Start-Up Guide for Telecommuting from Home

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Keep Your Day Job, Work From Home, and Even Improve Your Company’s Productivity

My time is precious, and I guard it jealously. Every hour I spend on the road or in a car keeps me away from my family and the things that I enjoy.

I telecommute to save both time and money. Here are two other examples:

  • Andy, a Navy buddy of mine with a headhunting firm, has an amazing view of the West Virginia Hills from his desk. Each morning, he can gaze out his office window to take inspiration from the rolling hills and misty forests surrounding him. He walks upstairs from his home to his office and starts his day with a quick scan through his e-mail and then a morning teleconference through his wireless headset. His support team is 190 miles away in Washington, DC.
  • Maria, who runs an assessment publishing firm, begins her day with a morning call with key staff in the office as well as other telecommuting teams in both Oregon and Minnesota. She coordinates these activities from her home office in Southern California — 425 miles away from her main office in San Francisco.

Each of us enjoys the gifts of modern technology by telecommuting either full- or part-time. Anyone with a telephone, computer, and reliable high-speed access to the Internet can also reap the benefits of today’s information super-highway by telecommuting — that is, working from a remote location, more often that not your own home, while remaining productive to your team and to your company and enhancing both your quality of life and that of your family.

With more and more daily Internet-enabled collaboration across the office and across the country, your city and even your time zone become less and less relevant to your team’s productivity and your company’s bottom line. I used to get e-mails from team mates down the hall — literally steps away from me without a word being exchanged — while I would routinely send and receive e-mails to other colleagues across the country. It seems I could go an entire day without any work-related face-to-face interaction with my office-mates — and often wasted precious time with non-work related social interactions that interrupted my creative time. I’ve found that for my work, complex planning and management of international engineering and design projects, I need about a 40/60 split between uninterrupted creative time on the computer and face-to-face interaction with my teams. I meet this need by telecommuting.

The Best of Both Worlds

Andy’s work relies on a great deal of telephone time; “My work is voice-to-voice, instead of face-to-face,” says Andy. “I spend a lot of time talking, and it helps that I have a comfortable set-up and home office.” Andy has invested in high-end Bluetooth® enabled head-phones and has a quiet home office. He makes it into the office about once every couple of weeks as he travels the east coast working with clients. “Telecommuting offers me the flexibility to take and make calls at the convenience of my clients, no matter what time zone they’re in, see, I can’t be productive on calls if I have to sit in beltway traffic,” says Andy, referring to the notorious highway system surrounding the Capitol. Instead, he works from his home in the hills of West Virginia and has been successful in balancing both his family and professional lives.

Maria, president of a San Francisco-based publishing firm, describes the benefits of her ability to telecommute from her Orange County home in Southern California. “I have a demanding role leading my company but an equally demanding role as a wife and mother. Telecommuting has enabled me to continue to excel at both of these important roles without sacrifice to my family —I’m available for the important little things in my girls’ daily lives while still leading growth and innovation for my team.”

Maria spends about 7 working days a month at her San Francisco office and the remainder telecommuting. Maria continues, “However, one of the drawbacks of telecommuting is that there’s no substitute for face time — it’s difficult to be away when your team is addressing a tough issue — not being there in person and seeing how the other members of the team are responding to the crisis, although this isn’t much different than being on a business trip away from the office.” Maria’s telecommuting experiences are so overwhelmingly positive that, in fact, over 35% of her employees telecommute 100% of the time, and “of my own direct reports, half are either full- or part-time telecommuters. We’ve found that in our business, by offering telecommuting as an employment option, we can attract and retain the most qualified and experienced talent no matter what their physical location is — they live and work where they are, and we can retain the best talent available.”

Competitive Advantages

Telecommuting provides me with huge advantages (and almost no cost) in terms of personal and team productivity. By telecommuting, I can: carve out large blocks of time without interruption to devote to my creative planning process; schedule and attend meetings online when interaction and team coordination are required; tackle my e-mail and return my calls without interruption; and take breaks to clear my mind without being distracted by the inevitable office crisis of the day. I also save both time and money by not driving several hundred miles a week — and that’s a real impact to my personal and financial bottom-line. In my case, telecommuting about 2 days a week, I save about $320 a month in gasoline and tolls, not to mention about 18 hours of driving time.

