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Telecommuting: switching from carpool lane to fast track

6.28.2011

The number of American employees who work remotely at least part time has increased by 39 percent in the last two years. Urban sprawl, rising fuel prices, and the struggle to attain work/life balance make telecommuting an attractive benefit for more and more employees. Employers are also reaping the benefits, including increased productivity, decreased overhead and greater employee satisfaction. As a two day a week telecommuter myself, here are some tips to make your transition from corporate office to home office run smoothly.

- Set up a dedicated office space. This includes a desk with computer, a reliable high speed internet connection and a dedicated office phone line. Your voicemail should have a professional greeting that states your name and the name of your employer. As tempting as it may be to work from the couch, a formal home office ensures that your important files are never lost between the cushions or left sitting on the kitchen counter buried under a stack of mail.

- Cut the wiring to your doorbell... Or at least stick a sign on it. You will be amazed at the number of sales people, utility workers, church missionaries and well-meaning neighbors who ring your doorbell on an average weekday. A sign placed over the doorbell that reads "Working, please do not ring bell" will deter most. There will still always be someone who will stare right at you through the window as you talk on the phone and continuously ring the bell as though you are deaf.

 

- Keep your pets in a separate part of the house. Nothing throws a business call off track faster than a hysterically barking dog (typically triggered by the above mentioned doorbell) or your cat 'Snuggles' purring into the phone. Make sure your pets have their needs met prior to the start of your work day, keep them far enough from your office that any sounds they make won't carry, and save play time and walks for your lunch hour and breaks.

- Working from home is not a substitute for proper child care. More time with the kids is one of the great perks that comes with telecommuting, but don't enter into your new arrangement with the idea that you are going to save money on child care. Kids need attention, and so does your work. Trying to manage both at once is a surefire way to sink your productivity. To have your cake and eat it too, try hiring a mother's helper to watch your child in your home while you work. Every couple hours, take a short break to enjoy some quality time with your child.

- Be disciplined. If your office opens at 8am, plan for your remote work day to begin at 8am as well. Set aside an hour for a healthy lunch and some exercise so that you don't go stir crazy sitting at your desk all day. It is easy to lose track of time when working remotely. Sticking to a schedule will keep you on track with your projects and ensure that you are being fair and honest with your employer.

- Communicate. When you are working from home, your employer and colleagues typically have no way of knowing whether you are working or not. Make sure you have a fast response time to emails, and frequently let your manager and colleagues know what your status is on important projects. Also utilize email and instant messenger as a way to stay connected and avoid becoming isolated from the company culture.

Though it may seem like the party receiving the greatest reward from a telecommuting agreement is the employee, companies like Deloitte, Cisco, Intel, Accenture, Teach for America, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Brocade Communication Systems know otherwise (all boast over half of employees are regular telecommuters). Increased employee productivity is the statistic receiving the most publicity. In fact, 32 percent of companies that offer a formal telecommuting option indicate a significant increase in productivity. Other, lesser known benefits include:

  • fewer unscheduled absences
  • continuity of operations during weather related or other emergencies
  • less turnover and therefore lower recruitment costs
  • better customer service as employees stay longer and become more proficient
  • employees' greater ability to respond to an unexpected workload or project

I also believe that over the next few years we will see companies with a large percentage of telecommuters experience a decrease in health plan costs, due to their employees experiencing less stress, having more time to work exercise into their daily routine, and eating more balanced meals than our society's current on-the-go lifestyle allows.

Telecommuting is, no doubt, the wave of the future. Our growing population, expanding suburbs and congested roads demand it. This cutting edge benefit will, in a few short years, be seen as a necessity for those companies seeking to attract and retain top talent. Upper echelon employees, who face increased demands to work late and do more with less will come to rely on this perk as a way to maintain their sanity and be present for their families. By following these few simple steps, you can make your own transition to telecommuting a breeze.

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