Worried Workers and Desperate Employers Turn to Telecommuting: 10 Tips for Working Successfully


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Employers forced out of offices by the Attack on America and employees fearful of future attacks of airplanes or anthrax are using technology to get the job done. Telecommuting, a trend of the past decade is enjoying a revival and presenting a new challenge for both employers and employees. Forced to develop specific guidelines for telecommuters, employers find themselves at a loss on how to manage the distance worker. Employees face the challenge of integrating their professional life into their personal space, often space previously used by family members. More challenging, perhaps, is that not every job, not every worker, is suited for working at home. So 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.

While it may be realistic to be concerned about distractions home-based workers face we often overlook the continual distractions from chatty colleagues, time spent looking for misplaced information, and meetings that don’t produce results, that office workers face. 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.

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 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, 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 childcare in the home of the telecommuter.

  • Finally, if you are concerned about Anthrax scares, provide employees guidelines for opening packages if they are receiving mail at home, Consider having employees come to the office to get mail on a regular basis.

    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 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 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, ask!

    © Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com

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