I am currently involved in an initiative to help motivate and inspire our telecommuter population. This is just over 10% of our entire employee base. Since these telecommuting team members are spread across the globe, across departments and functions, and have varied years of experience, this is a challenging task.
Recently, I previewed a number of “how to telecommute” books from Amazon.com, to see if any of them would be worthy as giveaways or job tools for this group. Sadly, many of them are geared to business owners working from home or have outdated information.
I did find one book, “101 Tips for Telecommuters, Successfully manage your work team, technology and family” by Debra Dinnocenzo, which is worth checking out. I ordered a used copy for less than $5 including shipping, and there are also virtual copies available. Debra runs a business called Virtual Works and specializes in helping organizations best leverage virtual teams.
Here are seven tricks telecommuting triumph based on my own experiences and Debra’s book.
- Should you telecommute? Debra kicks off her book sharing a telecommuter self assessment checklist. I really liked this because many of us think we can successfully work from home, but may not think through the full ramifications of space, noise, distractions etc. I currently work from home every Friday in a multiple dog household, and have had to come up with creative solutions to minimize barking during key meetings. When there is barking, I usually try to make light of it and say something like, “my dogs are very excited about X topic”.
- Avoid Activity Creep: One of the reasons I work in the office the other four days of the week, is because I personally need and like the structure, as it helps me focus and it minimizes distractions. Debra’s tip 5 of 101, is all about avoiding time wasters when you are working remotely. These include things like housekeeping, laundry, eating or watching TV. Instead of doing any of these during work time, schedule them during breaks or after hours.
- Location, location, location: Although I have a formal work office in my home, I choose to telecommute from my kitchen table. The room is bright and sunny, and the seating is comfortable. The only time I use my office, is when I am facilitating an important meeting and need to close the door and/or have to ensure there is no barking from the peanut gallery. Per Debra, one of the keys to successful telecommuting is setting up a productive work space. This is one that is both ergonomic, and assists with your productivity. The home office needs the right lighting, seating and temperature. Everything you need, such as paper clips or writing instruments, should be nearby.
- Do telecommuting and parenting mix? Not really. There is often the perception that if you work from home, you can also parent or supervise children at the same time. Every mom or dad that I know who has tried this, quickly realizes that this is not a good option and looks for alternative childcare. Debra’s tips 35 to 38 all focus on this subject. Per Debra, one of the greatest myths of telecommuting is that it eliminates the need for childcare. However, parenting is a job in itself, so “If you mix childcare and work, god help you!”.
- Leading others from a home office: Many telecommuters are leaders not individual contributors, and have the added challenge to learn to coach, motivate and inspire direct reports that are based in other locations. Whether you work in an office or from home, it is all about staying connected with your team. This includes holding regular 1x1s and using consistent email or instant message communication. You may also want to leverage video in lieu of face time.
- Debra touches on this in tips 50-51, Know and Nurture Your Team. She points out that when you work from home, you have to make an extra effort to stay in touch, and should think about employees that are not only in your team, but who you rely on across the company. In addition to virtual communication, Debra recommends that we schedule periodic face to face visits, attend social events when we can, and to rely on trusted colleagues that are co-located to be your eyes and ears.
- Technology- a blessing and a curse: Technology today allows most of us to work from any location- homes, airports, hotels etc. With laptops, tablets and mobile devices we can be constantly accessible. This is fantastic, until our technology fails us.
- We have found that one of the biggest opportunities to improve the work experience of our telecommuters is to make sure they have easy and swift access to working technology. And, if they have any problems, the solutions also need to be easy and swift. They can not walk up to the IT guy or gal on the second floor to fix their computers. Instead, this help has to be delivered 7X24X365 virtually.
- Debra touches on technology in tips 83 and 84. Of particular value was her recommendation to create a “what if” list. Each “what if” is tied to a portion of telecommuter tools and technology, so that if anything fails, you know what to do next. She also recommends testing tools before you need to use them, so you proactively make fixes versus waiting until a panic ridden reactive moment.
- Secure your Telecommuting needs: On a related note, most businesses are taking more and more steps to secure their data and technology. At times, the IT or Compliance teams may not realize what a particular change will have on remote workers. When changes are under discussion, be sure you represent the needs of both office workers and your likely growing telecommuter population.
Telecommuting can be a great alternative to working from a business office, either full time or part time. By working from home you can save time and money on commuting, increase your focus and efficiency, and improve your quality of life. With that said, it is important that you set aside the right type of work at home environment, free from distractions and prepped for productivity gains.