Sylvia Marino, 39, with her son Harry, 7, in Mill Valley, Calif. She telecommutes
at Edmunds.com, which is based in Santa Monica, 350 miles away
SYLVIA MARINO: I’M executive director of community operations at Edmunds.com, which provides information to car buyers, sellers and drivers. I’ve been telecommuting since I started with this company over 10 years ago. I lead the team that develops systems and policies for anyone submitting comments, reviews and questions to the site. My team also works with engineering to decide how parts of the site should appear to users — the forums, the car and dealership reviews, blogs and the question-and-answer area.
Going from reporting to an office before I joined Edmunds to working at home has been an evolution. I started in the financial services industry and wore a suit and heels every day. When I moved to the software industry, I wore jeans and flip-flops to work and brought my dog along with me. If she barked once in a while, it was no big deal.
I still get up, shower and get dressed in the morning as if I’m going to work. It’s important to have structure and routine. I also don’t like the thought of neighbors or the FedEx person seeing me in pajamas when I get the mail or a delivery. Now, if I’m on a conference call and my dog barks, I apologize, lead her out of my office and shut the door.
My children are 4, 7, and 9. I learned early not to tell anyone at their schools that I work at home, because some people think you can take time off at will. This way, no one can expect I will automatically chaperon field trips or take traffic duty at school in the morning. I do volunteer at the school as my schedule permits — just as other working parents do.
My children know that Mommy is working when they come home from school. They come to the office door to say hello — the way parents get phone calls at the office when their kids get home from school. When I have my headset on, they know I’m on the phone. On the rare occasions when they really need me, they’ll mouth a question or use pantomime to communicate. Sometimes they try so hard to make me understand what they want that it’s hard to keep from laughing.
I couldn’t imagine working in an office again. I joke that I’d be unemployable if I had to show up at the office on a daily basis. I like visiting our office and catching up with colleagues. But when I’m there I have a list of things I need to discuss with people, and I get right to the heart of it. I’m sure that I come across as intense to people who haven’t known me that long, but I typically have a long list of items. My goal is to maximize my in-office time.
I like the peace and quiet at home and the ability to work uninterrupted. I always found the conversations in the office distracting. I multitask well and get more done in several hours at home than I ever did over several days in the office. Sometimes I glance at the clock and four hours have gone by.
Some telecommuters say it gets lonely, but I’d say a bigger problem for most of this group is feeling that they always have to be available. If I call people at the office and the phone goes to voice mail, I figure that they’ve stepped away from their desk for a minute or are in a meeting. But if someone calls me, I feel that I’m expected to pick up the phone within three rings — no matter what time of day or night.
People think that I’m always at my desk. But I have conference calls and meetings, just as my colleagues in the office do, and I get up to get coffee or grab lunch, too. I don’t ever want to be perceived as holding up people’s work because they can’t reach me, so I make sure to get back to everyone as soon as I can.
There was a day when people thought you had all kinds of free time if you worked from home. There’s still some of that stigma, but the remote workers I know have strict accountability. None of us would last long if we weren’t really working when we were supposed to.
Some telecommuters say office workers complain about a communication problem with remote workers. I say that’s an excuse. The real problem for people in the office is that they can’t get up and walk over to your desk. But there’s no reason they can’t pick up the phone or send an instant message.
EDMUNDS has a telecommuting policy. People know what’s required and what to expect, and it helps them figure out if they’re good candidates for a role that lets them work from home. If they need a lot of direction, they probably won’t do well.
Successful telecommuters are self-starters and can manage their time. Many, like me, are list-oriented. If you thrive on working face to face with colleagues, you’ll do better in the office.
It’s hard to believe, but some people still don’t understand telecommuting. For example, I shop online a lot because it saves time, and some of my relatives know that. I’m constantly online for my job, too, and I think one of them is confused. He once said he thought I didn’t really work but spent my days chatting and shopping online.
It would be nice to be paid to shop all day, but I’m not that lucky.
By Sylvia Marino
Via NY Times