Elephant Post: What is the Biggest Hurdle to Telecommuting in Your Workplace?

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Telecommuting still seems to be a taboo term around many offices. Most of the people I've talked to this week about the question of telecommuting seem to think that the whole issue revolves around the fact that many of our bosses still believe that if they can't see you, then you're probably not working. Of course, then we all point our that there are times where we actually don't "see" our supervisors for days or weeks (or until our annual review is needing our signature.)

Now, there are some that simply cannot telecommute in their jobs because they have to be face to face with the customer, or there are physical duties in their job that can't be faxed, telephoned, or fixed over an broadband Internet connection. That being said, there are still a number of jobs that can be accomplished remotely, and having to drive into an office building downtown is really a waste of resources when you actually think about it.

Enjoy the discussion, and if there is something that you find wasn't covered, then comment on your thoughts of telecommuting.

Next week's Elephant Post is listed below, and we turn to the issue of innovative technologies within law firms (no, that's not an oxymoron.) When you're finished looking over this week's answers, jump on down and let us know  about any innovative tech that you have implemented or seen in the legal industry.

BigFirm Librarian
Reference Librarian

Policy! Staff is not supposed to work from anywhere but the office. I could actually do much of my job remotely by using the official remote desktop application. Since much of the heavily used collection is available electronically, we receive the majority of our requests through email, and we can forward our phones to our cell phones, there isn't a good compelling reason not to allow us to work remotely when circumstances do prevent us from being in the office.


As a public law librarian it would be hard to telecommute. I can check and answer my work email from home. One day they might set up a webcam and Skype and I could answer reference questions from home. I guess I couldn't were my pjs though.

Judy Jetson

There are two large challenges to telecommuting -- the traditional idea of "face-time", especially when imposed by a boss/supervisor and the need to be "fair" to co-workers that would not be able to get work done from home. In other words, those that want to telecommute are frequently prevented from doing so not because they cannot get work done from home (after all, if the faculty are not in the building all the time, why should we be?) but because of the need to check up on everyone. Boo.

Brenna Louzin
Manager of Legal and Business Development Research Services

Even though the majority of our reference requests and research projects come in via email or by phone, we still have a physical reference desk. This desk sits by a very busy hallway and just off the elevator lobby. So, I guess one problem with telecommuting is that we would "not be seen". Does that mean because we would be out of sight we would be totally out of mind?

Karen Lasnick

I have a long commute through a fair amount of traffic and would like to telecommute at least two days a week.  I am allowed to work from home under special circumstances now and again and it works great - most people don't even realize I'm not in the office.  The only hurdle, as far as I can tell, are the powers that be.  I've been told that the attorneys have a greater comfort level when I am actually present in the office.


Attitudes.  Attitude covers two aspects of this in a law office.  The first is the face-to-face attitude.  In other words, if I don't see you at your desk you are not working.  This is a hard one to overcome because many managers tend to rely on this as an indicator of work, especially in a field where the person assigned will simply hand over a document after a certain period of time.  If we could just get past this, then telecommuting would likely take off.  And the attitude about technology in law offices.  Some law firms are well into the modern era, but many are not.  This has to do with a large number of techno-phobe attorneys.  I am afraid there is little to anything that can be done about this.  Much as the desktops for document creation people waited out the typewriter folks, we of social media and cloud computing will have to wait out the desktop folks.

law librarian

It's not possible for me - we are open to the public and are a solo library and so I must be here.

Sarah Mauldin

I would love to telecommute, and basically did for two weeks from my vacation in England.  However, I work in a firm with a two person library staff and someone has to be here to see the deer in the headlights expressions and offer help that attorneys and staff might not think to ask for.  Also, I know I'd have a hard time keeping focused if I worked from home, so it's not really an option for me, even if it was a possibility.


The biggest hurdle is that they want to see me sitting at my desk 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year.  The second biggest hurdle is that I have a Mac at home, and not at work, and no one has figured out how to cross platforms so that I can have full access to my work desktop from home.  Perhaps someone here can recommend something.  Please!

IT Systems Analyst

For the last 14 years, starting when dial-up and forwarding our office phone to our home or cell phone was the best option, I have been able to telework 3 days a week, alternating days with other members of our team.  With broadband and VoIP now, there is no way anyone can tell whether I'm down the hall or a long commute away.  My work is at least 75% solo back-end development and implementation, and 95% on the computer or phone.  Because we so appreciated having this option, we accepted inferior and even degrading work conditions at the office without complaint, came in on our teleworking days without question whenever face time was more appropriate, regularly worked the hours we would have been commuting doing productive work, resolved to stay when other employment opportunities arose (retention for teleworkers 100% for over a decade), and tried our best not to cause any drama that would put this option at risk.

Because we were at home, we hardly ever used any sick days - we didn't have to worry about being contagious and you don't necessarily have to feel good if you don't need to deal with going into the office.   We were able to schedule most of our meetings and "team time" during our in-office days.  4 of us shared an office space built for 2, saving the firm real costs. In the entire time, there was never a complaint from attorneys or teams about us not being available or responsive or getting our jobs done.  Recently, we went through some firm management changes and the new management is not comfortable with the concept, so last month it was taken away without a thought of what life choices we may have made based on our teleworking (moving further away, taking classes or choosing doctors, etc. close to home instead of near the office, etc.).

