Rebecca Brewer (nee Flann) contributed her first article to The Voice in 2003 and has recently returned after a hiatus. Now a regular contributor, her articles cover a wide variety of topics and include both fiction and non-fiction. Retirement and the Telecommuter, which first appeared in the July 29th issue, is particularly relevant to AU students, who may wish to translate their distance learning experiences into opportunities to work from a distance.
“I wish I could work from home.” my friend states willingly. She commutes three hours to get to her place of work. She may be the wrong person to ask, but working from home is part of her ideal job.
Working from home, or telecommuting, has been advocated lately by some businesses. According to an article in The Globe and Mail, telecommuting “is still in its infancy in this country” (Patriquin, 2004), but I wonder how long this will last with some major corporations singing its praises. The newspaper article cites Compaq Canada, Bank of Montreal, Nortel Networks Corp., Ontario Hydro and Imperial Oil Ltd., as among the companies “experimenting with telecommuting.” Dr Ken Envoy, whose company SiteSell is based on telecommuting, estimates he has saved $800,000 since 1998 by not needing office space (Self Motivated).
It all sounds wonderful, like a utopian “never never land” for employees. You can sleep in a little longer, go to work in your slippers and still get paid. But it is still work and it isn’t for everyone just yet. Dr. Envoy is quoted saying that about “70 per cent of workers aren’t cut out for it.” He goes on to explain that the perfect telecommuter is “self-motivated and deadline-friendly” (Ibid.).
This personality type sounds strikingly similar to the ideal Athabasca student, doesn’t it? I consider Athabasca University to be excellent training for those of us who would consider working from home. Both distance learning and telecommuting require similar skills. The distance learner and telecommuter will likely face similar reactions from others. The questions and misunderstandings people have about distance education seem to be the same misperceptions people have about working in the home.
Since starting with Athabasca University, I have realized that people don’t consider what you do from home as work. Of course, this is not exactly an epiphany. It’s something stay-at-home moms, or involved parents of any kind really, have known for years. I’ve had people ask me, “So, are you taking a break from school?” even though they are aware I am taking classes with Athabasca University. This seems like a common reaction. When journalist Anna Quindlen quit her job at the New York Times to write from home, someone asked her how retirement was (Quindlen, 2005, p. 207). Perhaps we shouldn’t be offended by this reaction. They think we’re living the good life by not traveling to pursue our accomplishments. But no one likes to feel underestimated and eventually hard work deserves some credit. When working from home, this may not be something you will readily receive.
Sitting at my computer, listening to its buzzing, I wonder if I’m one of the 30 per cent that is supposedly cut out for telecommuting. I think about office drama, of people coming to work telling you what they did on vacation, where they went for dinner, or who’s gossiping about whom. I think about relating with the person you work next to when they’ve had a hard day and making friendships that last longer than the job does. I wonder if this unproductive, but still mostly rewarding, part of working can be replaced by technology.
Dr Envoy views “his Australia-based programmer a good friend, despite having never met him” (Ibid.). I think about Voice editor Tamra Ross Low. I email her every two weeks, but I’ve never seen her in person. Are we on the high-speed track to friendship? People often talk more with each other via email then they do in person. People are said to have fallen in love over the Internet. Certainly relationships can be formed, but I’m reluctant to say that we have reached the point in our society where technology replaces face-to-face companionship.
My friend who commutes to work would settle for working closer to home. She used to work ten minutes from her house, but she hated the work. “It was nice to go home at lunch. I could feed the dog, do some laundry.” When I asked her if she’d trade jobs (her previous job for her new job), she hesitated, but then said no. For the most part, she likes what she does, but she’s interested in doing something closer to home. She would definitely try telecommuting if given the chance. What she’s really looking for is flexibility and balance. We all seem to be looking for that and may even find it somehow. Telecommuting may be a means to work-life balance and happiness. It may make us happy, and we won’t care if other people consider it retirement because we know it’s not.
Patriquin, M. (2004, March 4). Working from home avoids ‘dysfunction’ office politics. The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20040304.gttwtelehome04/BNStory/Technology/
Quindlen, A. (2005). Loud and Clear. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Self-motivated, deadline-friendly, Work & Familiy Newsbrief.