Telecommuting Productively

If you're so inclined, follow these 10 tips for working successfully at home.

SPENDING more time at home and with loved ones has become increasingly important. With all the crazy events that have made the news, why would anyone want to leave home? Technology has made it so telecommuting is once again "in style," and employers who are looking to cut costs and increase productivity are seeing its benefits, as well.

Telecommuting may be one of the latest trends in the workplace, but it also presents a new challenge to both employers and employees. Employers find themselves at a loss for developing specific guidelines to manage the distance worker. Workers, on the other hand, are faced with the challenge of integrating their personal space and their work life into one area.

More challenging, perhaps, is that not every job, not every worker, is suited for working at home. Regardless of whether working at home is by choice or by necessity, possible negatives can be replaced by positives with good planning and follow-up. The only way to make it work is to be realistic about the situation, set up guidelines, and follow up procedures to ensure efficiency and productivity.

While it may be realistic to be concerned about distractions home-based workers face, we often overlook the continual distractions at the workplace: from chatty colleagues, nosy neighbors and time spent looking for misplaced information. Being at home may mean an employee moves laundry from the washer to the dryer while waiting for a document to download, but it can also mean grabbing a cup of yogurt from the fridge instead of taking 40 minutes to go to the café next door.

Sample Policies
If you are the employer
, consider these tips for making a smoother transition from employees in your building to productive members of your team outside of the company's ZIP code:

  • Create guidelines and appropriate budgets for employees to help them set up their home office with appropriate equipment and supplies.
  • Provide training on how to use technology more effectively to increase communication and manage information. Ensure employee competency in electronic back-ups when necessary.
  • While working from home has some distinct advantages, lack of face-to-face contact can also be lonely and frustrating. Provide forums for required interaction to keep employees in touch.
  • Be clear about what behavior is acceptable and what is not. For example, letting a child answer the phone may not be acceptable, while taking 20 minutes to run to school to pick up a child may be--provided you put in the extra time in the evening.
  • Establish telecommuting policy guidelines, such as a requirement for full-time child care in the home of the telecommuter.

If you are the employee:

  • If possible, separate your workplace from your normal living space. It will be easier to focus on work, and you can physically leave your work at the end of the workday.
  • Talk with your family/housemates about their concerns about your home office. Review the situation periodically to see what's working and what's not.
  • Create a separate filing system for your professional life. If you don't have a file cabinet, use portable file boxes to organize all your physical papers. Create a file index (www.thepapertiger.com) so you can find what you need quickly.
  • Learn all of the features of your e-mail system. It will improve your ability to communicate, increase your productivity, and impress your colleagues.
  • Develop specific ways to keep in touch with colleagues, based on their situation. While e-mail may be perfect in some situations, having lunch once a week may be more appropriate and productive.
  • Go to the office at least once a week to attend some meetings in person.
  • If you are the supervisor, have the staff make "field trips" to your house for meetings and strategizing.

Employees who have the option to telecommute, and feel safer and more productive as a result, will produce better work and provide more value for the company. While working from home requires discipline, planning, and commitment, it can be very rewarding for employers and employees. The key to success is regular communication among family members, colleagues, and supervisors. If you want to know how the arrangement is working, just ask!

Home Office Management Survey

Strongly Agree

Agree

Uncertain

Disagree

Strongly Disagree

1

2

3

4

5

1. I have a comfortable place to work at home with enough space for what I need.

1

2

3

4

5

2. I have the furniture, equipment, and lighting I need to do my work.

1

2

3

4

5

3. I can find any information I need in my office in a few seconds.

1

2

3

4

5

4. I have worked out a calendar system to suit my personal and professional needs.

1

2

3

4

5

5. I have decided what information should be hard copy and what should be electronic.

1

2

3

4

5

6. I am confident that I retain the information that is legally required by the company.

1

2

3

4

5

7. I have a systematic method for purging unnecessary information from my office.

1

2

3

4

5

8. There is space in my filing system for easy filing and retrieval.

1

2

3

4

5

9. I have a sufficient, well-organized bookshelves and storage space.

1

2

3

4

5

10. When I leave home, I am confident I have what I will need on the road.

1

2

3

4

5

11. I make an ongoing effort to balance my personal and my professional life.

1

2

3

4

5

12. My office and my organization skills physically reflect the quality of my work.

1

2

3

4

5

Total Score: _______

If you scored:

12-24
Congratulations!

25-35
You're on the right track, but there's room for improvement.

36-50
Disaster ahead if changes are not made soon.

51-60
Get help immediately!

Sources

  • An AT&T-sponsored study states that telecommuters have less absenteeism, fewer lost workdays, increased productivity, and better morale. The company saves about $2,000 per employee per year.
  • www.telecommute.org, International Telework Association and Council
  • www.telecommutemagazine.com

This article originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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