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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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September 02, 2014

Telecommuting: How and Why to Do It

By Mark Sisson
39 Comments

TelecommutingOur jobs define us, for better or worse. When we’re out at a party and someone asks “What do you do?” we don’t talk about our love of Eastern European history or our kite-flying or the workout regimen we’ve recently put together. We talk about how we make money – our job, our work – probably because it’s only natural to focus on the activities that allow us to eat, have a roof over our heads, and stay relatively clothed. But it’s also because work is the single biggest time sucker in our lives. The average American adult with kids and a job spends nearly 9 hours per day engaged in work-related activities, more than time spent sleep, leisure, or eating.

What if you could cut down on that portion of your day while retaining your productivity? What if you could hold down a corporate gig while in your boxers and from the comfort of your own home?

What if you could telecommute?

Last week I wrote about the high costs of commuting, and briefly touched on telecommuting as a viable solution to the time suck that is driving to and fro for five days a week, every week, year after year. Let’s explore this one a bit more.

For most people, the prospect seems impossible, but don’t give up so easily. Telecommuting is growing more common. As of 2012, one in five workers worldwide telecommuted some of the time and almost 10% worked remotely all the time. That same survey found that only 21% of jobs logistically required that workers be in the office every day – so it’s definitely possible for more, maybe most workers to telecommute at least some of the time.

Let’s start with a disclaimer: not everyone should telecommute. Certain jobs lend themselves well to telecommuting. Some do not. You can’t really do construction from your house, or give massages. Not everyone wants to telecommute. Millions of people are perfectly happy with their current work arrangement (millions more are perfectly miserable, of course). If that’s you, don’t think you’re missing out.

You might learn something all the same, though.

So why should you telecommute? What are the benefits?

It makes going and being Primal easier. I receive a lot of emails from readers having trouble incorporating some aspect of the Primal lifestyle into their lives. That’s to be expected. It’s a big change from how people commonly live, eat, and exercise. But the people who have the most issues are the office workers putting in long hours and enduring long commutes. Having to sit in place for eight to ten hours a day puts a real damper on eating and moving well. Who knew?

When you work from home – or your favorite cafe down the street – you are beholden to no one. You can be as weird as you want. You can wear what you want. You can work at your own pace (depending on the nature of the job). Like any animal, humans want to be free, and telecommuting gets you a little closer to that ideal.

You can actually cook. You can get dinner ready in between calls and make real lunches so you’re not reliant on whatever restaurants are within rush-over-when-you-have-ten-minutes-to-spare-and-grab-a-quick-bite-to-wolf-down-at-your-desk distance of your office.

You can sneak out to the garage gym or your building’s fitness center for a quick workout when you need a recharge and there’s a lull in work. Exercise can be incorporated throughout the day, rather than relegated to a single, unpalatable chunk of time at the end or beginning. This is an arguably better way to “exercise,” as it promotes the kind of constant activity humans have (pre)historically engaged in.

You can get more natural light. Bright, full spectrum light provided by the sun might be about as effective as coffee in perking workers up. Some offices are even trying to recreate this effect by installing blue lights overhead. It’s fairly effective at actually increasing worker alertness, but the real thing from the sun is going to be better.

You can get sun. Afternoon sun, which provides the best balance between UVB and UVA, is the best way to get the requisite vitamin D, but that’s usually when we’re stuck in a meeting or hunched over our computer inside a cubicle. Working out of the office, you can get sun at your leisure.

You can work outside. You may have read my post years ago discussing the benefits of working outside and thought to yourself, “Well, wouldn’t it be nice if my office had an outdoor space?” If you telecommute, you can have all the outdoor space you want.

You can take frequent breaks to disrupt the sitting without looking over your shoulder. Sitting is a killer. It inhibits fat burning and increases all-cause mortality independent of whether you exercise or not. Sitting also makes your hips tight, your glutes weak, and impairs your overall joint health and mobility. By breaking up your sitting with frequent breaks, you can improve your blood pressure and postprandial blood glucose.

You don’t have to sit at all. You don’t have to lobby your boss for a standup or mobile workstation; you simply set one up yourself.

You can nap if you need one. Naps improve productivity and increase happiness, but not so much if you have to duck beneath your desk away from prying eyes to do it (unless you’re a sociopath with absolutely no shame). Telecommuters can nap when there’s downtime.

You get more time with your kids. If they could choose, most parents would spend more time at home with their kids. If your employer allows it, telecommuting gives you that choice, while traditional employment removes it. And if you don’t have kids, you get more time with yourself. That’s also a good thing.

