This week in the AWSJ (subscription only, I’m afraid) I talk about telecommuting. Had a chance to talk to lots of folk about it, but sadly there wasn’t room for everything in there. Here’s some stuff we couldn’t fit in, but which is worth passing on. I asked Minda Zetlin, author of Telecommuting for Dummies, to suggest some ways to persuade your boss to let you telecommute, as well as some of the pitfalls telecommuters experience:
No surprise that the toughest part of telecommuting for most people is persuading their managers to let them do it. If you think about it from their point of view, it’s much easier to supervise someone you see every day and supervising a telecommuter is more challenging. So the best way is to make it as easy for the boss as possible by coming up with a proposal that will cover
- Which days you’ll be out of the office and which in;
- How and when you’ll check in (for instance, with an e-mail at the start of each day, or a phone call at the end of the day, etc.);
- And also what goals you’ll establish and hope to meet while telecommuting so the boss has an agreed on parameter for evaluating your performance while not there. Unfortunately, many managers work by line of sight: if they see someone at their desk, they think that person is working hard and doing well whether or not this is true.
Incidentally, this leads to one of the unexpected pitfalls of telecommuting: assignment by line of sight. That is, if your boss has a new project to assign to someone, he or she may be more likely to give it to someone who was at a meeting, or even someone the boss just ran into in the hallway rather than think to phone or e-mail the telecommuter with the assignment. Consequently, as telecommuting guru Gil Gordon puts it, the telecommuter can get better and better at doing less and less. If you’re telecommuting, it’s your responsibility to make sure this doesn’t happen by actively checking in, asking for assignments, and, as much as possible, participating in team meetings (either in person or by conference call).
It might help if your telecommuting proposal allows you to ease into telecommuting, say by working from home one day a week (you can put all your paperwork and report writing onto that day) and then working up from there if that goes well. You and your boss should also set a time, say six months into the telecommuting to re-evaluate and see if the system is working and anything needs adjusting, or for the boss to put an end to the arrangement if he/she feels it’s not working. It may be easier to get the boss to agree to an experiment that he or she can opt out of rather than a permanent arrangement.
As to pitfalls, here are two possibly unexpected ones:
- First, your friends and family members may not understand that even though you’re home, you’re still at work. A relative of mine with a new grandchild found she was frequently pressed into baby-sitting service when she was working at home. She didn’t want to just say no to all baby-sitting, so for her a good solution was to provide the new parents with parameters, e.g.: I can be available for baby-sitting after 4 pm, but not before. Another telecommuter I talked to actually suggests having a phone whose ringer you can activate from your desk. That way, if a friend or relative calls and expects you to have a long conversation, at some point you can make the other line ring and say, “Gotta go!”
- Another unexpected pitfall for many people is that they have a hard time stopping work, and find themselves still at their desks at midnight. In this regard, it can be helpful to ask your spouse to come knock on your door (ideally you have your own office with a door inside your home; I can say more about this if you like) and remind you it’s quitting time. Most spouses are more than happy to do this.
Thanks, Minda. As ever, I’d love to hear from telecommuters of their own experiences, and suggestions.