News & Politics

Telecommuting Done Wrong

A big fish, a kickboxing accident, a strip-club lunch, and other tales of “working” remotely.

Illustration by Ryan Inzana.

Earlier this year, after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banned working from home, the pros and cons of telecommuting were debated in the media, on the blogosphere, and around water coolers.

Does telecommuting result in greater productivity or less innovation? Both, it turns out.

There’s much to be said for allowing people to work at home, which nearly a quarter of Americans now do some of the time: Employees can stay with a sick child or to let in a plumber and still get work done, it conserves gas and reduces traffic, companies can lease less office space, and research shows that those who regularly telecommute tend to be happier and more productive.

At the same time, studies suggest that when employees are all together there’s greater problem-solving, teamwork, and innovation.

Whether someone slacks off when trusted to work from home or puts in a longer day—telecommuters are more likely than non-telecommuters to log more than 40 hours a week—depends on the individual. And it’s not as if those working from an office don’t occasionally waste time checking Facebook.

It’s clear from our poll of 13,500 area employees that most people don’t abuse the privilege of working from home. But some do. Here are tales, shared in our survey, of those who weren’t exactly “working” remotely. The moral? Honesty is still the best policy.

Nice Catch

• “We had an employee who was at ‘a meeting.’ He made the evening news showing off the fish he’d caught that day.”

• “My friend said he was going to work from home when we went to a baseball game. We were at Nats Park when a vendor came by and said, ‘The gentleman over there bought you a round.’ It was his boss, smiling away!”

• “A person playing golf justified charging the time because of potential business development. That was okay until the person got a hole in one, which was publicized at the golf course where the boss plays.”

What Mute Button?

• “One day on a team conference call, a coworker who was ‘telecommuting’ thought he had his phone on mute. However, we could hear his boat motor going and then the sound of the anchor being thrown in.”

• “An employee dialed into our daily meeting, claiming to be home with the kids. All went swimmingly until, as we were wrapping up, a cheery ‘Attention, Macy’s customers!’ floated through the phone line.”

Unlucky Break

• “I had a boss who habitually ‘worked from home’ but was seldom online. We confirmed she wasn’t doing much work when she called a coworker one day to come and get her from the emergency room because she’d broken her collarbone at kickboxing class.”

• “Someone who was supposed to be working from home was at a water park with his kids. Unfortunately for him, his manager called, and his son picked up the phone and said his dad was on a ride and couldn’t come to the phone.”

• “He had gone to a restaurant and decided to have a couple of beers instead of working from home. He was at the bar having a good time when someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around to discover his boss. His boss laughed about it—but informed him he would need to use vacation time.”


• “We had a guy who was supposed to be working from home but Facebooked pictures of himself enjoying lunch at a strip club.”

• “Someone claimed to be working from home for more than a year before she admitted that she didn’t have an internet connection at her house. Since her work required a connection, no one ever figured out what she was doing. She didn’t last at the company much longer.”

• “One of my coworkers was supposedly teleworking, yet he never answered the phone when I called. One day I called from a blocked number and he picked up, thought I was someone else, and let me know he was ‘drunk in the hot tub.’ ”

• “My roommate was on a teleconference call while working from home, and another employee from his company accidentally turned on his webcam. When this happened, 100 people were able to see my roommate, his shirt off, eating chips on his couch, not paying attention to the call. He did this for five minutes before he realized everyone could see him.”

• “One of my bosses was ‘working from home’ until we found out he was in jail. It took us 48 hours to realize he wasn’t working.”

Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.