You don’t have to physically commute. This saves you a little – or a lot – more time that you can spend doing things you like, like sleep. Try not to use the extra time to just work more.

Telecommuting lowers work-to-family conflict. A major source of conflict in a household is work. If you’re gone all the time, or burnt out from working so much, fuses shorten, tempers flare, and conflicts arise. You spend more time recovering from work than enjoying the quality time with your family that a relationship requires to work. But research shows that telecommuters enjoy lower work to family conflict, and the more you work at home, the bigger the improvements.

Telecommuting improves productivity. This isn’t true for everyone who telecommutes. We all work at different capacities in different contexts. Some people thrive with the whip at their backs. Others prefer more autonomy. If you’re one of the latter, you’ll excel at remote work.

Telecommuting makes you feel better about yourself and your work. A recent study of traditional commuters and remote workers found that telecommuters report the greatest satisfaction, lowest stress, and highest sense of well-being. I think we could all really go for some of that.

Okay. You’re sold on the benefits and you’d like to make this happen. How?

Ask. You might just have to bite the bullet and ask. As long as your work is solid and you’re in good standing, it shouldn’t hurt. Don’t be afraid to point out that you telecommuting may save the employer money on insurance, office space, and equipment, too.

Be prepared. Make sure you have everything you need at home to make telecommuting work: a solid Internet connection, video conferencing capabilities, a good laptop, etc.

Be a parent. A recent study suggests that employers are more likely to grant telecommuting privileges to employees with children. If you tell your employer you want to work from home for other reasons, they may be less likely to grant your request.

Find a new job or create your own. A surefire way to telecommute is to get a new job that allows it or strike out on your own. Become a contractor a freelancer or an entrepreneur. Or heck, get Primal Blueprint Expert Certified and turn your passion for the Primal lifestyle into a career.

When applying and interviewing for new jobs:

Look for jobs that mention “remote work” or “telecommuting” in the job description. That’s a sure bet you’ll be able to do it.

Research a prospective employer’s policies. Popping over to Google and entering “[company] telecommuting policy” will usually do it.

Browse Glassdoor. Glassdoor is a site where employees (both former and current) can give company reviews, report salaries, and discuss interviews; it’s invaluable for anyone interested in a particular company from an employee’s perspective. Reviews often contain explicit information about a company’s telecommuting policies.

Ask about telecommuting after receiving but before accepting an offer. Some people suggest asking about a company’s remote work policy during the interview. I’d be okay with that from a prospective employee, but other employers might not. To be safe, get the offer first and then ask about working from home.

Negotiate. If working from home is really important to you, consider giving up a perk or a little salary. Don’t worry, you can probably get it all back once you’ve proven they made the right choice.

There are a few things to keep in mind when actually telecommuting.

Maintain regular hours. I don’t mean you have to work from 9 to 5. Work 12 to 8. Or 8 to 12 and then 3 to 7. Normal business hours aren’t necessarily necessary. But allocating specific chunks of time to work and for breaks – and being strict about it – will make you more productive and, maybe more importantly, limit the intrusion of work into your every waking moment.

Beware workday creep. For some employees, telecommuting just leads to the expansion of hours (PDF). Since most telecommuters aren’t exclusive – they also work in an office – allowing remote work becomes a way for employers to get employees working longer hours. “Oh, sure! We totally support telecommuting!” They give you company laptops and smartphones with the expectation that you’re always on call. If you’re okay with that and you know what you’re getting yourself into, fine. Just be wary. Set boundaries.

Realize you don’t have to work at home. You can go to a cafe; some research even indicates the din of a busy coffee shop actually increases productivity. You can go the park or the library. An increasing number of formal co-work spaces designed for telecommuters are popping up all over, like San Francisco’s Citizen Space, New York’s NeueHouse, and LA’s Blank Spaces.

Eliminate distractions. Get in, get out. Don’t dawdle on Facebook. Use some or all of the productivity tools mentioned in this post. The Worker Bees are particularly fond of Self Control (for Mac) and Stay Focused (for Chrome), which keep you from visiting sites you know to be time suckers.

Keep Twitter closed. You can check Twitter, especially if it’s important for work. But don’t leave a tab open or even visible on your screen. I have a bad habit of keeping Twitter open in a tab. And sure enough, every other second or so there’s an update – a little number in parentheses pops up and I just have to see what people have posted. And by the time I’ve scrolled down to read all the tweets, there are ten more.

Do great work. If there’s one way to keep your boss happy with the arrangement and allow you to continue the telecommuting arrangement it’s to become invaluable by producing great work.

