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The Siren Call Of Telecommuting

February 2, 2016

It’s great, right? You cut out the commute. You can work in your pajamas. You still interact with people, just through email, chat, text and phone. The only piece you are missing is the physical interaction. 

To quote General Ackbar,

It’s a trap.

Your attitude about telecommuting probably changes depending on what kind of team you see your office as. Is it a track team or a basketball team? Both are teams, but they work very differently. 

My oldest daughter was part of a track team in high school. She was a long jumper and ran the high hurdles. She did very well. In fact, as a sophomore, she set school records in the high hurdles. We would go to her meets and watch her run and jump. Then, we would go home. We cared about watching her compete in her events, but we were less interested in how the team did. Because, unless you follow track and field, you may not understand how the scoring works. Each athlete competes in their individual events. The results of these individual contest are tabulated and an overall winning team is selected. Team members even compete against each other. My daughter jumped against other kids in her high school as well as the other teams. It’s even possible, although unlikely that members of a team could take second in every event and still win the meet. It’s a bunch of individuals who happen to be wearing the same uniform. 

Some companies are like that. Sales associates are working on meeting their own quota. If territories are not carefully defined, sales people end up competing with each other. The company gets the sale, of course, but the individual sales staff members are each fighting to be #1. 

In a track meet, there are some groups who work together. The relay teams, for example, depend on each other. They have to all do well for the team to win. While working at Microsoft I was part of a team that was competing with Microsoft Office.Our product, called NetDocs filled the same niche as Office Online. (We did not win that particular race.) 

But, there’s another way to consider teams; the basketball team. The greatest basketball team ever assembled was the 1992 USA Olympic team. The team was loaded with future Hall of Famers, and professional all-stars.

  • David Robinson
  • Patrick Ewing
  • Larry Bird
  • Scottie Pippen
  • Clyde Drexler
  • Karl Malone
  • John Stockton
  • Chris Mullin
  • Charles Barkley
  • Magic Johnson
  • Christian Laettner (And one college player not named Shaquille O’Neal sadly)

And the greatest basketball player of all time

  • Michael Jordan

There will probably never be as talented a team assembled in any sport. And yet, the first game they played was against a team of college players. The professionals lost 62-54. The reason they lost was that they were not playing as a team. The coach made poor substitutions. He wanted to emphasize to the team that a good team can beat a team of great palyers. In basketball, more than any other sport, the team members need to rely on each other. 

In basketball, players have to play both offense and defense. Not every player is great at all aspects of the game. Some players are great rebounders. Others are great shooters. Others are great at defense. A great team will recognize the talents of each members and adjust their strategy to use that team members in the best possible to way to win. 

Most offices are more like a basketball team than a track team. I have almost sole responsibility over our company interaction with my client from a technical standpoint. However, it’s not unusual for someone else to need to step in and cover for me if I’m travelling or unavailable. In a track meet, it makes no sense to ask the high jumper to step in for the guy throwing the javelin. But, in basketball, it happens a lot that a person who specializes in defense might be asked to take on more of a scoring role. If you are the guy getting back on defense, you need to defend the fast break, regardless of who you normally guard. 

If your office runs like a track team, then telecommuting is the perfect setup. You want your team to stay out of each other’s way. But, if you are like most businesses, and like mine, you need to interact with your team. You need to know that you can trust them to step in and help you out if the guy you are guarding gets past you. You need her to call the screens that you cannot se. You need to be able to feed a team member the ball as they streak for the basket. 

You need to be present. Telecommuting physically removes that interaction where many of the sublties of office interactions are made. Most people are not going to Skype you to ask “did you see that guy run the 100 yard dash at a meet in Germany yesterday?” But, they might wander by your desk and ask, “So did you see the Jazz/Bulls game last night?”

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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