So you've finally convinced your manager that you're a perfect candidate to telecommute. But now, as a teleworker, you're facing challenges you never encountered
working in the office.
Friends and family think your being at home means you don't have to spend as much time working. Co-workers seem jealous and you feel left out of the loop when projects are assigned. Your last performance review was lower than you expected and you feel your manager doesn't understand how much work you're getting done at home. Does this sound familiar?
The Department of Labor estimates that more than 2.1 million people perform part of their jobs from home. And the number of telecommuters is continuing to grow as companies seek to boost employee productivity. Here are a few ideas to help cope with the challenges so you are better able to make working at home work for you:
Set boundaries. People often think that when you work at home, you aren't really working. Friends think nothing of calling to chat, children want you to play games in the afternoon, and your spouse expects you to pick up the clothes at the dry cleaners.
To circumvent these types of problems, set clear boundaries before you begin working at home. Let people know that, although you are home, you wish them to treat you just as they would if you were at another location. That means no unnecessary chats with friends during the day.
Tossing a load of laundry in the washer on the way to lunch is one thing, but taking an hour off to clean the kitchen is another. And running errands must be done on your time, not company time.
A tough issue for new teleworkers to remember is that telecommuting is not a substitute for daycare. If you have children, try arranging your schedule around the time your children need your attention. For example, you may be able to work from 9 to 3, pick up the kids from school, spend the afternoon and early evening with them, and then work two more hours from 8 to 10pm. Depending on the work you do and how you interact with others, this could be a perfect solution for you.
If it's not possible to free up that much time, try to have activities planned for your children that will not require intensive interaction on your part. Watching an educational video or having reading material or homework set up for them when they get home from school may help ease the hours of transition until you have time to devote exclusively to them. Be sure to explain your situation and work out the details with your manager so you can implement a schedule that works for everyone.
Keep in touch. Some people think that when they are home, they can work in uninterrupted silence, plugging away at only those tasks assigned to them. They imagine that they will not need to check in with the office very often. Just the opposite is true.
Communication is the key to making telecommuting work. Frequent calls or e-mails to your manager and co-workers, outlining the progress or roadblocks of the project you're working on, are essential. Make sure co-workers know you're still a part of the team and that you're willing to work with them in any way necessary to meet department goals.
If there is an important upcoming meeting in the office, try to go into work that day. If that's not practical, teleconference via speakerphone. Call the meeting leader the day before and get a copy of the agenda.
If you have hard data to contribute, e-mail or fax it to the meeting leader in advance. Be prepared to participate via speakerphone and show them that working from home doesn't mean you're not still a contributing member of the team.
Establish expectations. Outline detailed expectations between you and your manager before beginning any project at home. How many days will you be in the office vs. working at home? When at home, what hours will you be available, and what hours will be considered "off-work"? How soon will the project be completed and what are the steps needed for the project to be considered complete? Put all this in writing before you start telecommuting and review the guidelines after every major project or every quarter, whichever comes first.
As the number of telecommuting employees increases, companies will initiate training programs to ease the transition to home-based work. What you learn from these challenges can help clear the way for tomorrow's teleworkers.