Now, having to dedicate 3 hours a day to the commute, it is pretty much impossible to put in much or consistent extra work, morale is awful, we are going to need to call in sick more often (partly because we will get sick more often due to exposure we didn't have before), and we are all much more open to changing employers.  We share an office so we are constantly battling each others noises, visitors, ad hoc meetings, phone conferences & webinars, etc.  Not a productive situation.  Teleworking is not for everyone for sure; the home situation and personality of the employee has to be conducive to focusing on work when it is expected.  Exempt status or some kind of sign-in/lock-out process for non-exempt is probably necessary for labor law. We were all exempt.  In my situation, I was mostly glad to have the 2 days in-office to feel/stay connected with others, but I was so much more productive on my projects on the days working from home.

Law Firm Librarian

I have thought sometimes it would be nice to work at home on set days just so that I could finish certain back-end tasks (budget, invoices, catalog) in specific time frames! On the other hand, I also might find it difficult to focus on such tasks outside of an office environment - it would take discipline. Meanwhile, this is a one person library and I find it necessary to make sure I can help people when they walk in or call me with questions about any of our print material. We will probably always have print and electronic resources; however, I think if we were to move to completely online resources - I would still need to be a presence here for those who prefer seeing staff around the office. Our firm did try telecommuting for one person in another department a few years ago; however, she abused the privilege too often by handling non-firm work on the specific days and times she had indicated would be "firm time" (she had a growing photography business on the side). This firm will most likely not allow staff telecommuting again for a looong time due to that experience.

Project Manager

I work for a global law firm and support our clients, both internal and external, around the world.  I very, very rarely meet face to face with anyone, working as I do in the typical globally distributed environment.  My home office is well equipped, my Internet connection is fast and stable, and I can meet needs at any hour.    All that positive stuff aside, the biggest, and only, hurdle to telecommuting is manager unwillingness to allow it.  So I spend up to two and a half hours commuting (while I could be working), sitting in an uncomfortable office with a mind numbingly slow Internet connection on a network that has the usual stability issues.  It's not efficient, but it satisfies an outdated and unfair HR requirement.  It's also really expensive for me, since I live in a city where transit, tolls and parking are astronomically high.  Why not allow it?  The results are measurable and the benefits are, too.

David Selden
Law Librarian

I see the main hurdle to overcome for telecommuting is the sense of community created by in-person interactions.  It is hard to replace the value of communicating in person.  Having said this, some of my staff and volunteers & myself have been able to enjoy both the environmental and personal benefits of occasional telecommuting.

Scott Preston
Technology Alchemist

The biggest hurdle to telecommuting is a lack of understanding about the benefits to not only the organization, but to the environment and employee satisfaction.    Telecommuting is limited only by an organizations ability to understand the benefits.  Much like social media, the benefits of telecommuting are lost on many Human Resource professionals.  Stuck in a time when "building a network" meant meeting with people face to face, it is difficult for many in management to understand the benefits of telecommuting and how the workforce has changed.

NET Engineer

It would be a great idea now that we have remote access and several help desk that could easily go to the data center if a need to put "hands-on" is needed.  It would help so I wouldn't have to drop child off at daycare then run to work (1 hr), then return home (1 hr) and pick child up.  2 hours out of my day, and I'm less than 10mi away from my work, and less than 3 miles away from day care.  Traffic is horrendous!

Next Elephant Post:
Can You Name a Truly Innovative Technology the Legal Profession Has or Is Adopting?
One of the most common phrases I hear when the discussion turns to law firm technology is "whatever everyone else was doing five years ago, law firms are just now implementing." That may be true for some things (can you say, records retention policies??), but there are some intriguing technologies out there that some firm are using to handle information ranging from ediscovery projects to financial interfaces to project management… and pretty much anything in between.

Think of the technologies that you have brought into your firm, or technologies that you've seen marketed to law firms that you think are truly innovative and make (or could make) a difference in the way we practice law or maintain the administrative side of the legal industry.

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Sarah Glassmeyer said...

Is it my imagination or did more people answer this one anonymously than before?

Greg Lambert said...

Not your imagination…

I'm guessing that the topic is so taboo, that most people don't want to be tagged to supporting the idea of telecommuting for fear that they will be asked to telecommute themselves to another job.

Or, it could be that most of the answers came from escaped felons…

I'll go with the former! ;-)

Katie Sunstrom said...

I ran a law practice from my home for 3 years, raising a toddler and for the last 9 months of those three years, I was caring for a newborn with no real "maternity leave" though I did have great support from other solos. I will say that there were aspects of it that were difficult, the housework is right in front of you and it is hard to work before that is done. People tend to do their yard work in the middle of the day; I had many conference calls interrupted by leaf blowers. But, I would get dressed, including makeup and shoes every morning so that I would be motivated and in the mindset to work. I was able to manage my time efficiently knowing that if I'm not working, I'm not billing. And if I'm not billing, I can't buy groceries. I do not think this would be as taboo to employers if there were better ways to track time and if they could see increased monetary results from allowing telecommuting. Especially for parents that may need to be home certain days for early after school activities or sick children. Shaving off that hour round-trip commute would give them an extra hour of billable time. However, I do not think I would do it again on a full time basis. I love sitting at my desk in my office, it puts me in the zone. I still have the freedom to work from home if I need to but it is not as desirable. Besides, the coffee is better here and there are colleagues to spit ball with.


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