The Evolution of Telecommuting

About fifteen years ago, I found a newspaper ad claiming you could “Work From Home, Set Your Own Hours.” All you had to do was make these bracelets, and you got paid, I think $5 per bracelet.

The idea that you could really work from home intrigued me. And how hard could it be to make a bracelet? Fortunately, after doing some research, I found that it was apparently really hard, and costs a pretty penny up front too. So, I abandoned the idea and with a heavy heart, went back to normal jobs. Unless you were an established professional (which I wasn’t) that was what working from home meant fifteen years ago.

Not so anymore. So the online bubble burst, and the subsequent recovery over the last decade and a half has changed the way we work and do business. Working from home no longer means “caught up in a pyramid scheme,” and freelancing isn’t necessarily a euphemism for unemployed.  I have had a few legitimate telecommuting jobs and I enjoyed them.

One was writing web copy through on an online company. You applied, and if your credentials and test submssion were good enough, you were accepted into their “family.”  You were then given logins to an involved system of web interfaces. These interfaces had a bit of learning curve, so your entire first week, was a paid online course in using and navigating the systems.  After that, you clocked in every day, did your work and uploaded it. They had an organized system for communicating with supervisors, receiving feedback, and even a peer-to-peer forum for interacting with colleagues.

Each week, your hourly pay (entry level, but on par for the job) was calculated from your timesheet, which was checked for probability against your productivity. Slower writers were required to complete extra tutorials, and eventually dropped if productivity didn’t improve.  Then you were paid either direct deposit or PayPal. The company was based in California, however, and when the minimum wage in California spiked to $11 per hour, writers were dropped like flies. I was one of them. C’est la vie.

Then I had another telecommuting job writing for a local news site. This one had a small office right in the middle of town, but not enough desk space for all the writers. Virtual writers had access to “the corner.” It was an open counter space  with ethernet hookups, swivel chairs and other office supplies. Writers could bring their laptops on a first-come basis, if they needed a quiet place. But most worked from home.

At this place, you generated your own work and then uploaded it to the site. Twice a month, you invoiced the company for your check to be mailed, or picked up, your choice. You communicated with supervisors via e-mail/phone/text, and there was a regular staff meeting once or twice a month. But, other than that, it was all up to you. I wasn’t too good at the self-discipline thing then. And let’s say…well, I learned a lot.

Then there’s my current job. Total contract telecommuting. The office is local, but in seven months, I could count on one hand how many times I’ve been there. I have a company e-mail, where I am sent assignments to be completed by contacting clients via phone and e-mail. I then e-mail the completed work to the office. Once a week, I generate an invoice, and e-mail it to the accounting department. I am then mailed a check. We used to have a staff meeting once a month, but we’ve stopped doing that. We communicate almost entirely by e-mail, and the occasional text. Every once in a while, my boss calls me and I am surprised to hear his voice.

In addition, I am free to pursue my own designs. I can write for other places. I can take a day off. I can run off to another state and join a hippie commune (as long as there is wi-fi, that is).

So, telecommuting has certainly evolved since those days. Tomorrow I will share my best tips for those considered working from home.


3 thoughts on “The Evolution of Telecommuting

    1. Ha! Yeah, as I was writing about these, I started thinking, “Hey, I’ve had some pretty cool jobs!” Remilon was an online company that paid people by the hour to write articles about colleges and careers. It was definitely a pretty good gig, but they had a minimum amount you had to complete each week. I quit because I was only writing part-time and didn’t have the time to regularly keep up. When I tried to reapply a couple of years later, they had changed their focus and weren’t taking any new writers. As a matter of fact, I found out they were dropping many good writers without notice. The company is located in the San Francisco area, and the minimum wage in San Fran had just spiked tremendously at that time($11/hr, compared to the $8/hr they were paying entry-level writers). So like I said in the post, I think that had something to do with it. I don’t know what they’re doing these days, but you can Google them if you want. Pretty good egg if they’ve recovered and are still doing that.

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