Well, a recent study in the Journal of Business and Technology found that telecommuting may not be all it's cracked up to be. People who work at home to gain time and flexibility as they strive for work/life balance are getting burnt out faster than those who work a regular day in the office.
The study's author, Professor Timothy D. Golden of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, says working nights and weekend is "likely to interfere with rest and recovery that typically takes place during these periods." And being unable to mentally distance yourself from work, because your workspace is in your home, may hinder your ability to recoup, which leads to "greater resource drain and exhaustion."
For that reason, Prof. Golden says employers need to be more mindful about who should telecommute because some workers might not be candidates for a flex role.
I don't know about that. The study doesn't address any of the reasons people are striving for work/life balance in the first place -- like the fact that many jobs expect you to be connected to work all the time. Maybe Prof. Golden will look into the myth of the 40-hour workweek in his next study.
I will say the report reminded me of my own telecommuting experience and the lesson I learned, which is: you've got to set limits. If you don't, you may work full speed, non-stop, trying to satisfy everyone but yourself. And that goes double for working moms.
Here's my story: After being hired by a magazine on the other coast, I was given the choice of setting up an office nearby or working from my home. With two young children, I picked working from home. My husband had a demanding job, with long days and frequent travel. Having one of us in a flexible situation would be a good thing for our family.
What happened? I turned into a multi-tasking maniac.
A typical day: Get kids dressed, fed and driven to where they needed to be. Write/edit. Pop in laundry. Make calls. Write/edit. Make more calls. Move laundry to dryer. Write/edit. Pick up kids and drive to after-school activity. Work on laptop, glancing up periodically to wave at child. Drive home. Engage kids in a non-hazardous activity while preparing dinner. Eat. Wipe down walls. Bathe kids, put them to bed. Clear debris from living room so laundry can be dumped on the couch for folding later. Write/edit.
Yes, my husband helped. But as the partner working from home, a lot more fell on me because I was the "flexible" one.
What did I do to avoid hospitalization? I learned to set limits, relying on a "month-at-a-glance" calendar to keep me sane.
In red ink, I entered all my work deadlines and meetings. Kids activities were noted in blue. Miscellaneous -- doctor appointments, family gatherings -- were green.
I also made lists of other things I needed to do -- shop, pay bills, visit the dry cleaner, whatever. I'd prioritize them and insert them in black wherever I saw a free block of time.
It didn't take long to realize the problem. In my color-coded world, the day seemed to have 28 hours and I was trying to be productive 24 of them. I needed to be reasonable — and cut myself some flack. Laundry doesn't always have to be done daily. There's only so much work you can fit in a day.
I also realized that some days are going to be crazy because that's just the way it is.
Striving for work/life balance is a good thing and flexibility can go a long way toward tipping the scale in the right direction. Just remember you don't need to be a multi-tasking maniac. Think of all that unfolded laundry as extra padding for the couch. —CG