Is Telecommuting from Home the Right Fit for You?

Put a Plan Together to Work From Home in Your Existing Job

Do you yearn for a more balanced life and a more flexible approach to work? Do you dream about productive workdays that don’t include the drain of time and energy devoted to commuting? Do you spend time in traffic (on the highway or sitting in an airplane seat) and wonder if there might not be a better way? Has the cost of gasoline made you determined to find a way to spend less time on the road and more time taking the Internet to work? Well, you have a growing crowd of similar thinkers.



Aside from the romanticized images of working in your bunny slippers, PJs, or in the buff, telecommuting is an important workplace alternative for a growing number of people. There are compelling reasons why employees and employers alike are taking a serious look at telework. Managers and business owners (the enlightened and conscientious ones) recognize that workplace flexibility is a key to business prosperity, recruitment success, and talent retention. A growing number of workers — both in the USA and around the globe — seek the productivity gains, timesavings, and savings at the gas pump that telecommuting offers.

So how can you become a telecommuter or telecommute more regularly than just when you’re waiting for the refrigerator service man or avoiding some weather-created roadway fiasco? And what are keys to success and productivity for the growing legions of teleworkers?

It’s clear that teleworking is not for everyone or every job. Whether you are targeting a full-time or part-time telecommuting arrangement, it’s important to understand the realities of telework and have a clear plan for being an effective telecommuter. Those workers who telework effectively — and those who want to — are likely to benefit from the following tips for teleworking success.

Be Certain Teleworking is Right for You

By understanding what’s involved and required to telework successfully, you can avoid a disappointing or career-altering experience. First it must be clear that you have a “telecommutable” job. If your job is not location-dependent, involves work that can be done independently, by telephone, on the computer, or via the Internet, then you’ve probably met the initial requirement. Beyond that, there are other considerations that make telework appropriate for some people and not for others.

For those who thrive on plenty of interaction with co-workers or who associate the traditional workplace with the motivation necessary to work, teleworking presents some challenges. Teleworking is also not a viable childcare solution since mixing work with childcare typically leads to diminished results in both areas. Telecommuting is ideally suited for workers who are relatively independent, effective time managers, skilled in planning and organizing, self-motivated, highly disciplined, technically proficient and who have a strong performance record. Honestly evaluate if you have the job conditions, required personal traits, and working style necessary to succeed as a telecommuter. Additionally, it’s important to assess your home office environment and the level of support you’ll need from the people you live with. Address areas of concern through planning, training, negotiation, and agreement-setting discussions.

Obtain Approval to Telecommute

Armed with good information about why you can be an effective telecommuter, you’ll next need to gain approval from your manager or organization to begin telecommuting. Follow this “Make a Case for Telecommuting Guide” to win approval for your telework venture:

1. Plan and prepare with organization benefits in mind.

Your “frame of reference” for your approach, rationale, and specific plans should be based on what’s in the best interest of your job, your manager, your company and your customers. Therefore, while many of your reasons for wanting to telecommute might be personal and relate to advantages you and your family will realize, it’s critical that you focus on the numerous advantages telecommuting also offers your employer, such as:

  • Increased productivity.
  • Lower real estate space costs.
  • Reduced equipment/furniture costs.
  • Reduced employee turnover.
  • Reduced absenteeism.
  • Improved morale.
  • Improved work/life balance.
  • Environmental responsibility.
  • Expanded recruitment options.
  • Results-oriented management.
  • Increased flexibility for business continuity.
  • Increased employment of women.
  • Increased employment of disabled workers.
  • Reduced travel costs.
  • Access to part-time or retired employees.
  • Competitive advantages.
  • Access to additional labor pools to address skill shortages.

If possible, translate these benefits into a dollar amount your employer can expect to save.

2. Explain why you will be an effective telecommuter.

Provide a list of telecommuting success criteria. Based on your telecommuter self-assessment, explain to your employer in detail how you meet the success criteria and why you are a good candidate for telecommuting. Include some of your personal reasons for wanting to telecommute, but keep your primary emphasis on the business reasons for your proposal and the advantages telecommuting offers the business enterprise.

3. Explain how you will make telecommuting work.

Describe in detail how you will handle your:

  • Major job accountabilities.
  • Daily tasks.
  • Key co-worker relationships.
  • Interactions previously handled as face-to-face.

Provide a detailed summary of your:

  • Projected daily schedule.
  • Measurable results and methods to report achievement of goals on a routine basis.
  • Alternative methods for keeping in touch and maintaining your accessibility to co-workers, managers, vendors, and clients.
  • Support from other departments and functions from whom you’ve secured commitment (e.g., information systems/computer support, telecommunications, real estate, human resources/ personnel, marketing, accounting).
  • Location and layout of the home office space you will use.
  • Plan for handling childcare, family care, and other family-related issues.
  • Projected equipment needs (and estimated costs for equipment/supplies to be provided by your employer).

4. Suggest a telecommuting pilot.

If your manager or organization isn’t ready to fully embrace telecommuting and approve your permanent transition to telework, propose a telecommuting pilot to gather more information, uncover unexpected problems, and identify additional ways to enhance productivity. Be sure to have the pilot details clearly documented, as well as agreement on the criteria for evaluating success of the pilot.

