Telecommuting not all it's cracked up to be

trafficFor the 34 million U.S. workers who occasionally telecommute, I have this advice -- stop.

A company that sells phone systems so that your work phone can be connected to your home in a "virtual office" recently asked me if I wanted to write about the new technology they sell that makes employees feel as if they're in the office when sitting at their kitchen table.

My first question was, "Is that what people want, to feel like they're in the office at home?"

I know that telecommuting from home sounds ideal -- no boss, no clock to punch, no co-workers bugging you to meet a deadline. You save money on gas, food and dry cleaning, and don't have to commute.

But even if only one day a week, is this what you want, America? For work-life to seep into your home, your sanctuary from the busy world?

When the phone rings, do you want to wonder if it's a business call or a friend calling you over to a weekend BBQ?

As someone who has had to work in a "virtual office" at home for more than a year as a freelance journalist after having been laid off at a newspaper office, I can tell you that you don't want to cross that line separating home from work unless you have to. The workplace should be for work and the home should be for anything but work.

There are constant interruptions by people confusing your work time with your time at home, and there's always something that needs to be done around the house -- washing dishes, laundry, walking the dog, cooking, taking care of the kids, and on and on.

The best thing about having an office phone at home through M5 Networks is that because it's run through a broadband connection, employees must log in to their computer to answer their phone, whether at home or the office, as Kerrin Parker, M5's vice president of operations, explained it to me in a landline conversation.

They can log out at any time, so they're not really tied to the office unless they want to be. But when they want the business phone on at home, they connect to their computer and their business phone number works from there.

Without it, telecommuters using their home phones for business calls would have difficulty doing conference calls and their customers would see their home phone numbers pop up on caller ID -- not the look of a professional.

So while Parker may have sold me on having such a phone, I still don't see what stops the bossman from knowing if you're logged in or not on your computer and available to work from home.

The Man already has his hand deep enough in your business. Don't let him get into your home, too.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at

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