What is Telecommuting and Why is it Right for You?

Kris Jenner's Home Office

Working from home is every employee’s dream. Who wouldn’t pick staying at home all day long over getting up early, being stuck in rush hour traffic and being crammed in an office, with an annoying boss and even more annoying colleagues, for eight long hours. Just because we’ve grown out of the idea that money grows on trees and we’ve stopped searching the internet for ways to make money without actually doing anything, that doesn’t mean we’re okay with having to go to the office every single day.

Depending on what type of work you do, you could be a telecommuter who never has to show up at the office, or if that’s too far-fetched, then you could be the kind of telecommuter who just goes into the office occasionally in order to meet the manager or do a bit of training.  Either way, what’s great about being a telecommuter is that you’re living the dream of staying at home and setting your own schedule, and the days of being chained to a desk are far behind you.

Unfortunately, there’s bad news. (Isn’t there always?) The problem is that telecommuting isn’t for everyone; there are industries where being a telecommuter is just not possible, these industries include factories, healthcare etc. However, even if being a telecommuter can work for your industry, that doesn’t mean that it’s right for you personally. If you’re seriously thinking of turning the dream into reality, you should make sure you have these attributes:

1. You Have Self-Discipline

There are two kinds of people in offices: those who work diligently all (or most of) the time and those who work best when they think their boss is about to walk past. If you’re the second kind, you might want to reconsider whether telecommuting is a good idea; sure, doing whatever you like risk-free might sound great, but will it really be so great when you start falling behind on your work? 9 to 5 won’t sound so bad when you’re stuck consistently working until late into the night to make up for the work you were too busy -procrastinating- to do earlier.

2. You Know When to Say no

One of the appeals of telecommuting is supposed to be that there are fewer distractions; no ringing phones, no gossiping colleagues or prying bosses. However, if you have family - especially children - or friends who keep turning up on the doorstep, then you would simply be trading in one set of distractions for another. In an office you can simply close the door or put up a "go away" sign, but could you do that at home?

Family and friends can find it hard to understand that working from home is still work, and it’s up to you to train them: they can’t keep coming to you to gossip, they can’t expect you to do housework, you can’t work out what the weird noise is in their car and you can’t play hide and seek. This relates to the previous point because if you lack self-discipline then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to discipline anyone else. Give them a simple rule, and perhaps stick it on the door: "If you wouldn’t come to my office or call me at work about it, then don’t bother me with it just because I’m home."

3. You're Good at Making and Keeping to a Schedule

It probably won’t be "work from 9 till 1, have lunch, work from 2 till 5", but you should still try and keep to a work schedule. You still want to make money, don’t you? Therefore it’s good to remember that telecommuting means that you have the freedom to make your own work schedule, it’s not a way to get out of the office and laze about guilt-free. If that schedule happens to include a later start, a midday nap, petting the dog and a bike ride, then that’s up to you. As long as it’s reasonable, you stick to it and you get everything done, then it’s a great schedule.

The two most important aspects of this schedule is remembering to take breaks and remembering to have a reasonable quitting time. Just because you don’t have to leave the house doesn’t mean you should stay in forever; a quick walk could give you a brilliant idea, and scheduling a lunch with someone in your network could help with your future prospects.

When it comes to knowing when to stop for the day, avoid falling into the "just one more thing" trap and aim to always stop at a reasonable time, even if that isn’t at 5pm. If you catch yourself sending emails to your clients at 2am, you’ve let work completely take over your home life and you’ve probably made that client think you’re more crazy than dedicated.

4. You Have a Dedicated Space you Can Use

If possible, make a spare bedroom, the garage, or a garden shed your new office. Staying in bed will make you want to nap, or make it impossible to get in the work mindset, being near a television will make you want to watch it, and being anywhere a child can approach and beg you to play will end in playtime. Having a dedicated area means:

  • A place you can go to where people know not to bother you
  • A place where you can concentrate
  • A place to keep all your work related stuff
  • A place you can physically leave at quitting time

5. You're self-Motivated and Independent

Do you realize that telecommuting means staying at home, away from the people you’re always asking for help, for guidance, or for approval? You need to love - and understand - what you’re doing well enough to be able to work things out for yourself, and if you need someone looking over your shoulder to help or encourage you then you probably shouldn’t try telecommuting. You need to love what you’re doing so that you’re motivated to do it, and you need to find your own rewards, whether it’s in the form of a break, a piece of candy or one episode of your favourite show.

6. You Don't Need to Be Around People

Are you the type of person who hangs by the water-cooler listening out for the latest gossip? Is your office the kind where you get to see visitors, delivery people, and other fascinating strangers who you love striking up conversations with? Imagine if there was no gossip, and those people stopped coming: that’s telecommuting. You’re stuck at home where you only see your friends and any family you happen to live with, and let’s face it, you already know all their dramas. Could you really stand that? If not, reconsider your desire to telecommute, or at least whether you should do it full time.

7. You're Proactive

Before you decide that telecommuting is a brilliant idea, seriously think about it: are you the kind of person who’s likely to make the effort required to keep yourself in the loop? To strike up daily conversations with your colleagues (and more importantly, your boss) so that they remember you exist? Your office might feel like a place you walk into, sit in your cubicle and then become invisible for the day, but you’re actually in the perfect position to listen out for any useful gossip and to be seen by the boss. Not being there can trigger an "out of sight, out of mind" situation and actually hurt you when it comes to promotion time, as your boss isn’t necessarily going to remember you.

See Also: How to be a Proficient Telecommuter

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Those are the things that you need in order to be a brilliant telecommuter who gets just as much done at home as you do in the office: How many of these qualities apply to you?

Do you telecommute? Are you considering it? Let us know what works for you in the comments section below.

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