In Part 1 of this series, there were 5 tips on how to prepare for telecommuting. Here are more tips on telecommuting once you have permission from your organization.

Before I start, let me briefly summarize the tips from Part 1:

  • Identify the activities that can be done from home – Most jobs have some part that does not need you to be in office. Identify them clearly
  • Allocate time at home – Set apart a few hours every weekend for work at home. This is only for the preparation phase where you are checking for feasibility
  • Plan and set up a work environment at home – A separate place to work can give you the concentration you need. All infrastructure and tools you need must be setup in this place to simulate your office
  • Log all activities done from home – This gives you a sense of accomplishment and motivates you to continue the process. As a side benefit, it may give you evidence when you initiate a discussion with your manager
  • Discuss with your manager – Propose your telecommuting strategy to your boss and present a “win-win” argument. Depending on your company’s culture, you may want to start with specifying why you need to work from home before describing the benefits for the company. Be up-front about any challenges or additional costs you expect

Once your managers are comfortable and give you the go-ahead, you can start the pilot phase. You have done this as part of preparation, but this is the “formal” pilot to give the organization the confidence that you can pull it off.

1. Agree on outcome-based work

A primary cause of resistance to telecommuting is that it leads to lack of accountability. This may not always be true, but after generations of working in an office, it is hard for people to accept that work can be done at home by responsible people with the same quality and on time. I stress “responsible”, since if you don’t feel the same amount of accountability when you work from home, then you might not be able to sustain it for long.

I need not tell you that if one person in a department fails to work effectively while telecommuting, he/she screws the pitch for everyone else!

One way to avoid ambiguity on responsibility/accountability is to agree on outcomes (also called “deliverables”). I say outcomes, since not all work results in a concrete product. “Draft presentation ready for review by Thursday” is an outcome, while “Interact with relevant people and create draft for departmental presentation” can be an activity.
[Those who are familiar with Work-Breakdown structures vs Product Break-down structures will know what I am talking about!]

When negotiating on outcome based work, don’t forget to discuss acceptable standards on quality, format, layouts, and maybe even content

2. Attend office 2-3 times a week

The best telecommuting strategy is one where you are not missed on the days you are not in at the office! Face time has been important always and will become even more important today when “teamwork” is the new mantra. Make sure you attend all meetings – be seen and be listened to. Volunteer for additional work, if you must.

Schedule meetings on the days when you are at office, but if you have a meeting on of your off-days, do agree. After all, getting work done is more important, so don’t bicker. If the organization has been flexible, you also need to show some flexibility.

3. Keep lines of communication open

Related to the point about being in office is the fact that you must be available at all times for contact from your office. Of course, this is not to say that you work 24×7, but at least within normal office hours. There is nothing more frustrating that not being able to reach someone for a critical piece of information (when you know the person is supposed to be working from home!)

Another aspect of keeping the lines open is to constantly communicate with your boss, your peers and your subordinates. You may have to follow-up a little more than usual, but if you do it politely, it should work.

4. Provide frequent progress updates

Keeping your manager updated on progress is very important. You can call him to report briefly on what you have accomplished, followed by an email that may be a little more detailed. This is especially significant in the early days of telecommuting, so that your manager doesn’t feel you have disappeared from the face of the earth!

5. Avoid interruptions at home

One of the most common (and annoying!) challenges is interruptions from family – of the “can you switch off the microwave and look after the baby while I run to the corner shop for a minute” variety! Granted, this may be the reason why you are telecommuting, but those minutes can easily become hours. Sometimes, a programme on the telly might distract you or the neighbours may drop in for a chat.

You SHOULD avoid these distractions. Firmly tell your family that office time is inviolate – close the door shut if need be and any phone calls from them will be rejected, unless it is an emergency. They have to treat it as if you were really at office.

If you have a situation where you are telecommuting to help out at home, then mark those hours strictly. Remember, once you lose your credibility at office for not delivering, it is almost impossible to get second chances!

6. Get feedback

Once you have successfully worked for sometime from home, its time to ask your boss (and co-workers, if need be) for feedback. Has your performance been to the same level? Is there anything you are doing that might affect your credibility, raises, promotions etc? Does the managers above think positively about me?

If you get a negative feedback, especially from a manager that was supportive of your idea to telecommute, revisit your plans and drop the work from home part immediately, unless being at home is critical to you. In that case, you must take additional steps to resolve the danger signals like spending more time office, clarifying issues with colleagues etc.

A final word of caution - while telecommuting may save costs, in some organizations, you may be at risk if you ask for this option. Even though the company talks about flexitime in its brochures, they may remain primarily a recruitment tool and frowned upon. So be careful about this option and do it only when you are absolutely sure the organization has no problem with it.

Are you working from home? Do you have any tips on telecommuting that you would like to share? Do so in the comments.

[For other ways to balance Work and life, you can see the 3-part series starting here - Part 1 ]