Why Entry-Level Hires Should Not Telecommute

Alexandra Levit, People Results
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Telecommuting is the future.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about a quarter of employed Americans work from home some hours each week.  In a recent study by the Families and Work Institute, 63 percent of employers said they allowed employees to work remotely in 2012, up from 34 percent in 2005.  Even Marissa Mayer, the new Yahoo! CEO who banished telecommuting from company policy last year, can’t stop this train.

Given the pervasiveness of the trend, in the new edition of my book for entry-level hires, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, I added a section on telecommuting.  I recommend that twenty-something employees who want to telecommute talk with HR and/or read their orientation materials to understand how their organization’s flextime procedure works.  I give them some suggestions regarding how they can build a business case for telecommuting and how to trial the new arrangement successfully.

The downside of early-career telecommuting

There is something, however, I feel I need to add for the HR audience that may be reading this.  As a general rule, I don’t think professional entry-level hires should work from home more than one day a week.  Being able to telecommute effectively implies that you can do your job just as well remotely as you could in an office, and I don’t believe that’s the case with young twenty-somethings.  New college graduates haven’t worked long enough to have mastered critical soft skills such as in-person communication, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence.  Their learning curve also includes cultural assimilation, or figuring out and then adhering to the spoken and unspoken rules of engagement within a particular organization.   If they don’t have the opportunity to master these things in the same building as colleagues and managers, they may never catch up.

Telecommuting employees usually get a pass on most issues related to first impressions, since the only things they have to worry about are the phone voice and technology usage etiquette.  In-office employees, on the other hand, have to nail all aspects of the first impression, including general appearance, dress, demeanor, handshake, posture, and common courtesy.  It takes time and some honest mistakes – like carrying around a chewed up pen for note-taking or interrupting an executive meeting with a trivial question – to master exactly what you must do and not do in order to be taken seriously in the professional world.  How will remote workers who never have to change out of their pajamas know how to dress for a particular type of meeting or when to hide that extra piercing?

As long as we have offices, twenty-somethings should use them

I’m not saying that twenty-somethings shouldn’t be full-time telecommuters until they reach the ripe old age of thirty.  But I am saying that they must be given the experience to navigate the world of human interaction.  For a year or more, they should be in the trenches with other worker bees, mapping the lay of the land and fighting for resources and attention the way all maturing species do.   Without this critical rite of passage, they will never develop into the well-rounded professionals they must be in order to become our companies’ next generation of leaders.

Want more by Alexandra Levit?  Read Onboarding 101, Onboarding 201, and Onboarding 301.  Let us know what you think in the comments!

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