Revised April 25, 2013
Telecommuting/Cloud Commuting &
Advocacy & Resources
I've been researching and advocating the practice of online
volunteering (virtual volunteering) since 1996, and managing remote
volunteers since 1994. When I started, there was no research
regarding online volunteering, so I used a combination of
traditional volunteer management research, resources and publications and
telecommuting manuals to come up with the original
suggestions for how to work remotely with volunteers using the Internet.
By the time the 1990s were ending, I had managed hundreds of volunteers
online, people working a few miles or hundreds of miles away from my
geographic location, on long-term projects and
byte-sized/micro-volunteering tasks, and worked on projects together with
dozens of paid staff in remote locations, relying on a variety of
communications tools and methods to collaborate successfully.
Also, during my first year at the Virtual
Volunteering Project, I worked from home. I telecommuted
(or, using the latest jargon, cloud-commuted or was engaged in work
shifting). My supervisors were in Washington, D.C. and California. I
adhered to those telecommuting manuals in putting together my home office,
defining my work day, providing my supervisors with regular updates and
creating a balance between my home and work life (which were just inches
apart). And from 2009 to the present, I'm working from home (and the road)
again, now as a consultant.
Through these experiences, I became an advocate for telecommuting/cloud
commuting. I don't advocate that we all give up onsite office work and
face-to-face meetings entirely -- I don't know anyone who is advocating
that, actually. But I do believe that workers can be more productive, cut
down on travel time and reduce fuel costs, and that the environment can be
made much cleaner and our roads less congested, if more workers were given
the option to telecommute part-time.
Sadly, the vision many managers have of telecommuting/cloud
commuting staff is someone sitting at home, surfing YouTube on their
computer or continually raiding the refrigerator while their kids run
around the house and need attention, with neighbors at the door ready to
visit, etc. Or the telecommuter runs errands all day outside the home. But
for most telecommuters, this is NOT the case. In fact, telecommuters are
notorious for overwork, for not knowing when to quit their workday, for
taking time away from family and social activities to work, and always
being "on call" out of a sense of guilt for not being in the office.
How to combat telecommuting/cloud commuting misconceptions your
company may have?
First, accept that telecommuting/cloud commuting is not for everyone,
nor for every job.
- You cannot telecommute effectively if you are also looking after
children at the same time. Do not even think of emailing me and trying
to argue this point. If it was possible, everyone would be taking their
kids to work with them every day.
- You cannot telecommute if you cannot be available to colleagues for
spontaneous online meetings, or meetings during regular business hours.
Yes, you can work after hours, but you MUST be available to clients,
colleagues and others during regular business hours, at least part time
- and be available regularly
- You cannot telecommute if your job functions cannot easily and
practically be performed offsite.
If you want to telecommute, you have to be able to well communicate
the following to your employer, or your potential employer, in clear
details (not just verbal affirmations):
If you want to telecommute, you also have to decide with your employer
- How your job functions (work tasks) can easily and practically be
performed offsite. Specify how you will meet each job requirement and
your boss's performance expectations without continual onsite
face-to-face contact (will you use online
face-to-face contact?) or access to office-based equipment and
- That you will be as accessible by phone or Internet communications
during business hours to co-workers and clients as you are at the
office. I like instant messenger programs, so that colleagues can see me
online and contact me instantly via such, or use such to request a phone
call or a live audio chat. Other people like programs that have both
instant messaging and online audio and video functions, like iVisit
or Skype. You log into the account
you want to use at the start of your work day and you log off when you
leave your desk or at the end of the work day. Many employees use these
programs onsite, asking questions of colleagues who may be on a
different floor or in a different building. Otherwise, you will have to
either get an additional phone number at home for work, or give out your
home number and hope that people won't call you outside of work hours.
(There are free
programs that allow you to see all your various instant
messaging/chat accounts in ONE window. No need to log into each
platform (AOL Instant
Google Talk, LiveJournal,
Messenger, etc.); instead, you login just once, and any one of
your connections can see you online via whatever platform they happen
to be using. I use Adium; other
programs, all free, include Kopete,
Pidgin and Miranda
- You have a way to show your progress regularly to your
supervisor and co-workers, probably much more than you would have to if
you were onsite. How will you show your supervisor and colleagues what
you are accomplishing every day, or every week? Help your manager
identify ways to measure your productivity. Detail how you will provide
updates on established goals and objectives. It can be as simple as a
document or spread sheet update regularly and you share with your
supervisor in the cloud (via Google
Drive, for instance), or you could use an online
collaboration/project management tool like MiniGroup,
or Wikispaces. Of course you,
as a telecommuter, shouldn't be held to a different standard than onsite
personnel; reporting requirements should be equitable across the work
place, no matter where people are working. But don't be surprised if you
are, indeed, held to a different standard.
