Surprise! Telecommuting doesn't work. Or maybe it works too well, and telecommuters end up putting in far more hours than their office-bound coworkers. Or maybe both. It kind of depends on who you talk to. One thing is for certain: The shining future where we all happily telecommute to work from the comfort of our homes is far from a reality.
I freelance from home full-time now, but for several years at my last "real job" I telecommuted two days a week. I can vouch for the fact that all of the studies Slate cites are true, but in different ways.
The first problem with studying how well telecommuting works is that few jobs - if you really dig into the cold hard facts - have a baseline for productivity. Most employers don't know, and probably don't WANT to know, how little their employees are actually doing on a daily basis. It is shocking how little work gets done in an office. You realize this if you work from home on a piecework basis.
Let's say I had a task that I knew would take me about four hours to complete when I was in the office. Inevitably if I took it home, it would only take me half that time. Sometimes less. Why? Because I was actually working on it, while my coworkers were updating their Facebook status, harvesting their crops in Farmville, standing outside smoking, flirting in the hallways, leaning on each other's cubicle walls discussing last night's sports game - basically doing anything but actual work.
Oh and let's include "attending meetings" on that list. Once you start working for yourself, you realize how much time is wasted in meetings.
It's a staggering amount of time-wastage, frankly. And it's unfair to hold telecommuters up to some arbitrary threshold of productivity.
The other factor is that telecommuters know that they are on a short leash. You feel pressured to produce more, in order to justify working from home in your sweatpants. Working from home is the carrot; the threat of being pulled permanently back into the office is the stick.
Combine that with the knowledge that instead of doing work, your coworkers are interacting with each other and thus building the social relationships that will help them get ahead. And what you have is a recipe for telecommuters working themselves to the bone, just to prove that they deserve to work from home.
It's a broken system, and I hope we can find better ways to fix it than having the boss spy on every telecommuter's computer.