Make telecommuting work for you, your employer

Call it the workplace of the future: your home. One way that companies are downsizing is to have employees work at home. When staffers telecommute, businesses can save money by moving to smaller quarters or consolidating separate locations into one. But workplace consultants and company executives say telecommuting can take some, well, work for someone who needs to adjust after years in an office. Some tips for making the transition. Associated Press

Becoming one

It can take discipline to work at home. A telecommuter needs to be able to schedule realistically, prioritize and be able to stay focused on work despite distractions like children, pets, even the refrigerator.

"You can't be a person who thrives on boss-imposed deadlines and a boss looking over your shoulder," said Alexandra Levit, author of New Job, New You and an adviser to the Obama administration on workplace issues.

A brand-new telecommuter also has some logistics to work out. That means talking to the boss about what you'll need, and who's going to pay for it. Will you be using your own personal computer? If so, will you need to upgrade it to handle your workload? Will you need other equipment, like a fax machine or Web cam? What about an extra phone line?

If you have a family, you'll have to integrate the changes in your job into your children's routine. But remember that your work needs to be a priority.

Some companies may be flexible about working hours, so telecommuters can pick up their children from school or take them to soccer games. In return, an employee may be working earlier in the morning or later at night to get the work done.

Establish a routine

Many telecommuters find working at home isn't quite as easy as they expected.

Experts say establishing a routine — getting dressed, going to a set work place in your home, taking a lunch break — is key.

It's also a good idea to check in with managers just as workers would do if they were still in the office.

While it's a good idea to maintain a daily schedule so you can stay productive, Jayne Nanavaty-Dahl, manager of IBM Corp.'s group for work-at-home employees, said it's easy to overwork when you're telecommuting. When you don't have to leave the office to catch a train or make the drive home, it can be tempting to stay in front of the PC for just a few minutes more, and then find you've worked an extra hour or two.

"We make sure our employees know that at the end of their scheduled work day, they can stop working," Nanavaty-Dahl said.

Being visible

When you work away from a traditional office, your colleagues and managers can't see or interact with you in the usual way. There's no stopping by a co-worker's desk or chatting with the boss in the break room. It can be harder to communicate and establish necessary working relationships.

IBM offers social networking tools to help employees discuss workplace matters. And telecommuters should be sure they stay in touch via phone, Internet chats and social media Web sites.

It's also a good idea to show up in the office from time to time, especially if you supervise other people.

Being evaluated

When employees work remotely, managers may question if those staffers are actually working. The telecommuter can easily put those questions to rest.

Tory Patrick, a public relations account manager, is evaluated by her output. "If there is a press release that needs to be done by Tuesday, I've got to do it whether I'm in the office or working at home," she said.

Leslie Truex, author of The Work at Home Success Bible, said that when workers are not in the office they are held much more accountable than those who are on-site. "My advice: Work," she said.

Make telecommuting work for you, your employer 01/31/10 [Last modified: Sunday, January 31, 2010 3:30am]

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