- You will initiate and maintain communications with managers,
co-workers and team members, you will ensure that matters don't fall
through the cracks, that you will handle problems right away, and that
you won't let questions/concerns fester. You have to take the lead in
these things - don't expect co-workers or your supervisor to.
- You are prepared to dedicate 100% of your attention to your work
during working hours at home, you have a separate room or area of your
home that is quiet and insulated from the various domestic activities of
your household, and you are ready to treat your telecommuting day as you
would a work day, "getting to work" on-time and working a full day. That
means no dog barking during teleconferences or video conferences. Doing
work from a coffee shop or the park may not be okay with your supervisor
or co-workers; best not to try it until you have proven your
productivity from your home office and telecommuting is accepted at your
This also means that you should NOT use FaceBook
or MySpace during working hours
unless your profile is used ONLY for your professional activities.
These are online social networking sites, as opposed to, say,
an online professional networking site like LinkedIn
or an online professionally-focused community on YahooGroups.
If your boss decides to check up on you and sees newly-updated photos
of your last vacation or your kids, or reads that your latest status
is "can't get the kids to take a nap" or "such-and-such soap opera is
getting really interesting!", he or she will know that you are not
focused on work during working hours, as you said you would be.
- You are prepared to affirm that you will not hold business visits and
in-person meetings with business customers or co-workers at your home
(do these at the company you work for, or in a public place).
- You and your employer will prepare written agreements of when you,
the worker, will be "on" and "off" the job, if you will be paid for
overtime, how you will get permission for overtime BEFORE engaging in
such, etc. You may need to explore with your employer putting in place a
time-tracking mechanism such as computer login-logout tracking.
- You and your employer will establish whether you are responsible for
paying your own transportation costs when coming into the office. The
general rule followed by most employers is that once workers have done
the first "principal activity" of the workday onsite at the workplace,
they are on the clock when they are on the road, but if the trip is from
home to work, it's commute to work and not reimbursable. You need to get
this clarified before telecommuting begins.
- You are prepared to comply with company policies while on the job at
home (you won't have a martini during your work day, for instance).
- You do NOT see telecommuting as a way to combine your work while
taking care of children - if you do, you are NOT ready for
- You won't telecommute five days a week, at least not to start.
Consider proposing that you work from home just one or two days a week.
Later, you can increase the number of days you telecommute, if things
are going well.
- You have identified exactly what it is you will do from home.
Even if you produce reports 50% of your time, how much time do you spend
knocking on doors, attending meetings, tracking people down, and going
through onsite files to get the data you need? These sources of
information will be harder to reach from home, even if your colleagues
use email regularly and even if you can access the company intranet from
home. Also, its easy to ignore email or requests for a video conference;
it's harder to ignore someone standing in your doorway asking for
- You are tech-savvy enough to not overburden at-office colleagues or
IT support by working from home.
There is extensive information online and off about companies who have
instituted successful telecommuting programs, as well as guides on how to
start a program. There's also a growing number of guides regarding working
in multi-cultural teams and working with virtual teams. Below is a list of
such resources that I'm particularly fond of, and that I think, together,
counter any remaining arguments against telecommuting. These resources are
compiled for various audiences: workers who want to convince management to
allow telecommuting, managers who are skeptical of telecommuting, workers
and managers about to embark in a telecommuting relationship, and people who
want to work with others (whether paid staff or volunteer) in remote
locations. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list - just my
- whose computer you will use at home
- if you are permitted to use the computer outside of work hours for
personal reasons or if you will switch to your own computer
- how you will back up your data
- how you will protect company confidentiality, as appropriate
- how you will protect your computer from being accessed by anyone in
- how you will protect company equipment you have at home or outside
the home from theft or damage
- how you will ensure that your virus protection is up-to-date and
- if you will get reimbursement for your Internet access at home
- what insurance covers company equipment you have with you out side of
- Two excellent resources written by Esther Schindler for www.cio.com,
reprinted at Telecommute!Connecticut:
- Robert Moskowitz's "Are
You Ready To Telecommute? An Objective Checklist To Determine If
Your Company And/Or You Are Ready For Telecommuting." This
was a key resource for the early days of the Virtual
Management in the Virtual Office
This outstanding, extensive guide, released May 10, 1995 by Bernie Kelly
and Bruce McGraw, is still incredibly relevant. It had the most
influence on the
original Virtual Volunteering Project of any telecommuting
- Pacific Bell Network Telecommuting Guide. Pacific Bell's
telecommuting program was one of the first in the nation. Unfortunately,
Pac Bell removed this pioneering document from its web site. But you can
still find it by cutting and pasting this URL:
Internet Archive Wayback Machine
- Proposal to set up a
virtual office by Object Services and Consulting, Inc. This
document, written in 1995 and updated in 1996 and 1997, outlines how
this consulting organization would be set up as an entirely virtual
office, with all employees working from home offices - at the
time, its nine employees were spread across six geographic regions of
the USA. Excellent model for any organization wanting to develop a
- Gil Gordon Associates /
Telecommuting, Telework & Alternative Officing
This is an outstanding set of and links to resources for managers of
telecommuters. This site - operating since May 1995 - consolidates a
wide variety of information from around the world, and from many
different perspectives, on the subjects of telecommuting, teleworking,
the virtual office, and related topics.