Prepare a Telecommuting Agreement

To avoid misunderstandings and ensure clarity, it’s advisable to have a telework agreement in place between you and your manager or organization. For details on drafting a telecommuting agreement with your organization, see “The Telecommuting Agreement.”

Design a Productive — and Safe — Home Office

Utilize an office layout that is conducive to the type of work you do and your individual work style. Be certain that your home office provides sufficient light, ventilation, and work surfaces, as well as separation from noise and other distractions. Ensure that your electrical system supports your requirements, and avoid hazards such as excessive use of extension cords, the absence of power-surge protection, and stacks of boxes and other clutter that block walkways.

Also be sure to design your work area with good ergonomics in mind. The height of your workstation, type of chair, and type/position of your keyboard are all examples of resources that have ergonomic implications. And be sure to practice good workplace habits such as occasional breaks that get your standing and moving around. Sitting at your desk for hours without a break isn’t healthy and won’t contribute to your productivity.

Avoid Bad Habits, Distractions, and Time Wasters

A myriad of temptations await the teleworker and threaten your productivity: socializing with neighbors, doing household chores, watching television, spending time with your family, making frequent trips to the refrigerator. Teleworkers must be committed to using time wisely and staying focused on the tasks at hand.

An excellent way to avoid drains on your productivity caused by distractions and time wasters is to be extraordinarily focused and organized. Begin each day with a clear plan for the day, including specific outcomes/actions/deliverables to be accomplished. Be dogged in your determination to accomplish your goals for the day.

Being organized and having a workspace that isn’t cluttered or chaotic will definitely help you minimize wasted time. Here are some quick organizing action steps you can take to help in this area:

Identify:

*5 things on your desk you can relocate to a smarter place. (Now move them.)
*4 things in your closest desk drawer that aren’t used frequently enough to keep them there. (Now find a new storage space for them.)
*3 files in your closest file drawer or desktop files that haven’t been used in the last month. (Now move them to a more appropriate file drawer or storage area.)
*2 areas where you have space that’s not being utilized most effectively. (Now rearrange them.)
*1 thing you can buy that improves the organization of your office. (Add it to your shopping list or jump online and order it now.)

Maintain a Healthy Balance

Teleworking will not inherently provide a perfect work/life balance. If you were a workaholic before teleworking, chances are your workaholism will be just as bad (if not worse) after beginning to telework. Because the workplace is so close and always available when working from home, teleworkers must be especially disciplined about not overworking.

Negotiate Expectations and Agreements

Both with family members and with co-workers, disagreements can arise. Teleworkers should anticipate areas of potential conflict, set clear expectations, and reach agreements before controversy occurs. Utilize the following guidelines for handling discussions to reach agreements that foster commitment and collaboration:

  • Clearly state the needs and expectations.
  • Explain why they’re important and the consequences of not meeting them.
  • Describe how the agreement will look when it’s operating as needed.
  • Ask about issues, concerns, and additional information.
  • Listen, reflect, discuss, and summarize periodically.
  • Document the agreements, and distribute to everyone involved.

Establish a Solid Foundation of Trust and a Reputation for Reliability

Remember that your manager, clients, or colleagues may wonder if you’re really working when you telework. So, be sure your performance is beyond reproach. Strive to be known for your dependability and availability. Be prompt in returning calls, reply to e-mails quickly, use a cell phone or PDA for greater accessibility, use IM or text messaging to stay connected with colleagues, and let people know the best ways to reach you right away.

Practice Good “Distance Dialog”

Communication is a vital component of telecommuting success. There’s no doubt that clear, timely, and frequent communication is an important responsibility as a telecommuter.

Choosing the right way to communicate depends on the situation. Discussing a problem, for example, is best handled in a “live” discussion, while e-mail is an effective way to distribute meeting notes to team members. Frequency of communication with colleagues is another area that is variable based on the circumstances and needs. Keep in mind that you need to communicate both for “”task” purposes, e.g., information that must be exchanged, as well as for “relationship” purposes. Keeping in touch with coworkers is important to establishing relationships, building trust, and strengthening team performance.

As a telecommuter, you participate more frequently in virtual meetings that connect people who are working together from a distance. Productive virtual meetings begin with a clear statement of purpose and importance; involve people who are focused on listening to “hear between the lines;” include more interactive discussion and fewer monologues; are characterized by frequent summaries of agreements and understandings; and have clear follow-up actions identified.

To ensure the success of virtual meetings, remember to:

  • Plan the agenda.
  • Distribute the agenda and necessary information in advance; confirm receipt.
  • Clarify responsibilities.
  • Arrange for inclusion of required equipment, information and people.
  • Maintain the schedule.

As people more commonly utilize telecommuting across all industries and sectors, plan to become a successful part of this important workplace shift. Through thorough preparation, proper planning, and smart work practices, you can begin building and expanding your potential to telecommute. Based on all the factors involved, your timing couldn’t be better to seize the opportunity to join the rapidly expanding ranks of telecommuters everywhere.

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