My Telecommuting Internship: Eight Months In The Virtual Workplace

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Say hello to the future! No more 1.5 hour commute times, no more 6 a.m. alarms, and (finally) no more snoozing on the subway.

There’s only one kind of revolutionary work style that gives you this kind of flexibility – telecommuting.

I remember the first time I heard of this concept: I was in Toronto and on a phone interview for a marketing internship with telecommunications company TELUS. As I was talking to my future manager, I found out that she was working from her home in Ottawa. Intrigued by the idea of having my manager work in Ottawa while I worked in Toronto, I asked her what it was like to work remotely and if anybody else on the team worked that way.

That’s when the shocking revelation came – our entire team was spread across Canada, and the chances of meeting any of them face to face were very slim. Instead of becoming cautious or hesitant, I became more and more enthusiastic about this new experience, and I remember my manager had a good laugh about how foreign I was to the work style she used on a daily basis.

But after working at an internship in the banking industry that required full attendance from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in a suit every single day, I was definitely ready for a change and I knew that this was it.

Adjusting to the virtual workplace

In my first week of work, I could easily get a sense of how much the company embraced the virtual workplace. The “Welcome to TELUS” orientation program for new hires was a completely virtual three-day session that even featured a 3D collaborative environment where we could use avatars to interact with interns from other locations.

This was also where I was formally introduced to TELUS’s “Flexible Work Styles” program, which allows employees to work with their managers on selecting one of the main three available work styles. An employee can choose to be:

  • A resident worker, who has a reserved desk at the office and comes in regularly but still has the option to work from home or from other locations.
  • A mobile worker, who works out of a variety of locations by logging in through a secure internet connection, and has the option to come into the office by booking a mobile workstation.
  • An at-home worker, who has their primary office set up at home and works mainly from there but still has the option to come into the office by booking a mobile workstation.

For me, this is a clear signal of how telepresence and telecommuting is not just a service that TELUS sells to its customers, but also a corporate-wide adopted tool and work style. The very notion that a company trusts an employee to be productive no matter what style they choose shows a very forward-thinking cultural mindset.

Needless to say, I fit right in. I loved the fact that no one was constantly monitoring my work and that I could set my own times to work. The onus was completely on me to choose whether I wanted to take my time with my training or ramp up at a speedy pace. In my opinion, the very fact that I even had this choice was really unique. And that’s the kind of culture that comes along with telecommuting – it creates a meritocracy, where your work and accomplishments speak volumes compared to everything else. You can be a quiet person or a socialite, but at the end of the day, the work you complete is what really matters.

Developing relationships with co-workers

One aspect that I did find initially troubling was that I didn’t need to interact with my team on a daily basis to execute my job function. Being a natural introvert, I found this very appealing at first but was also worried that I would eventually become disconnected from my team. However, as a few weeks went by, I became naturally curious about who they were, what they did and how we all co-ordinated to achieve the same overarching goals.

This curiosity allowed me to take the initiative of setting up calls with other team members and get to know them better. In a physical office, I would have been required to introduce myself to everyone in the very first week; a time in which I wouldn’t know my role too well or where I fit in the team or know what questions to ask, and would have therefore been a lot less confident in meeting others.

Pros and cons

Having worked for eight months as an intern at TELUS, the experience has given me a very good grasp of the pros and cons that exist in the virtual workplace. One of the biggest benefits for me is that I can work wherever I want and whenever I want. It’s completely up to me whether I want to come into the office to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or if I want to work from school from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. – it’s flexible with my schedule. Of course, there are certain guidelines put into place for working in public spaces, but the very fact that I have a choice to either follow the norm, or stray away from it, is truly empowering.

Playing off the same work-life balance benefit, it can easily go the opposite way. In some instances, I’ve found myself working late into the night in preparation for a presentation or even working overtime without even realizing it. The work-life balance works well with people who have the additional responsibility of taking care of their family, but it may have the opposite effect for ambitious young employees who are out there to prove their worth. It really comes down to having a balanced set of priorities and knowing that it’s okay if you don’t spend all the time you have at work.

All in all, even though I personally loved the experience (and I’m still loving it as I’m working part-time at TELUS right now), I must caution that it really isn’t for everyone. Some people like to see their manager every day, have constant feedback on how they’re doing, or even have a chance to engage in small talk. A lot of these things are minimized in telecommuting, and it definitely makes you appreciate any face-to-face time that you can get with your manager or team.

If there was one way for me to sum up the whole telecommuting experience and give you something that all telecommuters can relate to, I’d pass it over to this hilariously crafted comic by The Oatmeal.

Note: The views expressed in this article are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

Photo credit: Is That a Cat Behind Your Computer? by Susy Morris on Flickr

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About the author

Feral Rizvi is a fourth-year BBA Co-op Management Student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and is currently set to graduate June 2013 (yay!). She also works part-time as a Marketing Analyst for TELUS, and her hobbies include playing video games, surfing the web for interesting topics, meeting cool people as VP of Student Life for The Comic Book Club, and playing flag football in the winter for the U of T Varsity Blues. Feel free to send a tweet her way about anything egg-citing!