and Trust in Global Virtual Teams
This is an in-depth academic study by Dr. Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa that
"explores the challenges of creating and maintaining trust in a global
virtual team," particularly those that involve people of different
cultures and interest, and varying degrees of commitment. It's from June
1998, but let's face it -- technology may change, but the fundamentals
of communication and trust do not. Still an outstanding resource.
- The Psychology of Effective Business Communications in
Geographically Dispersed Teams
In September 2006, Cisco released this white paper that identifies rules
for communicating that will help virtual teams to work together
successfully. Virtual communication 'best practices' recommended in the
report include agreeing to protocols on response times, and establishing
rules for the selection of media and the frequency of communications,
especially in multi-cultural teams. Encouraging socializing and ad-hoc
chats over a virtual 'coffee machine' by using spontaneous and richer
media for communications can also speed up the development of trust.
Whether you work with online volunteers or with paid staff in dispersed
locations, this is a very interesting and helpful white paper. One of
the things I like about it in particular is it's focus on the cultural
differences that can become exaggerated within virtual teams and lead to
misunderstandings. Great stuff. Read
the press release about this (it's a good list of highlights of
the white paper). You can download
the Executive Summary (PDF 137.10KB).
- Involving People With
Disabilities in Virtual Volunteering Programs
A benefit of online volunteering is that it can allow for greater
participation of people who might find on-site volunteering difficult or
impossible because of a disability. This in turn allows organizations to
benefit from the additional talent and resources of more volunteers.
This resource provides suggestions on how to accommodate and encourage
people with disabilities in online volunteering programs, and to help
agencies develop volunteering programs and systems flexible enough to
meet the needs and preferences of the broadest range of users of
computers and telecommunications equipment.
and Answers About Telecommuting for Persons With Disabilities: A
Guide for Employers
Produced by Dr. James E. Jarrett, Graduate School of Business,
University of Texas at Austin, and the Independent Living Research
Utilization Program at the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research in
Houston, Texas. While this guide is focused on managers working with
paid employees, the advice is easily adaptable to managers working with
online volunteers who may have disabilities.
- Establishing a
Corporate Telecommuting Program
Part of "The HR Manager", an online reference guide to the broad range
of Human Resources topics. It's produced by Auxillium West.
- The Telework Coalition
"Enabling Virtual, Mobile, and Distributed Work through Education,
Technology, and Legislation." The Telework Coalition brings together a
diverse array of organizations, companies, and individuals with the
common interest of promoting awareness and adoption of existing and
emerging Telework and Telecommuting applications including telemedicine
and distance learning, as well as addressing access to broadband
services that may be needed to support these applications.
A site promoting tools and information about telecommuting. From by
Department of Energy - Telework/Telecommuting Resources
This site contains loads of information: an introduction and setting up
a telework program, case studies of successful programs, tax credits for
telework equipment, information on videos and brochures for Oregon-based
employers, and more. I love Oregon. I want to move there.
- Studies and research
regarding online volunteering / virtual volunteering
A compilation of publicly-available research regarding online
volunteering, and a list of possible angles for further research
regarding online volunteering.
- Online culture and online community
It's becoming the norm for mission-based organizations (NGOs, NPOs and
others) to use Internet tools to work with volunteers (including board
members), staff, donors and others. This section of my site has been greatly
updated, providing even more ideas and resources on how to work with
others online, in language that's easy to understand for those
considering or just getting started in using online technologies with
volunteers, donors and other supporters.
Return to Index of work place-related resources
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