Even in small companies, where the number of employees are small, some employees are more equal than others. More on that later, but just to share my telecommuting experiences.
I've worked in a telecommuting position twice. The first time was 100% telecommuting, with the distance between me and the office being about 1300 miles, from 2005-2008. The hiring situation was unusual - they came to me, I'd worked for them in-office for three years in the late 90s, they knew what I could do, etc. It started out well, although they had me doing semi-relevant work until the contract they'd hired me to work on came in. Despite the company setup being quite able to do proper teleconferencing (I'd done a study on the practicality of it in 1998 as one of my last tasks in my previous time) communication was e-mail and conference calls only, despite my agitating to try to get proper video teleconferencing going (being able to see people, expressions, gestures, read body language is a must for effective VTC). It worked until the contract didn't come in, and I got shunted onto other work, increasingly with people who'd been hired after the first time I'd left, and with some health issues on my part and work in the area I specialized in becoming scarce in the company, it was only a matter of time before they laid me off (I wasn't cheap, they could hire a couple of kids straight out of college to do straightforward coding for the same), although I'd have preferred it if they'd just cut me when things started going south, without spending six months criticizing me for not being as good at something I'd never been hired to do in the first place, then laying me off on the second day of my Christmas vacation after I'd worked right over the actual holiday to hit a deadline).
Second experience soured me a lot more. The company was a just-ceased-to-be-a-startup located 90 miles from where I lived, so office visits were fairly regular, I was hired as one of the staff in their new Milwaukee office for a "custom-tailored" position. Spent the first week in the main office in Madison, which was like something out of a Hollywood movie on tech startups - cubicle land, but very relaxed office environment, lots of perks to be in the office, those nice $600 chairs, real "this is a great work environment" stuff. So when, after a couple of months in temporary office space, we finally got into our new office in Milwaukee's trendiest tech neighborhood (which isn't very trendy compared to almost anywhere else's tech neighborhood) and which was a brand-new facility in old warehouse space, we were a little underwhelmed to discover the four of us who were starting out the new remote office were to be the company's guinea pigs in an open office environment. Less pleased still when we discovered the "desks" we'd got were actually cheap dinner tables from a local store, chosen more for their rough-hewn appearance matching the designer's vision of the place, and less pleased still when the temporary "loaner" chairs for the main office were replaced by those special "conference room chairs" intended to ensure you're uncomfortable, and available from the local Staples for $79 each.
We had the gear to do proper VTC, but it was never used, considered too much effort, even though they were "going Agile" (I think it's a requirement if you want to be a Hip Social Media Company) and having the daily 30 minute meetings. That became less of a deal for me when it became clear that at 44 I was considered some sort of relic by the Fresh Young Rock Stars, and the work my job had been built around was either outsourced to new "company partners" or ignored because proposed solutions didn't match the existing skill sets of the FYRS, who seemed to live in mortal terror of learning anything new, or the idea that maybe my antiquity meant I'd learned a thing or two. Throw in the promised weekly visit by the manager never happening, and we became increasingly isolated, generally treated as "out of sight, out of mind" and very clearly second class citizens. As senior second-class citizen, I kicked up most of the fuss about the crappy environment, which didn't endear me to the manager, despite me having done some bloody good work for them. OK, so I got a bit *too* pissed off, and telling your boss that the fscking chairs aren't acceptable probably did merit the warning about unprofessional behavior (although it's odd how it's always the employees who're unprofessional, when employers can act like bastards and get considered *more* professional for doing so), until finally they basically announced what they were going to do what the previous telecommuting employer had done, and stick me in a "designed to fail" role, so I quit - I suffer from pretty severe anxiety, and the way they'd designed it to fail was to make my new role as anxiety-inducing as possible.
Said remote office has now closed - another of the four left a couple of months after I quit to work for the company behind WordPress, who seemingly *really* have the telecommuting thing sorted out, another was laid off, and the shiny new office was closed, as the company (who I won't name, but the name rhymes with "Outlet" if you shouted it, and whose product is basically a social media marketing SaaS platform) started to experience high turnover as the FYRS decided they had to move onto bigger and better things with higher salaries, unlimited vacations and Friday afternoon in-office keggers be damned (then again, the company used the term "rock star" to refer to any competent employee - there were one or two people there who were worthy of the name, but I had problems with people who had hissy fits at the thought of using anything other than PHP and moved from a badly set up PostgreSQL database to MongoDB not because they actually needed it (much as they liked to say "big data" a lot) but because they got badly confused by anything more than the simplest SQL getting described as "rock stars". Then again, when the manager's title got "bumped up" every two weeks, like the generallisimo in some banana republic being awarded a new medal to ensure his loyalty, what do you expect? If he's still there, he's probably Supreme High Grand All-Powerful Almighty Head Manager Of Software Development For Life, With 27th Degree Bars, Eagles And Diamond Clusters, 1st Class, by now. Probably required a separate line on the org chart just to fit in his title.
I've not worked since - after being thoroughly screwed over by two employers in a row, I don't trust anybody enough to work for them, and the mental health problems that the experience of being fscked over by people I'd considered good friends (in more than a work capacity) twice in a row has put me in a position where, after multiple suicide attempts, and the "well past sell-by date" age of 49, I'm unlikely ever to work again. Which is nice in some ways, because I can make the company's name fairly obvious, it's not like they can make me any more unemployable, is it? The only person I'll ever trust enough to work for in future is myself.
So, for me at least, telecommuting has been a bad experience. However, in both cases it was due to the company treating the telecommuter as some distant outpost that wasn't really part of the *proper* company and, in the first case, a lack of understanding of what was required to properly integrate a telecommuter into a team. Sh....uh, Outlet should have known better, being more media savvy and having people working for them who knew what *didn't* work well with telecommuting, but didn't really give a damn. So in return, I didn't give a damn about them, and was glad when they got acquired. By now some of those self-described "rock stars" are probably getting the sort of "you know nothing, old man" attitude I got from others. At least, I hope they are. With knobs on.
I think telecommuting *can* work, but a company has to get over some of the delusions about the reduced productivity of home workers (probably true of some people, but most people I've known who worked that way put in *more* time than if they'd been office) and try to ensure a level playing field where telecommuters are properly set up so that they're fully part of the project they're working on, not just in terms of being integrated from a software development perspective, but in terms of meetings, hell, it wouldn't even hurt to VTC them in for big in-office announcements, rather than just e-mailing them as an afterthought.