The Digital Self: Confessions of a terrified telecommuter

yahoo

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has, as you may have heard, officially killed telecommuting for Yahoo employees as part of her strategy to bring the aging Internet giant back into fighting condition. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” reads the HR memo that officially reshackled Yahoo’s remote employees. “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” It’s a bold move – perhaps even a good one for the company, which has struggled to keep up with the likes of Google and Facebook. But if you work remotely, as I do, there’s only one real reaction to this news: pants-soiling fear.

Thanks to Yahoo’s latest corporate directive, employers across the country now have an example to point to as evidence that allowing workers to do their jobs from outside the confines of an office is bad for business. And as a myriad of Mayer’s supporters have pointed out, there is ample evidence that face-to-face interactions remain the best way for a team to collaborate, regardless of the communications tools made possible by the Internet. That’s bad news for anyone who makes a living from home, who may be looking at the possibility of more companies following in Yahoo’s footsteps.

On the other side, opponents of Yahoo’s telecommuting ban, especially working mothers who often rely on telecommuting to keep their families afloat, cite study after study showing that remote workers are actually more productive than their cubicled counterparts, take fewer sick days, and are generally happier employees.

Working from home has taught me the art of self-discipline.

From my experience, both sides of this issue are right to some extent: In-person meetings are better than any Skype chat you can have. And not having to commute, leave work for the kids, or worry about what your hair looks like in the morning are all major perks that help keep employees happy. True as these arguments may be, however, they still fail to convey the reality of working remotely.

For the past two years, I have made a living writing and reporting for Digital Trends (mostly) from my home office in upstate New York. And every day has been both a blessing and mildly terrifying – not because I was afraid of losing my job, but because proving myself from afar brings its own set of challenges.

For starters, I am constantly afraid to leave my desk for fear of missing an instant message from someone who needs to talk to me. Sure, I could always put my status to “away,” but I do that too many times, and how does that look? Like I’m off screwing around, that’s how. So even though I may be at home, with all the conveniences, I rarely take time to even microwave a hot dog for lunch, let alone go out for a bite.

It can also be difficult to prove how much work you’ve really accomplished during the day. As a journalist, I have the benefit of highly deadline-based work; every time I turn in a story, my editors (bosses) can see that I’ve been carrying my weight. It becomes far more complicated, however, when working on longer projects with lots of time spent with less quantifiable value, like research, interviews, and dreaded transcriptions that seem to take a lifetime to finish. Projects that don’t pan out after spending hours or days doing legwork … well, those make me want to just crawl in hole and never come out.

The third, most commonly cited, downside to telecommuting is that it is next to impossible to stop working. My days begin the moment the alarm on my iPhone pulls me out of slumber, and slaps me in the face with the morning’s news. Sure, I’m working from bed – but that also means I’m working from the moment I wake up. As for ending the work day, well, that never really happens. Once I’ve eaten dinner, taken the dog out, and done a few chores, I inevitably find myself back in front of my computer, working the night away.

My life as I currently enjoy it would not be possible without the ability to telecommute

Those are all significant downsides, to be sure. And others may have even more complaints. But the fact is, working remotely is still an incredible experience. Aside from the obvious benefits – being able to live outside a major city, not having to commute, not paying for someone to walk my dog every day – working from home has taught me the art of self-discipline.

When there’s an Xbox staring you in the face, saying “Play me! Play me!” you have to learn how to stay on-task. When there’s nobody staring down your neck, you are completely on your own to complete the job at hand – a fact that is both terrifying and massively rewarding when you get the hang of it. As a result, I have indeed found that my days spent working from home are the most productive.

Because of this, telecommuting might not be right for everyone. When I tell other people, including my parents, that I work remotely, the most common response I get is, “I just couldn’t do it. I’d never get anything done.” For those people, working remotely should not be an option. But for me, it’s not only more comfortable, it’s more efficient.

My life as I currently enjoy it would not be possible without the ability to telecommute, nor would the lives of the increasing number of U.S. workers who do their jobs from somewhere else. Perhaps that’s why Yahoo’s decision to ban the arrangement is so disappointing to so many people – we’ve made lives for ourselves thanks to telecommuting; and Yahoo has, inadvertently, made those lives far more difficult to live.

