Look before you leap

Doug Barney thought telework would work for him.

After six years as an office-based editor with Network World, in 2001 Barney left to become the editor in chief of another magazine, working full time from home.

Barney was confident the arrangement would work well. Though he had no experience with telework, his managers were agreeable. And Barney assumed daily phone contact and regular visits to the main office would make him feel a part of the team.

But after a few months, things went awry. Barney, who had been accustomed to constant communication with his staff and supervisors in his old position, felt increasingly isolated - from both his supervisor, who worked in Washington D.C., and from much of his editorial staff, who either worked in corporate headquarters on Long Island, or from home offices scattered around the country.

While he did manage to meet with his supervisor at trade shows and conferences, Barney says "there wasn't any regular interaction to [help] create a bond."

Moreover, the solitude ate away at him. While he met biweekly with one of his reporters stationed in the company's Waltham office an hour away, and visited the New York office for monthly meetings, Barney longed to return to an office environment: "I didn't realize how much I missed all the other people, sharing ideas, the water cooler gossip."

Barney also faced challenges leading and managing his team. Not only did he barely know them, but his staff - like the rest of the company - relied heavily on e-mail for all communications, project planning, assignments and status reports. Barney, in contrast, preferred phone conferences and in person meetings.

In time, Barney tried to ease his isolation by requesting office space in the Waltham facility, but he had to wait four months before it became available. "It was well worth the one-hour drive each way," he says.

Two months later, Barney was fired. Although he acknowledges other factors were at work besides his remote location, his experiences offer a lesson to anybody considering such a job.

Next week: Doing remote management right.

Jeff Zbar is an author and speaker on telework, free agency, and small or home office (SOHO) issues. His books include Safe@Home: Seven Keys to Home Office Security (FirstPublish, 2001) and Your Profitable Home Business Made E-Z (Made E-Z Products, 2000). Jeff works from home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Questions or comments? Write him at Jeff@goinsoho.com.

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