Expectations Vs. Reality: What Telecommuting Is Really Like

What is telecommuting really like?

So you’ve decided to leap into the 21st century and try out this telecommuting thing.

Good for you, space cowboy.

Millions of Americans have already vowed never to step foot in an office again, and are instead operating remotely, with video conferencing as their main link to the wider working world.

And we’re glad you finally decided to join us.

There are, however, a few home truths we should warn you about before you buy a suitcase full of swim trunks and scout out a work-friendly space on your nearest beach.

You see, the reality of telecommuting can be a little less glamorous than the fantasy.

Expectation: Less time commuting means more time for play!

Reality: Like a hungry parasite, your work has taken over everything—your home, your phone, and your laptop.

Sorry to be a killjoy right out of the gate, but once you go remote, you can probably kiss your social life goodbye. Friday evenings are more often spent in a late night race against a deadline than they are running from one bar to the next before closing time.

Your work now follows you everywhere you go. It’s on your phone when you glance at your emails, it’s on your tablet when you’re trying to watch Netflix, and you’ll constantly pick away at it like a sore that doesn’t take the weekends off.

Expectation: I won’t have to make small talk with every single person I interact with!

Reality: When your computer freezes while you sneak in a quick kitten clip on YouTube, you’re on your own.

No one’s going to steal your lunch from the office fridge or give away spoilers to your favorite show while they’re setting up your phone line. That’s great, but it also means that no one is going to fix your computer when it crashes after you opened that spam email offering a crazy deal on Viagra.

You’re on your own now. So take care of your equipment, or you’ll be playing my favorite telecommuting game, “Find the glob of spaghetti sauce that fried my motherboard.”

Expectation: I’ll never be late to work again!

Reality: There’s no imaginary traffic jam to blame for being late, again.

It takes discipline to remain a functioning, professional adult when there’s no boss glaring at you from across the conference room table every time you’re late. While you’re still in slumberland, you’ve forgotten that the little status light on your Slack or Google dashboard lets everyone know when you’re ready to chat. If their video calls go unanswered, or your light ain’t the right color, you’ve got some explaining to do.

Telecommuting doesn't always mean working in comfort.

Expectation: My home office will be fun to spend time in, unlike the fluorescent-lit office I’m used to!

Reality: You spend 6 hours a day trying to get comfortable in a bean bag because you never got around to buying that desk chair.

Maybe you got into this whole telecommuting kick because you called in sick and caught up on a whole bunch of work while sitting in bed all day.

That’s not happening twice.

Our bodies and minds are fickle things. Just the smell of freshly made popcorn or a lonely look from your dog is enough to break your concentration and workflow.

You need silence, you need space, and you need a proper chair… trust me, your back doesn’t know this remote working thing is supposed to be easier than sitting anywhere else for eight hours.

Expectation: The team will work just as well online!

Reality: You’ve wasted a day trying to explain that your sassy girl chat emoji was a joke.

Your wry sense of humor usually has your co-workers in stitches over the watercooler, but that winky face emoji on your latest expense report makes you look like a sugared-up 8-year-old.

Team chemistry and efficiency is the hardest part of working remotely. Sure, it’s just as easy to speak to your grandmother with video chat as it is in person. But more demanding, complex relationships—working relationships—need to be given all of your attention if they’re to survive online. Just like the annoying guy in accounting who takes hours to explain something in a meeting, if it takes six video calls just to get everyone on the same page, you’re doing it wrong.

Telecommuting might mean working around the clock.

Expectation: I’ll be working on my own schedule!

Reality: You’ll be online at 5am for that video meeting with the East Coast.

Get ready, you’re about to become an expert on the time zones of every state in the Union (and Canada!). In the telecommuting world, a full night’s sleep is as rare as a good steak.

Not only will you still face the same deadlines as any other employee, but you’ll have to be more aware of the schedules of others than ever before, because now you’ll need to find common time to chat, be it via video, text, or phone.

Expectation: I’ll never wear pants again!

Reality: You’ll never wear pants again!

Ok, you can have this one. Research has found that more than 10% of video conferencers don’t put on pants when making a call.

It may be a disconcerting thing for some to hear, but if it sounds like a damned good idea to you, then good for you, because that’s exactly the kind of efficiency and economy of movement we’re looking for in the remote workforce.

Just make sure you switch off your webcam before you stand and leave the room.

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