Last week I asked "Is it Time to Telework?" The answer for many busy Northern Virginian's, the answer is an emphatic 'Yes!'
Whether you are a pioneer in your office and others are counting on your success or you want to ensure that you remain a valued part of your team, the proper preparation, commitment to daily productivity and continued communication with the home office are essential to your success.
Prepare your space
Make sure you have a safe workspace that provides privacy and is free from distractions. A laptop in the living room may lead to the temptations of television or a nap on a comfy sofa. When we set up our living rooms we are thinking relaxation not productivity. You want a well lit space with room for your materials. You need adequate power outlets and proper lighting. The desk should be sturdy enough to support your computer, printer or other devices necessary for your work. Your space should be able to maintain a comfortable temperature.
Most communities allow for telework done in private homes but when the demands of your jobs involves receiving large deliveries or visits from clients or customers, you should confirm that you do not violate either zoning or HOA (homeowners associations) covenants. Working from home or telework is usually acceptable to both governmental and association authorities, but running a home business often crosses the line and requires a permit in Fairfax County.
The technology side of telework
As for your technology, a broadband internet connection is essential. Check with your IT department on the technology requirements specific to your work. Clearly lay out what equipment you are expected to provide and what will be provided by your company. You will have to follow security practices to ensure the privacy of your company or agency's business dealings.
You should also go beyond a basic surge protector and upgrade to a UPS (uninterruptible power supply). Be sure you understand the relationship between your computer's storage and your corporate network. You want to make sure that your work is saved in a location where it will be part of a scheduled backup regime.
It is your responsibility to follow the technology policies of your workplace. You want to keep your work and personal lives separate to protect both your employer and your own interests. Your employer's policies may allow access to anything stored on company property such as your smartphone or computer including your files, emails, instant messages, or browser history. Just because your boss isn't over your shoulder doesn't mean that you are working in private. Don't use your company's tools for school or volunteer projects without their permission. If you wouldn't feel comfortable doing something in your work office you shouldn't do it in your home office.
Prepare your lifestyle
Your employer will want you to have dependent care taken care of before you start as a teleworker. If you wouldn't be able to bring a child or elderly relative to work with you, then you shouldn't expect to have your home office function any differently. Daycare might be easier to arrange around a telework lifestyle with shorter distances to travel or quicker availabilty for breastfeeding, doctor visits or emergencies. This doesn't mean that you can expect to do the job of being a caregiver while doing a salaried job.
For the greatest effectiveness as a teleworker, start your workday with the sort of routines that would start your day in the office. Be sure to dress as if you will be seeing other humans if not meeting the standards of office attire. Start your day with a clear idea of the day's goals to keep you on focus and on track. Make sure that you keep in sync with the rhythms of your office's work day.
To be an effective teleworker you need to keep in communication with your supervisor and your team. This can sometimes be achieved in a transition period where both sides find the right balance between oversharing and radio silence. You don't want people to have to track you down, grow frustrated at your inavailability or even to suffer from an attitude of out-of-sight, out-of-mind.
Use instant messaging to assure your boss and colleagues can reach you in a pinch without too much effort. If something requires discussing complicated matters, perhaps pick up the phone or suggest a video conference. Relying on email alone can lose the nuances of effective communication or simply be less efficient when the give-and-take requires multiple replies to come to a decision.
You want to reassure your employer and avoid the frustration of your coworkers by being incredibly easy to reach. If you do need to have a period of interruption-free work time, communicate this clearly in advance with an estimated end time. Just as a closed office door can convey your need for privacy, politely worded 'do not disturb' instructions can work for everyone.
Telework is a privilege
Know what your employer expects from you regarding communication and work. Ask about emergency plans. Are you expected to report for telework if the office closes due to a weather emergency? What should you do if your home loses power or other utilities? What hours are you expected to be available?
Whether or not you are a federal employee, be sure to use the resources at Telework.gov to help you think of how best to make the case for telework, how to manage it and questions you may not have considered.
Until telework is more common, you need to earn the trust of your employer and your team. Resentments won't build if you are a contributor to the common goals and if you treat telework as a privilege. When the situation is a new one, everyone needs to be ready to adapt their expectations of how it will work out.