1. Understand your employer’s expectations. Will your job requirements and duties be the same at home as in an office environment? How much support will you receive as a home office worker. Some companies have very stringent guidelines about what equipment and support will be provided by the company and what they will not. Companies will often provide a computer and telephone and will support each, but not a printer or a fax machine, for example. It is important to clarify where your company stands and what they are willing to negotiate on.
2. Be sure that you meet (and/or exceed your employer’s expectations) and make sure you boss knows that you are consistently doing so. You may work 9, 10, 12 hours a day, but it won’t matter if your boss doesn’t know it or you don’t get the anticipated results! How will you communicate your efforts and results to your employer? Don’t rely on them to evaluate this. Your performance, or lack thereof, may not come up until there is a need for a scapegoat or something goes wrong…
3. Set up a comfortable, separate space for your work area. This is critical to your success as a home-worker. Your space should be relatively free from distractions such as family, pets, home telephone, the television, even an attractive view if you are new to telecommuting. You should have a good quality chair and large monitor if you are primarily working at the computer (who isn’t!).
4. Make sure that you have everything you need to do your job at home. A computer, workstation, phone, printer and fax are a given. BUT, you will also need paper, ink cartridges ( you would be surprised how quickly these seem to need to be replaced, even in a “paperless” environment), possibly letterhead, pens, sticky pads, etc. Think about many of the things you use in your office and the well stocked supply cabinet there. Will you visit the office periodically to replenish these common items or purchase them and be reimbursed. Iron this out in advance.
5. Set boundaries with your family and friends. This is pivotal not only to your success at working from home, but to your personal relationships! When you first begin telecommuting friends and family may not understand the demands that this requires of you. A friend whose sitter cancels may call you for a favor, “Can you watch the kids, since you are working at home?” You may get invitations to lunch or drinks, which down the road you may evaluate that you can work into your schedule periodically. In the beginning, you need to be careful to set a tone for your family and friends as well as good work habits for yourself.
6. Set specific work times or goals: Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and beyond. Goals are important to keep you on track as well as to validate your progress. Working at home can be very positive in terms of autonomy and independence, but it can be lonely and unfulfilling without the regular feedback that comes from working in an office. The telecommuter needs to feel confident that he or she is doing what is necessary to be viewed as successful and to feel secure in his or her job. Paranoia can set in pretty quickly without the regular input of fellow coworkers.
7. Stay connected. It may be a good idea to start out telecommuting just a day or two a week and increase gradually from there. This will provide you the opportunity to slowly transition how you will communicate in a more natural way. You will find that you and your coworkers may email or call more often to stay in touch. You will determine which issues and/or coworkers to attend to and which to not. Increased productivity due to decreased coworker distraction may be a major benefit to working from home.
8. Schedule daily and weekly breaks. Many home workers find that they spend too much time at the computer which can decrease overall productivity. Schedule breaks into your day. Take a regular lunch (at any time you want – no one is watching!) and stand up and walk around periodically. You might find it helpful to set an alarm in Outlook or other calendar to remind you to move away from the computer. Telecommuters may not realize that they are squinting at the screen, are hungry, or, even, have to use the restroom when they get too engrossed in their work.
9. Understand your work style. It is crucial for you to understand how you work best. Do you work best according to your moods? If so, keep track of your tasks according to task type: computer work, telephone work, meetings, etc. This way you can perform these tasks when you are at your best.
10. Track your work and progress. Your employer may have a specific way for you to track your time. It may be as simple as emailing your supervisor when you start and stop your work. It may be a more elaborate time tracking system where you record your specific activities in time increments or journal style. It may be a good idea to keep track of what you are doing in more detail. It may come in handy if you are asked to justify your time or when you would like to ask for a raise.
11. Assess your progress weekly. It is important to organize your work in such a way as you are able to quickly and clearly see what you have accomplished. Often, this is accomplished through effective use of a calendar system like Outlook In some industries, the billable hour or journal system (even a combination) are standard. However you approach it, you need to be able to clearly determine you are on target to reach your goals.
12. Make adjustments to how you accomplish your job. If something is not working, don’t be afraid to change it. As a telecommuter, you may be a pioneer at your office, company or industry. No one may have all the answers. Invest time researching ways to improve your productivity. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Is there a quicker, better, more effective way out there?” Seek it out, albeit carefully. Don’t jump on the first bandwagon that comes along. Try it out tentatively –not all solutions meet all users’ needs.
13. Ask for help or input. Have regular meetings with your boss or coworkers. These meetings could be weekly, monthly or quarterly. The meetings may be more frequent to begin with. Talk to others from a similar field who also telecommute. Use social networking to stay in touch and obtain advice in answer to a question or before you ask it. Be selective about which groups or lists you sign up for or follow. You don’t want social networking to become a distraction rather than a way to stay in touch and obtain input!
14. Take care of yourself. It is hard to do your best when you don’t feel your best and especially hard when you don’t have regular input from others! Get up at a regular time and get dressed. Have your breakfast and coffee before work if that is your habit. If you usually brown bag it, pack a lunch to eat when you are ready. Meet coworkers or friends for lunch periodically if you are in the habit of this. Set regular breaks and quitting time. Avoid the temptation to work when it should be family time and remember to exercise and go to bed at the appointed hour.