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Telework stories: Michelle Birdsall
How long have you been teleworking?
I’ve worked at the Evans School for a little more than 10 years and I’ve been teleworking a little more than five years, so half of my tenure here. I started working at home part time after I had a baby and child care was hard to come by for the first year all of the child care providers near the university would not take infants. I was able to arrange for my mother to take care of my newborn until he could get into regular day care.
How frequently do you telework?
Just one day a week, always Thursday. I am also an 80-percent employee, so my scheduled day off is Tuesday. I am scheduled to be in the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Do you have a formal telework agreement in place with your supervisor?
The UW has a formal telework process including an agreement. I’m currently the only person who telecommutes. There were people working from home before me as part of a six month trial to see if teleworking was feasible for us.
Has teleworking affected your productivity?
I don’t know that it has affected my productivity; it’s just different. I do different things at home than I do here. I don’t have as much desk space at home so I tend to do things that are more computer-oriented. I do more paperwork when working at my campus office. There are some things I work on at home since they are done much quicker if I don’t have people interrupting me. Also, I sometimes I use the time when I am working at home to talk with HR about sensitive subjects because I have more privacy and freedom to talk openly when not in my campus office.
Do your coworkers have any reaction to your teleworking?
There have been some adjustments. I live very close and so I can be quite flexible if there are meetings and events I have to attend on campus on the day I am working at home. I try not to schedule on campus activities on Thursdays, but I’ll come in for a meeting and then go back home if it’s unavoidable. The biggest challenge has been in coping with fewer co-workers as the staff has shrunk and with coordinating with folks in the office as work hours have been reduced. For example, I was on two interview committees where interviews were scheduled for Thursdays. Because of conflicts with the telework schedules of other committee members, I had to come to campus those Thursdays. There is a lot of shuffling that goes on to make schedules work.
What do you think are some of the benefits of teleworking?
Uninterrupted time to do work is one benefit. Lots of things happen out in the main office where I might be like “oh let me help” or someone pops in to ask a question. So I don’t get those day to day interruptions when I am working at home. I don’t drive to campus on the days I work there. If I have an appointment after work I have to go home and get a car in order to get someplace. I try to schedule after work activities for the day I work at home to make the arrangements easier.
What do you think are some of the disadvantages of teleworking?
Having to attend meetings that are held on the day I work at home. Having a job that doesn’t lend itself to telework. For example, teleworking is not practical if you work at the front desk to greet people and answer phones you need to be there, or if you need to use files that are shared with other people that cannot be taken home. So I consider myself lucky that my job and circumstances lend themselves to be able to do that.
Have your job duties changed as a result of teleworking?
No. Same job and duties as before.
Are your technological needs being met while teleworking?
The remote desktop is fantastic. It’s set up for me at home and I just hit a button and type in my password and I’m done. IT wants me to have an additional monitor in my campus office but I am resisting it because I want a similar set up at both places that I work so it’s seamless. When I discovered that I could forward my phone to home, that opened up a whole new world. There are times when faculty call and they have no idea that I’m not physically in the building.
Sometimes people forget I’m working on Thursdays and they are like “oh well you’re not working tomorrow” and I have to remind them that I am working so please call and email me. In the beginning I would put a sign on my desk or a coworker would remind them that I am working, but just remotely. There are times when people call and say “I’m sorry to bother you.”
Is your morale affected by teleworking?
I think my morale has improved because of having a more flexibile schedule at home, I can exercise, I can do things after work at a reasonable hour, and the fact that then my mother was able to provide the child care gave me peace of mind.
Would you recommend teleworking for others at UW?
It depends on the type of job. After working in HR I’m sensitive about putting supervisors in a bad spot in deciding who can work from home because some jobs don’t lend themselves to teleworking while some people might not be as well suited to working at home because they wouldn’t be as willing to come to campus on their telework days. People should think about the work they do and their flexibility before requesting to telework. I suggest they try working at home and see how it’s working instead of looking at it as that it is going to work forever.
Has teleworking had any impact on your use of sick time/vacation time?
No effect on sick or vacation time. If I’m sick I still take days off. It’s probably better for my coworkers because I’m not the type of person to stay home when maybe I should when I have the sniffles.
How many hours of commuting a day do you save by working at home? What do you do with that time?
I live very close to campus so commute time is not really a major factor for me. But I do use my lunch hour when working at home to exercise. So that is an added benefit as well.