Telecommuting 101

I’ve been asked many times how I can work from home. Many people tell me how they “would love to work from home” and many tell me how they “would hate working from home.” I have had the opportunity of working from home (telecommuting) full time for the past 10 years. I am employed by a company – I am not my own boss. I have regularly scheduled meetings, deadlines, my phone rings, and I am responsible for my work. It is no different than working in an office locations except that I don’t have people physically walking to my desk. There are a multitude of challenges that I face each day because of my location. For example, I have a wife, two kids, two dogs, and a cat and I live in a very small house. Noise is a big challenge for me – no one wants to hear a cat in the background during a conference call! Very few co-workers know I work from home; I don’t advertise it and I am very strict with my family when I am on a work call of any sort. Background noises distract not only me, but the person(s) I am speaking with on the phone. God forbid my doorbell rings during a conference call – my dogs go nuts.

Telecommuting - Home office

My productivity went up when I started working from home because I was so paranoid about the perception of not working. That productivity has stuck with me throughout and is now just part of my work ethic. In all, I’m a much better employee by telecommuting than not. Sick days, for example, are kind of silly in a way because I’m already home. Same with vacation days – I would typically take a vacation day to stay away from the office, whereas telecommuting doesn’t give me that same benefit.

The following are a few tips and do’s/don’ts for working from home, from my own experience:

  • You must be suited for telecommuting and your job must be suited for telecommuting. Obviously, you can’t telecommute if you work construction.
  • You must be able to work with little or no supervision. If  you’re not a self-starter, then telecommuting will not work for you.
  • Your employer must embrace telecommuting completely as well as your manager. If either are apprehensive, then it won’t work. Some management styles are based on visually seeing you work.
  • Your employer must support you with hardware and software – laptop, headset, software, VPN, and so on. Anything you would have at an office setting must be made available to you from home. Security is a big concern, which the VPN (virtual privet network) can help with.
  • You’re on your own, so there is very little social (except with you wife, husband, kids, animals, etc.) Coffee breaks and lunch breaks are not social when you telecommute. You must be able to be by yourself and function appropriately.
  • You have no visual of the people you are speaking with or emailing, so you need to pick up on voice inflections and intentions through email. You don’t realize how much of a conversation is taking place in body language. Misinterpretations happen often when you are not face-to-face.

Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Do your normal work day routine (shower, get dressed, comb your hair, etc.)
  • Do dress for work – every day!
  • Don’t work in your pajamas or sweats!
  • Do start work at a normal time every day. If your office work hours are 9 to 5, then work 9 to 5.
  • Do take regular breaks and a lunch break – away from your desk.
  • Don’t be late. Be on time to all meetings! Just because you had to let the dog out doesn’t mean you can be late to a meeting. People will assume you are screwing around because you work from home.
  • Do communicate often with your peers and your manager. They know you work from home and will assume your screwing around, so stay in touch.
  • Don’t be unavailable during regular working hours. EVER! If your cell phone is your primary work phone, then you take it with you to the kitchen, to get the mail, to use the bathroom, etc. It will ring the one time you leave it on your desk and go outside.

It’s worth stating that PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING! If you are percieved to be unavailable during work hours or during a meeting, then you must be playing Xbox, watching TV, or taking a nap. Regardless of the real reason why you aren’t available, your peers, manager, etc., have their own imagination to determine what you are really doing. You’ll be back working in an office if you keep it up. It is very easy to ruin a good thing when telecommuting.

Here are further tips and tricks for telecommuting by business2community.com. There are many other write-ups on telecommuting as well.