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How Well Does Work-At-Home Work?

How Well Does Work-At-Home Work?

Fate likes to urinate in my breakfast cereal! Just days after submitting my previous editorial for publication - wherein, you may remember, I had extolled the virtues of local software expertise over those of off-shore development - I was asked to extend my consulting engagement in San Francisco for a period of several months.

As many of you may recall, I live in Chicago. I guess I did a good enough job on my first assignment to be wanted back, even at the expense of travel. This was a bittersweet proposition for a consultant who loves both his job and his family, as you can probably imagine!

Ultimately, I managed to work out a two-weeks-on-site/two-weeks-remote work schedule with the client. In light of my pronouncements on the fate of telecommuting in last month's editorial, this got me to thinking quite a bit about how work-at-home has worked - and not worked - in the various organizations I have worked at over the last decade or so. Basically, I think the wisdom and value of work-at-home is directly related to a given organization's ability to focus on results vs. "face time." In this regard, I categorize organizations from most-to-least enlightened as follows:

  • Just results, within reason: I think this is the most enlightened kind of organization, as well as one of the rarest, and the most likely to have successful telecommuting. This is the kind of organization where they don't care if they ever see you, as long as the work is getting done.
  • Just results: Of course, one can produce results by unethical or illegal activities, or by pushing people to the point of burn out. I have to demote these kinds of organizations, as they always pay a higher price in the end.
  • Results, plus face time: I think the vast majority of organizations fall into this bucket. Not only do your employers want you to deliver the goods, but they want to make sure they can see you at least forty hours per week as you deliver them.
  • Just face time: You saw a lot of these sorts of companies back in the Dot-Com era. Remember when folks in their twenties spent 80+ hours a week at the office playing Foosball, and got promoted for it? Not a good idea, was it?
  • Anarchy: This is what happens when an organization tries to be "just results" without any idea what results would look like, if they ever got them. Folks disappear for weeks on end without any indication of their progress, or lack thereof. Ultimately, the organization disappears as well.
So, if you take all five of these categories, I suspect that organizations are distributed within them in a shape rather similar to a bell curve. Sixty-eight percent or so are "results plus face time"; "just results" and "just face time" sit on either side at about one standard deviation, and the best and worst organizations are at about two standard deviations.

What do you think? E-mail me directly at [email protected], or put some Feedback on the .NETDJ home page for other readers to enjoy as well!

More Stories By Derek Ferguson

Derek Ferguson, founding editor and editor-in-chief of .Net Developer's Journal, is a noted technology expert and former Microsoft MVP.

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