the office. So at least while debugging this may be, in somecases, an insurmountable problem.

Do you telecommute? Why or why not? Would you like to?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embeddeddevelopment issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helpscompanies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .

If your job can be telecommuted, then it can be off-shored!

– Ken Wada

For regular work we need emulator, hardware & other stuff which we cant take home….

– Abhijeet Ghandi

In addition, working from home also saves your time (by skipping that sometimes long commute) your money (have you notice the price of gas lately?), and probably your life (that drive to/from work can be pretty stressful…less stress = longer life).With respect to the need for hardware at home, the company I used to work for had all of this equipment connected to a dedicated PC (target, JTAG, logic analyzer, scope, etc) in the lab that we could sit in front of, but most of the time we either ran a VNC session from our cube or from home and did it all remotely.

– Bill Brown

If you work on military projects, you usually can't telecommute due to the security requirements of protecting classified information. I'll grant you that access to the end product is not needed during most of development, but access to documents and computers has to be controlled throughout. That almost always means working in a facility within fences, and access to the Internet is limited.

– Bob Charles

This is very true and classic example is myself only 🙂

I used to work for a company in bay area which provided me the infrastructure like remote power APC, a serial switch and board connected to serial server to work on. All the infrastructure was present in San Jose. Sitting in Bangalore, I have developed bsp and ported linux on the board in Santa Clara. The only thing which I needed was a high speed internet connection and VPN access. Company has saved a considerable amount of money. And off course, it was a win-win situation for both of us 🙂

I think telecommuting will become the need of the future. Since when you find the talent distributed geographically, it is not possible every time to bring them to your workplace. Since we may need that talent only for short duration. So doesn't make sense to spend money in bringing them on board and get the job done always. This will bring the world more closer and coarse too 🙂

– Sagar Borikar

Telecommuting certainly has its good points, but providing good working conditions like freedom from interruptions shouldn't be among them! Having worn a variety of hats myself and being a fan of “Peopleware”, it always takes me aback that engineers often work (unpaid) at home and nights only to get productive working conditions.

– David Boyes

I normally work from home, but have to go into the office occasionally. My 28-mile trip regularly take me about 90 minutes each way. That's an 3 hours/day wasted! Sheesh! Telecommuting is the best alternative.

– Rich Nass

One of the biggest obstacles to being productive in my work is the large amount of distractions in my working environment. All of the ones mentioned in the article are applicable. I have even had people holding conferences right in the entry way to my cubicle, or a project engineer in the cubicle next door who spends all day on the phone, or someone transacting personal business over the phone on the other side of the cubicle wall. Everyone in the vicinity can easily hear these conversations, which compete for your thinking and problem solving time. In addition, I could save significantly on commuting costs if allowed to work from home at least part time. This has been true my whole career of 25+ years working for various companies in various industries.

Although the corporation I currently work for has an official telecommuting policy, the decision to allow working at home for any length of time rest with the individual managers and supervisors. When I've suggested the idea to my immediate superiors, they usually look at me cross-eyed and laugh or try to come up with half-baked reasons for why it won't work. They are pretty much still operating under a post WWII management paradigm.

However, if I were a woman with children, I could pull it off, since a woman in our group currently has been granted that privilege. Also, physically challenged people find it easy to get permission to telecommute. So, I guess the message is that if you are a white male who is not physically challenged, you're more valuable to the company working inefficiently and wasting environmental resources, even though our company claims to be environmentally conscious.

– Dan Robinson

I would love to telecommute and as far as being checked, letting my boss see my screen remotly and having a web cam would not bug me.

I think working from home is still perceived as a vacation, while in fact the Saturdays i had to work from home were super productive.

– Alexandre Debernard

As an embedded systems consultant, I essentially telecommute with my customers — as most of them are not local. On a recent project, we had developers in 4 different places. We used a common TRAC/SVN system to keep everyone in sync with what was going on. As systems get more complex, it will become more difficult to find people with the right skills locally. Successful companies of the future (especially the small, mid-size ones) will be the ones who know how to find the right people, and how to connect them no matter where they are.

– Cliff Brake

I have telecommuted for the past 6 years. I go to the company office one day each week. It's about an hour drive.

The biggest thing you need is the discipline to “be at work”. Set a schedule for yourself and make yourself AND anyone else around respect that you are “at work.”

– Tim McDonough

In response to Ken Wada —

Ken, having seen numerous excellent comments by you on this board, I hope you aren't suggesting that we manipulate our work situations to make them telecommuting-proof in the interest of job preservation. I doubt it would work anyway. I had telecommuting “forced” on me when my company decided to eliminate our small office and merge us with another larger office in the interest of cost savings. Most of us live 1.5-2 hours from the new office, so we're allowed to work from home 3-4 days a week. All I can say is that my experience bears out a number of Jack's quoted studies on increased productivity.

– Rick Walsh

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