I used to believe telecommuting was something every business should do due to the overhead cost savings and flexibility it provides for its employees.
However as telecommuting popularity has grown over recent years, I’ve been able to observe and experience first-hand that working from home is not always the best solution for everyone.
Here are some things to think about before deciding to join the growing mobile world of telecommuters.
Professionalism and distractions can affect the bottom line.
Merely shaving off office space to achieve a greater profit margin by reducing operational expenses is not always going to produce the intended positive results. For example, some of my friends live in small apartments – with large pets, in-laws, and even newborn babies. Answering the phone on a couch with a dog barking in the background – or having a spouse come home loudly while you wave your hands profusely for him to be quiet – is not the ideal telecommuting situation.
This can present a problem because as a telecommuter, it is important to always maintain a professional environment which will transcend to the customer and/or client on the other end – whether via phone or email. It is critical that the person with whom you are doing business with will view you as a professional representative in a professional environment.
This type of unmanaged atmosphere may not be impossible to work in, but it certainly does not lend itself to the efficient and serious environment you would achieve at work. This in turn can affect the bottom line as it is a poor reflection on the company, and that could adversely affect your employment status.
Employers, on the other hand, should not allow their employees to work from home just to save on office space, or for any other reason, without considering the potential side effects. Instead, employers can safeguard against an unproductive environment by laying out guidelines for those who choose to telecommute.
For example, telecommuters should have a separate and secure office space free from distractions.
Other guidelines could include whether or when they be allowed to have the TV on or to be on Facebook while working during business hours, etc. These guidelines are hard to monitor when employees are not in the office and this requires a degree of trust from your employer – therefore keep in mind that as a telecommuter, you will most likely be more intensely judged by your performance and productivity.
Proper Communication and Phone Technology
Working from home sounds great – even on a part time basis. However without proper modern technology, it can be quite problematic. The use of a desktop is fine – as long as you do not have to go into the office for meetings on a regular basis or make computer presentations. Jobs such as copy editors can get along quite fine with a desktop, while sales or marketing professionals need to be equipped for mobility.
Another aspect of technology which is important is the type of phone system used in the telecommuter’s remote office.
Phone systems have evolved drastically over the last 10 years with the popularity of VoIP. Businesses can now set up their employees at home with their own phone line – without having to pay for an actual landline phone because it is all run over the internet. This reduces costs as it uses any existing internet connection – something the telecommuter will most likely already have in place.
These “Unified Communication” phone systems are increasingly becoming more adaptable to the modern workplace. Phone lines can now run over the internet while still being connected to the main phone system the company uses.
This means if a company in Chicago wanted to hire someone in Vermont, they could simply ship a phone already configured to connect to the main phone system. S/he can use a phone number which includes a Chicago area code and can easily transfer calls back to Chicago and vice versa by simply dialing an extension rather than a full 10 digit number.
Keep an Office Schedule – not Your Own Schedule
Although many of the principles of telecommuting can also apply to those who are self-employed and work from home, there is one big difference when it comes to office hours and availability.
When I worked for myself, I set my hours as 10AM to 6PM. However, there were many times I didn’t get to my desk until 11 or 11:30, so I simply worked until 8 or later in the evening to make up for the lost time.
The point is, when working with a company you need to be available when everyone else is working too.
Meetings still happen at 8:30 in the morning and employees still expect to instant message or call you during those times – they expect you to be just as available as when you were in the office. If you are your own boss, you have the right and privilege to set your own hours for what works best for you. However, when you are not your own boss – it’s a different story.
Telecommuting is not for everyone, and there are many considerations when deciding if it fits your personality and lifestyle.
Take your time and think all the dynamics through carefully. Make sure it will be a positive experience for you and your employer – rather than setting yourself up to be less productive and less valuable to the company.
Image courtesy of sxc.hu
Liz Krause is a previously self-employed business owner who loves the ability to work from home. She has also worked in the office and as a telecommuter, seeing first-hand the benefits of working both outside and inside an office location. She has witnessed the importance of having a proper home environment when working as a telecommuter starting with a stable unified communications and a voip sip provider, to practical day to day guidelines in order to keep telecommuters focused and engaged.