My current postdoc's wife and child are in a city some 2-3 hours away by car from where my institution is. His wife has a very specialized job and is pretty much tied to that city (or only a couple of other ones in the country), so my postdoc is fairly geographically constrained in all of his academic endeavors.
The setup we have worked out so far is that he is at GMP University about 3 days a week and the rest he telecommutes. This is of course greatly facilitated by the fact that my group does theory/computation. This is his second year with me and he has a pretty generous fellowship, which is an important piece of information because (a) I feel I have less of a proverbial "stick" over him than I would if he had been funded on my grants, (b) he can afford a second residence near GMP University.
How's that been working out so far? I think he has done well for himself; we certainly meet often enough, he participates in group meetings and several task-force smaller meetings, and has had good reserch output so far. But, it he were here more, it would be better for the group as a whole, as I think the students could learn more from him. But, who knows. Maybe not. Overall, he's been doing well.
Today, I had a meeting with one of my students. He is getting married in a few months. His fiance is in a competitive program in the biomedical sciences, in a private school in the same city as my postdoc's family, i.e. 2-3 hours away by car. She works with animals in some Big D00d's lab, so she cannot relocate. You see where this is going.... The student asked if I would be OK with him moving in with his wife in another city a few hours away while continuing his studies.
Perhaps it is now clear what inspired the title above -- how (wedding) rings lead to telecommuting. (I couldn't resist the nerdy pun to commutative rings. I loooove nerdy puns.)
Anyhoo, I am now somewhat torn between wanting to be sympathetic, not wanting to be a softie/pushover (because of course everyone expects me to be sympathetic, possessing a uterus and all), and simply weighing what's best for both the student's and my professional goals.
Whan I started my TT position, I had a difficult two-body situation situation, where my husband and I lived apart for 2 years (I moved away with my then only son, and my husband stayed to work on his degree). I know being apart from one's family can be completely demoralizing for a person and can adversely affect their research productivity. Since the student's wife will be so close, it does make sense to try to enable them to be together.
I honestly think that if I demand that the student be here all the time, he'll be miserable and try to get any chance to go see his wife. If I OK him moving in with his wife, while coming here a few days a week, I think he will be fully focused while here and hopefully grateful enough to put in his best work both here and there. I hear his soon-to-be wife is pretty driven and works long hours, so I am hoping that rubs off on him too! :)
My husband thinks that I am too soft and that as long as I pay the student, I should demand his presence in GMP City. This student is one of the most disciplined and responsive and hard-working ones I have, so I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt that he can keep organized even if not with the group the entire time. I am inclined to offer him a setup where he would be here 3 days a week (subletting from a friend) and the rest with his wife; after 6 months or so, we assess if he continues to progress satisfactorily; if yes, we continue, if not, he has to maintain a greater presence here.
So dear readers, how do you feel about people working for you remotely (obviously in cases where something like this makes sense)? Or perhaps you have been a telecommuter yourself? Do you feel it is overall better for the work/life balance, or just for work, or just for life?