photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski
One of my favorite ways to limit my commute time, energy and expense is to telecommute. Not everyone can telecommute (a little tough if you are in, say, food service or retail), but there are ways a lot of people can make telecommuting work in their lives and for their employers.
1. If your company does not have a telecommuting culture, propose one. If you work for a large company, odds are that an official policy is in place. Still, maybe no one in your area or department takes advantage of it. Or maybe no one in your company (especially if it is smaller) telecommutes. Pull your facts together (read on for more ideas and considerations) and propose a temporary trial of telecommuting. You don’t have anything to lose by asking and a well thought out approach may result in hearing “Yes”.
2. Consider what telecommuting is worth to you. Will you save on transportation and parking? Could you buy fewer business clothes? Will it be easier to make dinner (verses buying dinner out) if you are at home? If so, maybe you could forgo a raise in exchange for a telecommuting arrangement. Given the current economy, an employer may be willing to deal in an effort to A) keep a good employee happy while B) not spending more money. I am willing to stay where I am for a lot of great reasons, one of which is the flexibility to telecommute. If it makes working more workable for your family, then you might be able to choose to live on the lower income if you are frugal and purposeful in your spending.
3. How will the work get done? For your sake and for your employer’s sake, you need to outline how and when your work will be done while you are at home. Do you need to be available during certain hours? By email, cell phone, home phone? Will you need remote access to the server? How can you get a secure connection? Do you have a space to dedicate to working at home? Do you have everything you need (printer, fax, scanner, etc.)? Will you need a laptop? Address these issues in your proposal and you can eliminate 99% of the objections to your plan.
4. Address daycare. If you have ever tried to work while being an at-home parent, you have probably faced the harsh reality that it is one tough row to hoe. Really – being an at home parent IS work. So is being a daycare provider. So is your job. You can’t do everything at once. At least not well. You need to still make plans to have daycare on your days working from home during the hours you need to be working from home. Period. For us, sometimes my husband will run out during Will’s nap. But, I know that if for some reason he gets up early (which only seems to happen when I am working!), I have to work that into my day and pick my work back up when my husband gets home or once the kids are in bed. And my employer is OK if that needs to happen. And I don’t chance it when I can’t afford for it to happen – I work in the office on those days :>)
5. Be clear about your schedule. In my situation, it works to just take each week as it comes. I try to look ahead to the next week – when do I have meetings I have to attend? What is going on at home that I would need to be home for (and thus would be ideal to skip a commute that day)? Is what I am currently working on portable or do I need to be in the office? It works for us in our office to just shoot out an email in the morning saying WAH (work at home) and specify how to contact – email or cell and which hours we will be available. I realize that is not normal office culture, so you might want to say that you will telecommute on Tuesdays and Thursdays or some sort of set schedule.
I do generally try to be clear on my schedule at least a week in advance, mostly because I have a need to know my schedule in advance. I do this using Google Calendar, and that works well for our office. I just put WAH or OFF as an all day event on the days that need it and my coworkers can tell right away if I am working or not and if I will be in the office or not. They also know that if there is no other option, they can schedule a meeting on a WAH day and I will come into the office or call into the conference line as needed. Which leads me to number 6…
6. Expect flexibility and be flexible in return. In order for telecommuting to work, you need to be a professional. That means that when a meeting comes up on your normal day to telecommute, you might need to change your schedule from time to time.
I try to keep my hours to 32 hours a week. Sometimes (like now and for the foreseeable future), that is not possible. So, I need to deal with it and work more hours in order to get my job done. I accept that responsibility and my employer trusts me to make those decisions and leaves my schedule up to me. If I am working closely with someone else in the office, I go out of my way to be clear on when I am available, how I can be reached and to make sure that works for him or her and that I am clear on any deadlines – the last thing I would ever want to do is put our company work in jeopardy for my own benefit.
I also accept that I need to check my email and voice mail even when I am not officially working, so that everyone knows they can reach me in an urgent situation. It rarely happens, and my coworkers do their best to respect my off time, but knowing they can get one important question answered here or there goes a long way to everyone being comfortable in the situation. And, if it is not urgent, I don’t answer.
I am a busy mom of four kids; I want to be involved in their daily lives. I am a busy CFO of two entities; I want to be involved in the management of the companies. That is a lot to juggle. Sometimes I have to put on my mom hat while I am at work (to talk to a teacher, etc.) and sometimes I have to put my CFO hat on while I am at home. The more flexible I am, the more flexible my coworkers are – and vice versa. This is the way telecommuting works best, and really, the way any job works best.
7. Get someone on your side. When you are not at the office, things come up that make it less than ideal for you to be at home. Find someone who is in the office on a regular basis that is willing to help make your situation work – someone who can fax or scan something and send it to you, someone willing to look something up and call you back, etc. No man is an island, and this is especially true of telecommuting. Of course, be sure to return the favor – be helpful and find a way to make that person’s job easier when you are in the office. And remember to say “Thank you!!” and show your appreciation. As long as you are sincere, no one can hear how valuable they are too often.
8. Get organized. Make sure you have the information you need with you – whether it is files, contact information, phone numbers, emails, whatever. Being prepared while you are home will ease your stress and help things run smoothly for your coworkers. You do not want others in the office feeling like they have to pick up your slack.
9. Highlight how telecommuting will be good for the company. Is the parking lot crowded? Office space tight? Maybe if you were not there, it would free up some space. Think about how your telecommuting could be a benefit to your employer and be sure to stress those points during your proposal. Perhaps you would be willing to share an office on the days you are in or move to a smaller space so a full time, in the office employee can have a large office – consider these points as you get ready to propose telecommuting.
10. Revisit the arrangement. Come back after a specific period – say a month or six weeks, and check in with your boss and coworkers. Are things running smoothly? What could change to improve the situation? Be willing to discuss any concerns and address how you can tweak the arrangement to better suit everyone’s needs. Implement those proposed changes and check back in again after another trial period. Knowing that the arrangement does not have to last forever (if it does not work) might help make an employer willing to try it out. Try to make sure that he or she is pleasantly surprised at how well it works.
11. Know Thy Self. If you are easily distracted or find it difficult to motivate yourself, telecommuting could be a disaster for you. You need to be honest with yourself and determine if you really, truly can resist playing fetch with the dog (other than a brief break – that is a perk of telecommuting), watching TV or taking a nap, and instead focus on getting your work done. If not, then telecommuting probably will not be a good solution for you. Telecommuting does take commitment on your part to execute successfully and you might be surprised how hard it is to make yourself focus on a sunny, beautiful day. And a deary, rainy day. Or a snowy day….
Do you telecommute? Are there things you do that work for you? Anything that has not worked for you?