Telecommuting Lifestyle

I have been a home-based employee for about nine months.  When I tell folks that I have  a home office, they are quick to note how nice it must be and how they wish they could work from home.  Now, I’m not complaining, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  I’ve found that I generally work longer hours than I ever did in Bethesda.  Also, my work hours are much more fluid now.  While I am in the office most mornings by 8am and generally knock off by 4:30 or 5, it’s not uncommon for me to have an hour or two in the evening or over the weekend when I find myself working on a project to get a bit ahead or to catch up.  Now, this doesn’t mean that I am in the office 12 hours a day.  Sometimes I will come in late because I was at the gym or swimming, or I’ll take a longer lunch so I can get in a run or a bike ride.  Overall though, I spend more time in my new office than I ever did in Bethesda.

What I love about being a telecommuter is the flexibility that this arrangement allows.  While LexisNexis is very reasonable about work-life balance, my bosses are especially accommodating.  I think this is largely because I am a decent employee, I get my work done, I meet deadlines, and I require very little hand-holding to accomplish my project goals.  Both of my bosses have other HBEs, so they are more comfortable with having employees that aren’t in the office.

Last Friday, I had a serious family emergency that required me to head back to Greenville for a few days.  Heather and I left on Saturday, she returned Sunday, and I came back on Tuesday night.  The kicker is that I hardly missed an hour of work.  I carried my personal laptop and, using my RSA hard token, able to remain in contact with my boss, coworkers, and vendors while I was working from my mom’s house and a coffee shop.

What amazes me is that there are so many opportunities to create more efficient businesses by taking advantage of technology, connectivity, and the desire of employees to work from home.   As I mentioned above, the telecommuting lifestyle is not for everyone, and I’m not saying that we can replace the office system with a country of home-based employees.  If you have a problem motivating yourself or keeping yourself on task, telecommuting is a recipe for disaster.  If your boss doesn’t trust you or if they feel the need to micromanage, you will fail as a telecommuter.

Telecommuting Benefits:

But, if you are lucky enough to have the right bosses and the right outlook on your career, it can be very beneficial, not only for you but for your employer.  For example, LexisNexis no longer has to pay for my office space in Bethesda, Maryland, a very expensive location.  They don’t have to pay for my electricity or for my heating and air bills.  Now, they normally reimburse HBEs for their internet expenses and, if my wife’s employer didn’t already pay this, LN would cover these expenses.  But it’s much cheaper for them to pay for my cable internet than to have me occupy space in a high rent office building.

The financial benefits don’t end with your employer.  I have reduced my dry cleaning expenses to almost nothing, along with no commuting costs, and now that I’m at home every day, no expenses for eating lunch out.

Problems with Telecommuting:

In the interest of not being Pollyanna, I should caution you on some of the pitfalls of working from home.  First, it’s a huge change to not be in the office with your boss.  Not being in the office can limit your career advancement, since you’re not fresh in the minds of the higher-ups, but this is easily overcome with a little work.

On a personal level, working from home presents unique challenges.  For many people, the workplace provides a majority of their social interaction.  This can be the actual interactions you have in the office or the people you meet as coworkers that soon become friends.  In general, no one is going to stop by your desk on their way to lunch or Starbucks.

Advice for Telecommuters:

From a professional standpoint, it’s crucial for you to keep your boss informed of your problems and successes.  You have to make sure you are receiving assistance where needed.  Since you boss won’t be physically close to you, it’s vital that you highlight your achievements and successes.  It’s understandable to not be very comfortable with the self promotion at first, but you will soon realize that your boss can’t keep up with all your work and goals without help.

You must seek out new responsibilities and opportunities.  Since you’re not in the office, it’s easy for your boss to overlook you when a new project or task pops up.  Start small, underpromise and overdeliver.  Show your boss that you are capable of doing anything a ‘regular’ employee in the office can do.  Make yourself indispensable.  Create a niche for yourself as an expert or go-to person for a product or project.

Make sure you also set reasonable boundaries for your employer.  You need to have an established system of when you’re expected in the office, when you are expected to be reachable, and when you shouldn’t be bothered.  Just because your primary line of communication with your boss is now the telephone doesn’t mean that you can be contacted anytime and for any reason.

Find local networking opportunities, even if they are not in your field.  Try to set up a lunch date at least once a month, more frequently if possible.  Consider this a mental health expense.

Depending on your work, you should try to work from a different location every so often.  This can mean a coffee shop or a coworking location.  While you might not be as productive, it’s great for morale to get out of the office once and a while.

If you are married, live with a significant other, or have roommates, it’s also important to set boundaries here too.  Even though it looks like you’re around the house all day, you’re actually at work.  You spouse or roomies need to understand that you cannot clean the house, do the laundry, or run errands all day long.  Most people don’t understand this to start and simply need to be educated about your limitations and abilities.

I’m still learning the ins and outs of working from home.  If you have any tips or tricks, please drop me a comment or an email and I’ll add your advice to this post.  Thanks.

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