In the end, I only hope that Mayer’s decision to do away with remote workers is seen by other employers as a move that made sense for her business, not all businesses; or at the very least, for some workers, but not all workers. For decades, we’ve been hearing that the Internet would free us from the confines of the past, including cubicles and gridlocked traffic. The shackles have started to fall off. Let’s do what we can – by proving to employers that telecommuting can work, and by trusting remote employees that do a good job – to keep from clicking the locks once again.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Mobile

Rekindled yet again, Nokia’s next-gen phones offer more than just nostalgia

HMD Global, a startup that designs and builds Nokia Android smartphones, wants to put the Nokia brand name back “where it belongs.” It helps that it’s made up of ex-Nokia employees. We go behind the scenes to see how HMD formed.
Mobile

If you're looking for a good laugh, here are 70 questions to ask Siri

Siri has come a long way since her first appearance on the iPhone 4S in 2011. We know she can make appointments and give directions, did you know she can make you laugh too? If you want proof, here are lots of funny questions to ask Siri.
Product Review

'New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe' is 2D platforming wizardry

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is the latest Wii U game to come back from the dead on Switch. And wow, it’s much better than we remembered.
Smart Home

A.I.’s humorous side: Here are the funniest things to ask Alexa

Amazon's Alexa voice assistant has a wide repertoire of funny responses, jokes, and hidden replies that you can have fun with. Here are the best funny things to ask Alexa and examples of what her responses are.
Digital Trends Live

Microsoft has #*!@ed up to-do lists on an epic scale

Microsoft has mucked up to-do lists on a scale you simply can’t imagine, a failure that spans multiple products and teams, like a lil’ bit of salmonella that contaminates the entire output from a factory.
Opinion

As Amazon turns up the volume on streaming, Spotify should shudder

Multiple players are all looking to capitalize on the popularity of streaming, but it has thus far proved nearly impossible to make a profit. Could major tech companies like Amazon be primed for a streaming take-over?
Gaming

Throw out the sandbox. ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ is a fully realized western world

Despite featuring around 100 story missions, the real destination in Red Dead Redemption 2 is the journey you make for yourself in the Rockstar's open world, and the game is better for it.
Gaming

‘Diablo Immortal’ is just the beginning. Mobile games are the future

Diablo fans were furious about Diablo Immortal, but in truth, mobile games are the future. From Apple and Samsung to Bethesda and Blizzard, we’re seeing a new incentive for games that fit on your phone.
Movies & TV

He created comics, movies, and superheroes. But Stan Lee lived for joy

Stan Lee was a creator, a celebrity, an icon, and beneath it all, a real-life good guy with all the same human qualities that made his superheroes so relatable. And his greatest joy was sharing his creations with the world.
Music

Brian Eno sets out to change music (again) with Bloom: 10 World

We always felt that Bloom was a musical system that could be developed further -- it was as if we’d built a CD player and only ever released one CD. For this release, we’ve created ten new worlds, starting with a reimagined version of…
Computing

Can two operating systems coexist? The Pixel Slate thinks so

The Pixel Slate is a 2-in-1 device like no other. It’s not the most polished product we’ve ever used, but Google has laid the foundation for letting mobile and desktop software live side-by-side in peace.
Android

Why commercials in Android Auto could turn your dashboard into a dumpster fire

Google announced some tweaks to the Android Auto experience, focused on making messaging and media easier, but I worry about the future of the platform. For better or worse, there’s a real chance our dashboards could turn into dumpster…
Gaming

These are the best video games you shouldn't leave 2018 without

Developers showed up with a number of amazing games this year. Each capitalized on something unique but there's always one that outdoes them all. Here are our picks for the best video games of 2018 and game of the year.
Home Theater

Will Marvel’s shows lose their punch if they move from Netflix to Disney Plus?

Disney could pick up the Marvel shows being canceled by Netflix, but the idea raises all sorts of questions. Is continuing Daredevil, Punisher, or Jessica Jones on Disney's own streaming service a good move?