You finally got your boss to approve a work-from-home arrangement, either part or all of the week. Before you breathe a sigh of relief, be sure you are on track for telework success. The green light is just the first step in what should be your continual effort to ensure success at telework.
Naturally, you need adequate technology, work space and a schedule that allows you time to complete your duties. But there are also intangibles such as staying in touch with your supervisors and colleagues that will help you avoid being sidelined in your career field or organization. Follow these 10 commandments for telework success.
It sounds counterintuitive, but here's the first commandment: show your face at work. When you're in a permanent telework arrangement, you need to work all the harder to make sure you're building strong connections with your supervisor and colleagues. It's easy for people to forget about you when it comes to new projects, exciting trips or even those routine new baby and engagement celebrations that help co-workers bond.
Schedule a regular time to work in the office, and make sure to give key colleagues a heads up that you'll be there in person and would like to see them. If you work in another city from your office, this might be as infrequent as once a quarter. But if you're in the same metro location, do your best to make the commute at least twice a month.
Next, look for a buddy in the office who can fill you in on those water cooler conversations and gossip that may never rise to the level of a memo -- but are vital for you to advance your career. Ideally, this person will also work from home on a regular basis, so telework success will be as much in her interest as yours. You can fill her in on the days you're at work; and she can do the same when she shows her face.
Not only will you be able to warn each other of any signs of problems or hints of a new opportunity, because you are looking for another person, you're more likely to pay attention to these signals in the first place.
Ideally, you'll work for an organization that has invested in telework success by implementing standard procedures for evaluating productivity and measuring by objectives -- not by the time people spend behind a desk. Then all you have to do is meet or exceed your benchmarks, and feed your results into whatever system tracks productivity.
But if your employer is smaller or doesn't have a formal system, make sure your boss and co-workers know all the things you're accomplishing at home. This can be as simple as a weekly meeting or memo to your supervisor setting goals for the coming week and recapping accomplishments of the prior week -- and casual mentions of these deadlines and deliverables to your colleagues.
When you're working remotely, it's even more important to take the time to get to know your colleagues and manager on a personal level. You won't have the warm interpersonal exchanges at the water cooler, or over the cubicle wall. So when you're on a call with a co-worker, consider taking a few minutes at the beginning or end of the conversation to ask how they are or follow up on an earlier conversation about their family or personal life.
If you know that someone in your work group has a major life event coming up -- new baby, wedding or the like -- be sure to proactively inquire about how the group will mark the event. You don't want to be left out of the group card or miss a chance for bonding over cake at the office.
People are different. We all know that. Some like email; some like telephones; some instant message. Learn which modes of communication work best for your colleagues and supervisor, and use their preferred methods.
Of course, some conversations are best had in person or by voice, so even if you're dealing with an extreme introvert, you may sometimes need to pick up the telephone.
Regular readers of this site know that I strongly believe that child care is a must for working moms. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you can achieve telework success by working while also caring for your young children. (When they're teenagers, it may be a different story.)
Sure, once in a while you can telework with a sick kid lying nearby on the couch. But on a regular basis, you owe it to yourself and your employer to line up child care.
Similarly, if you work from home on a regular basis, you need a dedicated work space. Ideally you'll have a door that closes on your home office, but at the least you need a corner of the room that is only used for works, with a file cabinet that locks. (And a password on your work computer.) Make sure all cords are safely routed around your office furniture, and that all electrical equipment is plugged into a grounded, surge-protected power strip.
Parents of young children don't usually have to be reminded of this commandment, since you can't easily sleep through the alarm of a child waking for the day. But the list wouldn't be complete without the reminder that your work schedule is another obligation to your employer that shouldn't be derailed by three loads of laundry, the need to do the dishes or your upcoming garage sale.
Telework wouldn't be possible without technology. But there's good technology, and there's bad technology. Make sure you have the former. That means: working Internet connections, passwords to access any files on a work server, reliable laptop, scanner and fax machine if you'll be handling documents. Not to mention a backup for your data.
When you telework on a regular basis, it's easy for family members and neighbors to "forget about the "work" part and just focus on the "home." Be judicious about the amount of package accepting, maintenance person meeting and other chores you allow to infringe on your work hours. When people start to cross those boundaries, try pasting a rueful smile on your face and saying simply: "I wish I could."