If you make it work and do it right, telecommuting can really pay off – for both you, your work, and your employer. I strongly suggest exploring it as a possibility. Several of my workers telecommute, including my general manager in Sydney, Australia and a Worker Bee in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the right people, it works.

What about you guys? Any telecommuters out there care to share tips? How did you make it work?

Thanks for reading, everyone!

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39 Comments on "Telecommuting: How and Why to Do It"

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Jacob
2 years 28 days ago

Wish telecommuting was an option at my place, but sadly I don’t think it’s in the cards for me right now….partially because I’m still working on a regular computer, not a laptop.

Diane
Diane
2 years 28 days ago
I’m one of the people who does not like telecommuting at all. I like going somewhere totally different from home. The structure of going to work helps me stay active, get some outdoor time (walking at lunch), go to the gym (there’s a gym on campus) and puts me in a gorgeous location better than where I live (I work at UC Santa Barbara which is right on the bluffs overlooking the beach.) I find working from home to be lonely and I don’t like the lack of boundary between work and home. I tried freelancing once and absolutely hated… Read more »
jessabeast
jessabeast
2 years 28 days ago
I recently made the tradition to work from home part time. Since I work for an environment non-profit group, many of my counterparts also work remote, either full or part time. I made this decision because the a-typical 9-5 in the office was drab at best and I found myself browsing the web more often that not when I am ‘stuck’ in the office all day. But I also wanted to be in the office as well because I like to see people at work and interact face-to-face. Now, I leave work in the early afternoon, pick up the kids… Read more »
jessabeast
jessabeast
2 years 28 days ago

*transition, not tradition* 🙂

Tammi
Tammi
2 years 28 days ago
I actually telecommute about 3 days a week. Most of the work I do is done with people not co-located with me (we are a multi-national company), so – it is fairly easy when utilizing technological advances (laptop/WebEx/cell phone). Like Diane, I do like structure and so, I have a specific schedule that I follow (which generally starts at 5:00 AM). But, it allows me to take quick breaks to get items done around the house or get outside. With that said – it is important to have face to face time with co-workers and staff. Yes, I have staff!… Read more »
James
2 years 28 days ago
I am a full-time telecommuter, and I can’t imagine ever stepping back into an office on a regular basis (I still travel 3-4 days per month). Here is what helped make my experience: 1. If you have the ability, set up a dedicated office. That way, I can shut the door when my day is over so I am not tempted to work during my personal time. 2. Decorate your office in a manner that inspires you. 3. Make sure you get out of the house. Go outside throughout the day for a few minutes to stretch and clear your… Read more »
Pastor dave Deppisch
2 years 28 days ago

I am allowed to take some work home when I need to do editing or manual checking for engineering.

But the main reason I prefer to do that at my place of business is my wife isn’t interrupting me with. “Take out the garbage” or “Take the dog out for a walk” or any of a thousand other interruptions.

But then there are benefits to being at home! But getting back to work afterwards isn’t easy!

Julie
2 years 28 days ago
I am one of those who prefer to go in the office. I have an empty nest and am widowed, and spend too much time alone as it is. Going into the office gives me more of a sense of socialization, even though most of my time is spent on the phone in my cubicle. I need to have the voices of other people around me and the sporadic face to face conversations that can only occur by working in an office. For those people in more regular social contact, I can buy into the joys of telecommuting. It’s just… Read more »
Ara
Ara
2 years 26 days ago

I am the same way. Childless by choice and a loner at heart, I need the social stimulation that the office provides. However, we have a set telecommuting day 1 day per week and anytime that we need it. It’s great to have this flexibility. I also have structured my life such that I have always lived within 5 miles of my office. So, I have the best of both worlds: Option to telecommute and short commute when I do go into the office.

Paleo-curious
2 years 28 days ago
I don’t exactly telecommute, but I have been working from home as a freelance artist-illustrator for most of my adult life. It’s perfect for me, being highly introverted, self-directed, & somewhat obsessive about detail, but it’s not for everyone! It takes planning & discipline, & unless you create healthy work habits it is all too easy to find yourself working incessantly, for longer hours than most office workers, often never seeing another human other than family members for days on end! I have learned to make rules such as setting a timer so that I don’t fall into a work… Read more »
Paleo-curious
2 years 28 days ago

One other vital component is a supportive spouse! My husband understands that I’m often “at work” when I’m at home & though occasionally the lines have grown a bit blurry (especially when our kids were small), over the years I’ve learned to communicate frankly & stand up for my work time when I need to.

Marc
2 years 28 days ago

LOVE working from home! (Enterprise Technology Sales)
Routine just got rudely interrupted…
I grew the business too much… they made me open an office and hire 3 people…
Now I have a 25 minute commute in the morning and an hour at night… HATE IT.

