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The original concept of telecommuting allows certain company employees to set up satellite workstations and perform their duties from home. There has always been a concern that largely unsupervised telecommuters would actually spend much of their time taking care of personal business, such as bill paying, Internet surfing, and email clean-up. Now there is a new work phenomenon called reverse telecommuting, in which largely unsupervised office workers take care of personal business while on company time, such as bill paying, Internet surfing and email clean-up.
Reverse telecommuting brings the employee's home into the office or factory environment, complete with all of the personal tasks traditionally performed before and after work hours. It is not unusual to find employees, or employers for that matter, writing personal checks for home-related bills, making personal phone calls to set up medical or social appointments, and playing games or surfing the Internet on company-owned equipment. Arguably, many of these activities can only be conducted during normal business hours, and employees who work from 8am to 5pm may need to rely on some reverse telecommuting to take care of essential personal business.
Certain occupations which demand long hours or are located far from an employee's home are common targets for reverse telecommuting. It may not be possible for an employee to take care of all of his or her personal business during a lunch hour or other company-approved break. Many office employees also discover their jobs offer a significant amount of downtime, which seems ideal for taking care of routine personal tasks while technically still on company time. As long as the employee continues to perform all of his or her official duties satisfactorily, a number of employers may choose to ignore discreet incidents of reverse telecommuting.
While the perceived need for reverse telecommuting may seem clear to employees, it should never be allowed to replace important job duties. A client or customer should never be placed on hold while an employee finishes balancing his or her personal checkbook, for instance. There should still be some clear lines between personal and professional obligations, and those employees who choose to practice reverse telecommuting should limit themselves to whatever personal tasks cannot be performed before or after normal work hours.
There are times at my job when I can't move forward on a project until other people review my work. I asked my supervisor what I should do during that time, and he said I could do anything I wanted within reason. He was the first person to mention the phrase "reverse telecommuting" to me. He said a lot of the other engineers were in the same position, so the company decided to become more lenient when it came to busy work.
I can't really telecommute, because I need to be able to meet with co-workers face-to-face too much, but I like being able to work on other things and even leave the office for appointments. It's hard to schedule things like doctor visits and parent-teacher conferences when I have to be in an office for 10 hours a day.
I remember when I worked in a traditional office environment, there were times when the noise level was too much for me. My job involved some creative writing, and I just couldn't think when everyone around me was talking. I didn't call it reverse telecommuting at the time, but I did spend a few hours a day taking care of my own personal business at the office. I figured since I couldn't do my regular work because of the distracting environment, I might as well use that downtime efficiently.
My supervisor caught me working on my personal email one day and called me into his office. I told him about the noise situation and he agreed I needed to
do something different. He started letting me telecommute three days a week, and I found my quiet house was a better work environment than the office. He didn't want me doing any more reverse telecommuting when I was in the office, however.
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