ASSOCIATES (vol. 6, no. 3, March 2000) -

French Rolls, Coffee and a Computer


Mary T. Kalnin
Monographic Services Division
University of Washington

     I know what you’re thinking—yet another article about the care and feeding of one’s computer. Not this time. This is another article about the expanding phenomenon of telecommuting, or, as it now seems to be called, teleworking.

     Working at home is not a new phenomenon, but it used to be the prerogative of high-level business executives or those who ran home businesses, like Avon and Tupperware distributors. However, even those business executives had to go to the office to attend meetings or see their staff. Even those Avon or Tupperware distributors had to leave home to deliver the merchandise, if for no other reason. Working at home was certainly not an option for line employees.

     Then came the personal computer and the Internet. Those business executives can now continue to work at home and stay in constant touch with the office; teleconferencing is now possible and a boon to all business enterprises and government agencies. Those Avon and Tupperware distributors need have only a Web site and the U.S. Postal Service to fulfill their obligations and remain at home. Now, even line employees who jobs allow it need only a computer and an Internet connection to work at home.

     In our online discussions, telecommuting is often a topic, and we generally want to know if it is possible for library employees and what guidelines telecommuters use. To that end, Associates asked me to write a short article because I have been a telecommuter for about five years.

     With your kind permission, we’ll explore one employee’s experience in telecommuting. Certainly we’ll look at the guidelines under which I work, but these same kinds of guidelines are likely enforced throughout the library telecommuting world. What kinds of library positions allow telecommuting? In general, employees in positions with little or no public contact are candidates for the telecommuting option; that usually means employees of technical services areas and perhaps some department heads. However, even staff in public service positions might have some telecommuting hours when they are not scheduled on the desk, as do some reference librarians in my system.

     I am employed in the Monographic Services Division of the University of Washington Libraries. The first telecommuters at the University of Washington Libraries blazed the trail about six years ago. Two people in Cataloging Division and one in Acquisitions Division requested permission to telecommute during part of the week. As with most requests in a hierarchical structure, permission was not immediately forthcoming. The division heads and other administrators did not necessarily object to telecommuting; it simply required some time to put the rules in place. Those rules have been evolved from a set of guidelines into a specific policy under which members of what is now Monographic Services work today.

     Monographic Services Division has allowed alternate work schedules for many, many years; telecommuting is just one more option for our staff. Should a member wish to pursue that option, he or she must submit a written proposal to the supervisor or personnel coordinator. (A personnel coordinator is the person in each of the Division’s three self-managing sections who signs all official personnel forms; she or he is not a supervisor because the self-managing sections do not have supervisors.)

     The proposal for telecommuting must include the following: work to be done at home; affirmation that there is sufficient space in the home to do the work, and that it will not interfere with the household; that the employee has the necessary equipment and the workspace is ergonomically sound; the list of the equipment the employee will supply and what the Libraries is expected to supply; what hours the staff member expects to work at home.

     When the employee and the supervisor/personnel coordinator agree, the supervisor signs off and gives the proposal to the head of Monographic Services Division. He signs off and sends it to the Associate Director for Resources and Collection Management Services, who signs off and sends it to the Libraries’ Deputy Director/Personnel Director. Once permission is granted, the employee can begin to work at home.

     The Division has specified Tuesday through Thursday, 9:30 am to 3:00 pm as core hours; if someone’s telecommuting schedule includes those hours, the employee must agree to come into the office should his/her presence be required for a meeting or interview. We maintain a copy of any software that the employee might have to load onto a home computer. It is also expected that a telecommuter will read e-mail during the working hours, especially those who have only one telephone line into the residence, which is, of course, tied up with the computer connection. The following is the URL for the Monographic Services work schedule policy should it be of any interest:

     Telecommuting is becoming a campus-wide option for those whose positions allow for it. Because of the UW’s location in the city, the traffic around campus is quite bad. To reduce the traffic in accordance with State of Washington guidelines, and being a good neighbor, telecommuting is now presented as one of the options for reducing single-occupant vehicle traffic on campus.

     I find telecommuting a relaxing way to end the week. However, I can also work at home at other times. If a problem arises during my scheduled telecommuting hours, I am free to logout and start again later that day, or anytime on the weekend. If I am at home due to inclement weather and have work with me, I can work at any time because the systems I use run twenty-four hours a day. I strongly recommend telecommuting to anyone who is in a position to do so; I also recommend it to those institutions that might be considering it.

     So, what relationship do French rolls and coffee have to telecommuting? The best part of telecommuting—breakfast!


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