Will be leaving the company soon… THAT’s how important it is to me.

Working from home is not for everyone..but it’s everything for me.

And hey… I will be the one to say it… If you love your wife/partner/spouse…. and you work from home……

Why, let’s just say “LOVE” will be part of your “day” again 🙂

Marc

Jon T
Jon T
2 years 28 days ago
I’ve been telecommuting on and off for a few years now (full-time over the past year or so) and for me there is no going back 🙂 Sure, I’ll visit the office on occasion, but I’ve told my company that I’m a telecommuter. It really has made a difference in life. I can walk/hike around the area when I want, fire up the grill in the backyard for almost every meal, be around my wife and kiddos more, make breakfast every morning (Primal approved of course) and somehow still accomplish everything I need to for work. I plan to stick… Read more »
Cranky old lady
Cranky old lady
2 years 28 days ago

Mark, love this site; lots of great information. However, you have lost touch with uncalifornia. Most people have jobs they have to go to. Please relate to most of the country; not just the airy-fairy few. Thanks, Cranky old lady

meepster
meepster
2 years 28 days ago

What airy-fairy few? I work from home. So do most of the freelancers in this country. And they don’t all live in California. If you’ve got a cubicle to go to, bully for you – but don’t assume that everyone is similarly afflicted.

HistoricalSquirrel
HistoricalSquirrel
2 years 28 days ago

Telecommuting is definitely not localized to Cali. I work for a company that encourages telecommuting and I live in Oklahoma. One of my friends telecommutes from Arizona.

Georgia
Georgia
2 years 27 days ago

When I lived in Massachusetts, my company allowed telecommuting, at least to a certain extent. Now I live in Los Angeles, and my company here wouldn’t even consider it. And I drive 14 miles each way, but it usually takes over an hour, ick.

Paleo-curious
2 years 27 days ago

I now live in North Carolina– & have worked from home in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Upstate NY,
& Virginia over the years! So long as there’s internet coverage, I could pretty much work from anywhere.

Kelly
Kelly
2 years 27 days ago

I telecommute in Baltimore.

Rick
Rick
2 years 28 days ago

Ahh, work from home! See my wife evenings, weekends, AND days!

Uhh… nevermind.

meepster
meepster
2 years 28 days ago

I’ve been working from home for the past 3 years. It’s wonderful – I don’t think I’ll ever go back to an office job. I feel liberated.

But it takes a lot of discipline and willpower, and it gets lonely. I’m lucky that my fiancee also works at home, so we keep each other company. Sometimes we take our respective work to a cafe and work there together.

Ben
Ben
2 years 28 days ago

Mark – you are 100% on the money. I realised that being primal would be a whole bunch easier working from home and I sought out a job that would allow me to do that.

I have a standing desk, cook lunch each day, work out at lunch time in my backyard gym or head to the beach for sprints, get to see my daughter on little breaks.

Also, working from home has the added benefit of only attending meetings that you really need to be at, so you actually have more time for working.

Another great post

Cranky old lady
Cranky old lady
2 years 28 days ago

Yes, cubicles do translate to home, however, your doctor, your grocery worker, UPS guy, Walmart clerk and on and on do not. Believe me, 90% of workers must go to work. It seems pretty elitest to exhault this unreachable lifestyle.

Pastor Dave
2 years 27 days ago

Dear Cranky old lady: Maybe if the world would consider old fashion delivery like milk, staples, meats, etc. and not just pizza– it would create more jobs both for those wanting to work at home and those who deliver the goods!

But others are right– telecommuting isn’t for everyone. Too much hands-on involved in many jobs from manufacturing to engineering to face-to-face sales etc.

Sue
Sue
2 years 28 days ago
You definitely describe the teleworking ideal situation but many of us don’t have the ideal work situation – either at home or in the office. I can work from home on occasion (bad weather, cable guy coming, etc) but it is the expectation you are readily available to respond to IM’s, emails, or calls – so no sneaking out to do a quick work out, soak up some sun, take a nap (really?!) or cook a quick meal. If you don’t respond immediately or within a couple of minutes, the impression is you are slacking off. It all really depends… Read more »
mark
mark
2 years 27 days ago
I’ve been working from home full-time for about 3 years now. My office, where I actually have a desk still but haven’t sat in it in so long I can’t remember, is less than a 10 minute drive away. I didn’t choose telecommuting because of the commute. I often drive much further to a Starbucks or something for change of scenery. I chose telecommuting because I work better on my own/without interruptions that come from the office, and, truth be told, because the person who I sat next to at the time was/is a bit of a nutjob. I found… Read more »
ABQ Guy
ABQ Guy
2 years 27 days ago

I’m an airline pilot. Might be tough to sell the idea to the boss !!

