Working from home may be a dream for many job seekers, but deciding whether it is truly right for you requires honest introspection, and the wisdom and experience of others who have been there. Early on, some employees incorrectly envision working from home as a great opportunity to sleep in, laze around unkempt and work when the mood strikes them.
The reality, however, is very different. Many an ambitious employee whose office is a few feet away tends to continue her job tasks long after she would have quit for the day at the employer's office; many others find it difficult to stay on task without someone at their "elbow" urging them on. Because of these common disparities between the telework dream and the telework reality, I recommend that you and your employer enter into a telecommuting trial period -- perhaps one or two days a week for a pre-determined time period of up to a year.
Sharon Hill, President of Yore Town and co-author with me of "Implementing and Managing Telework, A Guide for Those who make it Happen," stresses that while you don't usually have to be a computer programmer or a technical geek to work remotely, there are very few telework positions at which you can succeed without knowing the basics of technology – computer troubleshooting, PDA functions, Internet research, and Microsoft Office or similar.
"When I'm sitting in my home office I don't have anyone in the next cubicle to turn to when a program won't download or my computer freezes up," Hill says. "I have to figure it out. I'm in Arizona, my immediate supervisor is in Pennsylvania, and our home office is in Michigan. I have to know how to do some troubleshooting and scroll the finicky application's online help files or I have a serious problem getting my work done."
Marie Chandler, owner of Office Support Online, a virtual secretarial firm in Australia, tells me that motivation is a key factor in successful telework. "If you think it is a case of getting up whenever you feel like it and lazing around in your pj's all day, then you're wrong," she says. "You need to schedule your day and try hard to stick to it. Otherwise you will be sitting at your computer at midnight trying to get work done after watching TV all day. You also have to be comfortable being alone. If you need to talk a lot during the day, or crave physical companionship just to get a coffee, then maybe working from home isn't for you."
Here are a few other questions to ask yourself before you decide to work from home:
- Have you been on the job long enough to know how to work in accordance with your company's procedures and policies? Do you have well-established work, communication and social patterns at the central office?
- Are you willing to come into the central office on a day normally scheduled for telework if your supervisor, coworkers or customers need you there?
- Does your job have tasks that can be quantified, measured and monitored?
- Do you have an appropriate home work environment – safe, comfortable, quiet and secure, with a door that will close at the end of your work day?
- Is your family supportive of your desire to telecommute?
- If you're single, how are you going to create a healthy work/life balance?
Keep in mind that your manager's attitude towards digital communication can be as important as yours – perhaps even more so.
"In my most efficient telework situation my editor had been managing a virtual office for years," Sharon Hill says. "He loved IM and online chat, using them regularly. I knew that if I needed to talk to him right away I could. It also helped him keep track of my availability. In contrast, another virtual manager refused to use IM, saying that everyone would be interrupting his work. It hampered my productivity."
Hill says this needn't be an insurmountable problem, but it might indicate a less receptive managerial audience to your telework application. "Be aware that you might also have proficiency stumbling blocks to overcome, even if you do get the telecommuting okay,' she warns.