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Some Telecommuters Don’t Really Do Their Work?

By Lisa van der Pool, Boston Business Journal
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BOSTON (CBS) – Candace Lee, vice president at Boston-based BzzAgent Inc., works from home every Tuesday and Friday. Her husband travels extensively for work and the couple has two young children, so in order to “make it all hang together,” Lee telecommutes.

“The notion of (all employees) being in one space feels a little old-fashioned,” Lee said.

Indeed, telecommuting has become an increasingly common practice at companies — and a common employee request — in large part because of the vast array of technological options available for keeping in touch with colleagues, from instant messages to video conference.

But while the practice is on the upswing — telecommuting rose 61 percent between 2005 and 2009, according to the Telework Research Network — there are pitfalls.

A CareerBuilder survey from last September found that one in five people who work from home spend an hour or less actually working each day.

And many managers worry about the appearance of favoritism: If three employees have such an arrangement, where does it end?

And does that mean the office will eventually look like a ghost town when clients arrive for meetings?

For that reason, telecommuting is not a given at every company. Most firms that offer it require employees to write up proposals and are expected to be extremely responsive throughout the day.

“Philosophically, I don’t care where people work. But we pride ourselves on our culture … people bonding and going out to lunch and playing pingpong,” said one executive of a Boston-area professional services firm, who did not want to be named because the issue is a “hot topic” in his office.

“When people work from home, you lose that and what we find is, you lose that cultural aspect,” said the executive.

Technology has also made it easier for companies to track their staffers, with some employers saying they check to see if an employee is logged into the system as a way of keeping tabs. Instant messaging also makes it difficult for a staffer to skirt bosses and take off early for the beach.

Private investigator Kevin Leary said that beyond being logged in at the right times, the main way employees prove the arrangement works is by producing their work on deadline.

“If they need to be there for certain hours, then the only thing you can do is check to see if their car is parked in the driveway,” said Leary.

Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal can be seen weekdays at 6 a.m. on WBZ-TV.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter at @lvanderpool.

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