Cranky old lady
Cranky old lady
2 years 27 days ago

Haha, flyboy!

jenny
jenny
2 years 27 days ago
I’ve worked from home for years now and can’t imagine ever going back to an office. I figure I’m at least 30% more productive – no commute, no coworkers interrupting, etc. I also save tons of money on clothes as I usually work in sweats. I manage a team of people who are scattered across the country and it’s literally the best team I’ve ever worked with, even though I only see them in person a couple of times a year. It’s still easy to get ‘stuck’ in front of the computer – I seem to enter a kind of… Read more »
Virginia
Virginia
2 years 27 days ago
I am very excited as my work has just opened up work-from-home on an occasional basis. Even just one day a week working from home has made me feel so much happier and less stressed. At the office, there’s no sunlight and it’s a cubicle-maze and full of surly, disgruntled “trapped” employees. It can be so draining! Working from home lets me enjoy loads of sunshine and fresh air (out in Michigan). I find that I eat when I’m hungry rather than at the allotted times. I move about more and more naturally. I can start the dishwasher, toss in… Read more »
Virginia
Virginia
2 years 27 days ago

Oh, and I forgot, I must be a sociopath. Because I lay on my cubicle floor (for the whole office to walk by and see) almost every afternoon break for 15 minutes. I cover my eyes, pop in the earbuds and do a guided meditation. Keeps me happy and I’m fine if I’m known as the “weird” one. Although I think everyone just assumes I do it because I have Crohn’s Disease and need to rest.

oregontinker
oregontinker
2 years 27 days ago

As an employer you list all of the reasons I don’t let people work from home on a regular basis. They end up doing everything but working. I have tried this multiple times and only one person has been successful at actually accomplishing more when working from home. While I would like teleworking to be successful, most people are not disciplined enough to not be distracted by family and fun.

Whitney
2 years 27 days ago

Quitting my “traditional” job and deciding to become an entrepreneur was the best decision I have ever made! I did it also to be ready for when I have children one day I will be able to be with them. It has relieved so much stress from my life!

Chris Thompson
2 years 27 days ago

Great post, Mark! In my former career (Wall Street stuff) the working from home thing was a big no-no. So I engineered an exit strategy and became an entrepreneur. I write this while sitting in my back yard getting awesome sun exposure.

Tim Ferriss also has some excellent tips on negotiating remote work agreements in his book, The Four Hour Work Week. I “blame” him for inspiring me to go entrepreneur 🙂 I LOVE IT.

MrsZimm13
MrsZimm13
2 years 27 days ago
Working from home… I’ve been doing it for 7 years and have never been happier. It’s not an “elitest” thing…it’s a practical and a smart choice for many. If you’re not doing it and think you’d like it, step out of your comfort zone and give it a try. Even if it means a change in company or profession. I’m admittedly not a good boundary setter…thus I work long hours some days, and other days I make up for it by going to yoga class, weeding my garden or having lunch with a friend. My company stance is as long… Read more »
Janet
2 years 27 days ago

Working from home is awesome. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It took a lot of baby steps to get here. First made a vow to figure out how to work remotely (equipment and co-worker/management issues). Then started doing it one day at a time. It is always easier to say it can’t be done than to do it! You have to really want it. I am so happy I did it!

Daniel Freeman
2 years 26 days ago

It is a shame more of this cannot be done. I am very lucky now to work from home but before I had about a 1-1.5 hour drive each way to work. Australia has such spread out cities and inner city housing costs push the sprawl further and further every year. It is a great place to live but I feel this big commute for most people is going to bring the quality of life down further of the years.

Kathy from Maine
Kathy from Maine
2 years 26 days ago
I’m a technical writer and have worked from home (for a financial services company) full time for most of the 21 years I’ve been with the company. Although I love working remotely, it’s not as glamorous as people think. I can’t start work at 10:00 and work until 7:00, or take one- or two-hour breaks in the middle of the day. I need to be available by email and phone during the same hours as everyone else, and for me to answer a phone while in a coffee shop, for example, would be the height of unprofessionalism. Perception is reality,… Read more »
Green Girl
2 years 19 days ago

I’m not a big fan of the typical 9-5 job for primal living, but if you have to have that kind of job, then telecommuting is a big positive for all the reasons listed in this article. I used to be a mobile workplace specialist to help people succeed at telecommuting. Most people loved it, but surprisingly there was a good crowd of folks that despise telecommuting.

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