Working productively as a telecommuter

Six tips for success at taking on a telecommuting position

Roll out of bed, put on a pot of coffee, and stumble over to your desk to check your phone and e-mail messages, all while still in your pajamas. While this might be some people's idea of telecommuting, it is not an approach destined for success, according to the experts.

"The day you decide to wear your bathrobe, the CEO will want to do an iChat [videoconference]," says career counselor and executive coach Clay Parsons at Alternative Futures. "The people who succeed will be the ones who take it very seriously and go into it with their eyes and ears wide open. They are also disciplined people who work hard and can be their own boss."

Here are six tips for success at taking on a telecommuting position.

Prepare yourself psychologically. If you are used to working on-site, the switch to working from home can be especially hard. "How you see this job and prepare for it will determine if it works for you and your employer," says Parsons. "Working from home is a job, not a vacation from responsibility." As part of the transition, Parsons recommends creating a "real office" at home. "Do not use it for something else," he says. "When you go to work in your home office, go to work. Don't hang out there if you are not working."

Take yourself - and your job - seriously. An easy way to get started is to dress appropriately each day. "How you dress does influence how you feel and how you interact with others," says Parsons. In addition, you need to create a work structure for yourself and take it seriously, along with a schedule that you follow. Organize your projects as if you were in the main office, and make sure you are prepared for whatever might come your way.

Rather than viewing telecommuting as a chance to kick back, imagine that you are simply relocating your office to another building. "What would you do if that were the case?" asks Parsons. You wouldn't work out of the lunchroom, so the laptop computer on the kitchen table won't usually cut it.

Avoid isolation. As a telecommuter, it's easy to feel like you're on a deserted island, especially if you are an extrovert or "people person." Your social needs need to be addressed. Go to a health club before you start your workday, or take time to meet a friend for coffee first thing in the morning or for lunch, just as you would with officemates. Make such meetings a regular part of your routine.

Acknowledge your successes. At the office, when something goes really well, everyone goes out to lunch or out for a drink after work. It's great for morale, and it helps motivate people for the downtimes that sometimes come later. Reward yourself when you deserve it. If you land a new account or beat the bottom line, throw a party (at a location other than your office), take a friend out for a drink to celebrate or treat yourself to something special - just as you would if you were in the office.

Reach out to your colleagues. Just because you work from home, that doesn't mean you don't need to consult with co-workers. Devise a method, whether it's via phone, e-mail, instant messaging or video chats, to speak with others during the day. Pretend that they - and your boss - are just down the hall. If it's geographically feasible, try to have lunch with a colleague at least monthly. Make sure to keep abreast of events at work. "I learned very early that ignoring the political world [of the office] can be fatal," says Parsons. Working with a mentor at the main office can also be an excellent way to stay connected and up-to-date on office news and politics.

Keep your options open. In a lot of ways, telecommuting makes it easier to keep in touch with friends and colleagues at other companies and to maintain a professional network. "During a period of economic uncertainty, this is essential," says Parsons. "One of the principles of career development is that we should always be looking for work, all the time. That way, when it becomes appropriate, we can move quickly to secure a better job."

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