My home set-up is remarkably simple. As a “Road Warrior,” I have a company-provided Wi-Fi-enabled laptop that I use to connect with my home cable-Internet broadband service. I also have a cellular broadband card to connect to my company Virtual Private Network (VPN) in case my cable-Internet goes down (which has only happened once). This, coupled with a smartphone, keeps me completely in-touch with my engineering and design teams, and accessible to my clients throughout the day.

Approaching Your Employer

Although “Road Warriors” are telecommuters by definition and are armed with smartphones and high-powered Wi-Fi laptops, how does the everyday office worker start the telecommuting process? You can start by researching the existing telecommuting arrangements that your company has already established. Most conventional firms with multiple offices have a VPN that enables access to computer servers, files, and even printers from any Internet connection. Some even provide company-owned laptops expressly for this purpose, although with the power of today’s home PC, a dedicated Laptop is not really required.

Next, analyze your work flow and work load to determine what can and cannot be performed remotely by telecommuting. It’s extremely important to understand how your work gets assigned (from internal “clients”) and who in the office relies on your work-products (to internal or external “customers”). Do you receive your work assignments verbally or by e-mail? Do you need to review and sign paperwork that changes hands in the office throughout the day, or is your work mostly on the computer? Review the technology requirements for linking into your company’s networks and servers via a VPN for encrypted security, or simply by Internet e-mail (no security). Most firms have software license agreements for certain work-required software applications that enable them to provide you with a copy for home expressly for telecommuting purposes.

Begin to quantify the hard benefits to both the company and your team so that your boss can see the alternatives. Then, request a formal meeting with your boss to discuss the options. It may be helpful to draft a telecommuting agreement with your boss beforehand, which describes exactly what and when work will be performed, the agreed upon work-hours, what days you will need to be in the office, how your work will be measured, and what meetings you will attend via telephone or in person. Keep it flexible enough that your boss sees it as win-win for both of you.

Making Telecommuting Work

Successful telecommuting is dependent upon both the technology that enables it and your own personal discipline. The technology in this case is the simplest part: a modern home PC with the same applications that your company uses for word processing, spreadsheets, etc. — a basic e-mail system and a reliable high-speed Internet connection to “tunnel” into your company’s VPN for access to files and printers. Your company’s IT department can assist you here. I’ve also written in previous Home Business® Magazine issues about data backups, personal digital assistants, and video teleconferencing and how these tools are all important in the telecommuting process. However, the most important skill to have for successful telecommuting is self-discipline.

Establishing a Good Work Routine

Remember, you are paid to work, and most everyone gets paid for working 40 hours a week between certain hours, say 8am to 5pm. That’s easy in the office, but it may be a startling transition for some when beginning to work from home. It’s easy to just get up and run an errand, and in fact, that is part of the draw for the telecommuter. It’s also just as easy to sleep in, flip on the TV, or take a quick-nap. Stay focused! You need to demonstrate to your team and your boss that you’re carrying your share of the load, or your telecommuting experience may come to an abrupt end.

Establishing a good work routine may include:

  • Being accessible. Get a dedicated phone line or cell phone, and answer it on the first ring just like you would in the office.
  • A dedicated and quiet work space at home. No one should know on a teleconference that you are a telecommuter. Kids play, babies cry, dogs bark, and the doorbell rings. Your team mates on the telephone don’t need to hear these sounds on a business call, especially with clients on the line.
  • Keeping in the loop on office politics. Call a co-worker to ensure that you know what’s going on
  • Going into the office. Meet with your boss a few weeks after getting started in telecommuting to review how the new arrangement is working and what can be done to make it more efficient
  • Dressing for the office — even at home. The flexibility to get in your car and drive into the office on a moment’s notice to address an emerging issue or crisis is key.

Pitfalls of Telecommuting

Telecommuting can turn into a disaster for both you and your team. I remember the frustrations that I had with a telecommuting colleague who was unable to keep his dog from barking while on teleconferences with clients. The only other unfortunate example I have had is with a telecommuting staff member who rarely answered her telephone. She would always call me back within the hour, but these experiences left me with the uneasy sense that she was watching television, running errands, or napping.

Managed well, telecommuting can enhance your productivity by eliminating driving time (and frustration) and providing you with an interruption-free work space. With discipline, you can bring balance to your work/family life by being available and close to home, while continuing to bring value to your team and your projects.



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