by Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
Lane Wallace makes some good points about the weaknesses of telecommuting. But I have found that the biggest one is this: If you are physically present with other people, you simply get more comfortable with them.
I spent most of a decade with my office in one state and my data center 500 miles away in another. And I made a point to get down there every 3-4 months and just spend a couple of days hanging out with the folks in computer operations. No urgent tasks, no demands, just spending time within earshot. As a result, they became much more willing to contact me when problems were still small. And much more willing to go out of their way to help when I contacted them from home and needed something. And when I say "more willing," I mean compared to the relationship they had with my co-workers who did not do so -- specifically including those whose desks were less than a hundred yards away, but who never bothered to go see operators in person.
Communicating with all the new technologies is really great. I certainly would not want to be without it. But when it comes to establishing and maintaining a relationship with another human being, it is no substitute for spending time face to face. Far better than nothing, of course. But not as good as even occasional personal visits.