Is telecommuting for you?

Telecommuting and “working from home” is all the rage. Technology has made it possible for a worker to stay at home yet be connected to the office by telephone, computer, modem, fax or e-mail. The advantages of such an arrangement are numerous: for the employee it means no more commuting time and costs, fewer interruptions from co-workers, and the flexibility to schedule family or personal activities during the day. Many teleworkers also report higher job satisfaction. 

A company also benefits with cost savings from less office space requirements, maintenance and housekeeping. Other advantages for employers include:

• often higher productivity

• less lost hours due to traffic problems

• reduced absenteeism

• increases number of potential candidates for a job

A win-win situation, right?
Not entirely. Experts say there are, in fact, several significant downsides to working from home.

Downsides for the employee

Isolation
Not all people are suited for telecommuting. While you no longer have to deal with annoying interruptions fom co-workers, working remotely can sometimes feel a lonely endeavor. And working away from the office isolates you from the ever-changing culture and mainstream thinking that affect a business. Gone are those chance encounters over the coffee machine or shared lunch breaks where important nuggets of information are conveyed.

Many home workers fear becoming ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and not staying current with other colleagues.

Maintaining a balance between work life and personal time
Everyone seems to be working more, not less these days. If home is where your work is, it becomes more difficult to distinguish between work and personal time. All too often, it’s easy to go “back to work” after dinner and many home-workers soon find themselves working excessive hours to the detriment of personal life and family. It takes discipline to maintain the balance between work life and home life when your office is in your house.

On the other hand, it can be tempting to procrastinate on projects when there’s no one watching. Showing up at the office every day pushes you to get to work even when the brain doesn’t feel like it. And some teleworkers report being unduly affected by family distractions.

Maintaining important skills
Much about managing and getting along with people comes from personal interaction, and working remotely may cause these skills to atrophy. Skills in other areas such as giving presentations or directing meetings may also suffer.

Downsides for the company
Experts say the disadvantages to telecommuting for a company include maintaining adequate communication between employees and managers or with customers, as well as a possible delay in customer service. The preparation of employees for additional responsibility and higher-level positions may also suffer — without face to face interaction, it is more difficult for people to be effectively evaluated and groomed for new jobs.

Tips for the employee who is working at home*

It is important to keep to a ‘work day routine’. Some tips for working at home include:

• Have a specific place where you work. This may be a room, or just a corner of a room, but it is should always be the place where you do your work.

• Try to start and finish at the same time every day. And consider adopting a beginning and end of day ritual. Not having to commute to work means you no longer have a break between waking up and starting work. Some teleworkers find it helpful to actually leave the house and walk around the block before starting work. You may want to end the day the same way.

• As you would in the office, set a schedule and stick to it. Make a ‘to do’ list and check your accomplishments at the end of the day. Stick to deadlines.

• Maintain constant contact with the office. Establish a routine for checking in with your supervisor or co-workers. Keep your supervisor informed of your progress and any difficulties encountered. And be sure to let your supervisor know of any need for overtime to complete projects.

• Attend meetings and gatherings at work as often as possible. This interaction helps keep you from becoming ‘invisible’.

• Determine what interruptions are acceptable and what are not. Be clear with your friends and family about what the ground rules are.

• Be honest with yourself. Teleworking is not a substitute for child or elder care, nor is it a way to simply save money on commuting costs. Too much compromise on the part of the employee or employer can lead to problems and possible failure to meet job requirements.

*Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety 

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