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Career Management

How to be a Successful Telecommuter

As more employees look for ways to resolve work-family conflicts by requesting more flexibility in scheduling, many more jobs are being done via telecommuting. Other factors that have encouraged this trend include longer commute time, increased cost of office space, pollution, and traffic congestion. As technological advances continue to provide methods for remote working, more jobs over the next decade will be performed away from the office. According to estimates of the Department of Transportation, telecommuters will comprise 15% of the entire U.S. workforce by the year 2002. Although telecommuting can be a boon, not everyone is cut out to work in this manner. Here is a test to determine whether it is for you. Are you:

  • Self-motivated and a self starter? Are you able to make that first sales call at 8:01 a.m. without the impetus of the hustle and bustle of colleagues around you? Can you take initiative, rather than wait for directions from others?

  • Self-assured with a solid knowledge of your job? Telecommuting is not an ideal choice if you are new to the position and the organization.

  • Able to work alone with no supervision? It takes self-discipline and focus to work independently without any regular feedback whether from a supervisor or colleagues.

  • Able to block out distractions? Although offices are busy, often your home has more seductive distractions. Whether that is the need to do errands, too much easily available food, pets requiring attention, or repair projects, a successful telecommuter must remain focused.

  • Comfortable with technology? Computer literacy and excellent oral and written communication skills are important. You should be comfortable with new meeting styles, including conference calls, video conferences, e-mail, etc.

  • An excellent manager of time? You must be able to set priorities, plan, and schedule your time. This style of working requires that you be well organized and flexible enough to adjust to change, last-minute problems and shifting deadlines

  • Are you able to consistently produce the same amount and quality of work as your peers?

  • A creative problem solver? You must be able to function without administrative support at hand or immediate technical assistance.

  • Confident that you will not be left out of the informational loop and therefore miss out on key issues? Being away from the office can make you feel as though you are invisible.

What companies can do:

  1. Set policies—who pays for the equipment and supplies, what are the duties and responsibilities of the position, along with salaries, insurance and benefits for telecommuting employees?
  2. Provide opportunities for off-site workers to get together with peers. This helps people share the intangible rewards and feel they are in the "loop". Face-to-face meetings are an important way for people to retain a sense of connectedness.
  3. Get tech support in place. To minimize downtime, equipment breakdowns need immediate attention. The more fail-safe equipment and software that can be installed initially, the better.
  4. Thoroughly train telecommuting employees on how to set up and run all equipment. Teach them how to do some troubleshooting since they can't lean over and ask a colleague for assistance.
  5. Set up performance standards. These objective measures must be in place and understood by everyone to prevent in-office staff from feeling that off-site workers are slacking off or in some other way receiving extra benefits.
  6. Plan how the office, remote workers and managers will coordinate work. What is the protocol for working together when they will not see each other for days at a time?
  7. Track results. What are the productivity gains and cost savings of telecommuting? Has it reduced turnover and increased retention? How well is this incentive working?


Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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