- Telecommuters share tips on how to stay collaborative when working from home
- Many stay in touch with colleagues and clients through e-mail and instant messaging
- Some suggest working from home is less distracting than a company office
- Read more of their tips here
Kelly Ann Collins works in a cave. At least that's what she calls her home office, where she does the majority of her work.
Collins, a self-employed marketing and public relations strategist in her 30s, values the quiet home work zone that she yearned for when she worked in a traditional office setting.
"For me, it was really challenging working in an office, because you have people walking, stopping by, knocking on your door and bringing you birthday cake," she said. "There's always something going on."
Given her experience, it's perhaps not surprising that Collins disagreed with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to implement a company policy saying employees can no longer work from home.
A memo circulated by Jackie Reses, Yahoo's executive vice president of people and development, said "communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side" and "speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home."
"I do not know what she is talking about, because I don't think speed and quality of work are affected by working from home," Collins said of Mayer's policy change. "Has she not been to a water cooler? You can hardly get away from a water cooler at work. I am 100% about working from home and staying away from distractions."
When she worked in an office, Collins found, she was most productive from 5 until 10 p.m., when her co-workers had left for the day. She thinks the workplace has become too social and distracting.
Always be accessible
But just because Collins works from home each day doesn't mean she lacks social skills. She spends her mornings writing speeches, drafting press releases, updating social media and developing marketing plans. In the afternoons, she goes out and meets with clients face-to-face.
"I think one good idea is to go in for meetings, go in for team bonding events, but just work from home," she said. "It's easy."
And whether she's out at a coffee shop or at home in her "cave," Collins is always accessible via Google chat.
"During work hours, make sure you are logged onto your favorite chat tools," she writes in an iReport. "For example, if you are on a tight deadline and someone is asking you a not-so-important question, then you may choose to either ignore your chat window or inform your coworker that you will be available in a few minutes."
Through social networks and other chat tools, people can screen a conversation when deciding whether it's worth their time, she explains. But Collins says no matter what, telecommuters should always stay accessible.
"Remember: If your clients forget you're there, then they might forget to write your checks, too," she writes.
Establish a routine
Dylan Mason, 40, works from the West Coast for an East Coast company as a software developer.
Mason enjoys the freedom that comes with working from home. He can research new ideas and test them out at home without interruptions.
"I think the key to staying fresh in your job is to have the freedom to explore new ideas," he said. "A lot of workplaces allow for this to certain degrees, but telecommuting can allow for greater and longer engagement when coming up with new ideas."
Like many places, Mason and his colleagues use e-mail, teleconferences and instant messaging to stay connected. These modes of communication help co-workers keep in touch but can also be distracting. Mason says to watch out for the "distraction creep."
"Distractions of any sort can pull you out of a 'flow' mode, and if you are prone to distraction, then working from home can be very challenging," Mason said.
In order to prevent interruptions, Mason says, people must establish a regimented routine that is work-conducive by separating the personal office from the rest of the home and avoiding noisy coffee shops.
Take a personality test
Telecommuting is not for everyone; it's better suited for introverts, Mason says.
"If you are forced into telecommuting and are an extrovert, then seriously consider a new job," he said.
Mason suggests a person take a personality test to determine whether they're an introvert or an extrovert before making the decision to work from home.
"Introverts can naturally draw energy from being solitary and this (I think) is the most important factor," he writes in an iReport.
Mason says that if a person is an extrovert and enjoys social activities, loneliness will set in, and be a big challenge when telecommuting. For extroverted people who say they would love to get out of the company office, they might have a difficult time adjusting to working from home.
"You might be surprised to learn that all those personal interactions, although distracting (and unpleasant) at times, are really what make you feel part of a group," he writes.
Jim Johnson, 57, does not miss the "office politics" that are often prevalent in the workplace. He now works from home as a mortgage origination systems consultant.
Johnson says people working from home need to earn the trust of their clients and colleagues by avoiding gossip and keeping co-workers and clients informed.
"The whole system works on trust," he said. "Always do your best to understand your customers' and co-workers' viewpoints before you communicate with them. Don't make rash promises you can't keep, and do everything in your power to keep those promises you make."
Johnson often corresponds with colleagues and clients using e-mail, but he knows where to draw the line.
"Keep all shareholders informed, but don't 'shotgun' your messages to everyone," he said. "If you do, your messages will be ignored."
Keep communication concise and work-related, he says. To earn the trust of colleagues, Johnson emphasizes the importance of keeping a written record of all conversations and correspondence.
"Document everything and use the very best desktop search tools you can to quickly retrieve and resend things," he said. "It will save you from a whole lot of 'he said/she said' trust breakers."
Make sure you have a voice
Cara Case, 25, works as a human resources representative for a small tech firm that requires her to travel. Since her company allows employees to telecommute, she alternates one week at her home in San Francisco and one week in Seattle.
Her biggest fear of working from home: being out of sight, out of mind.
"I don't want anyone to forget I'm there and maybe pass over my opinion on a project or a decision," she said.
To stay assertive and ensure that she has a voice in the company, Case makes more of an effort to speak up by keeping her cell phone on all day and communicating with colleagues through instant messenger.
But because of this, Case struggles with keeping her personal and professional lives separate. She is constantly in contact with co-workers, but she says it's important to know when to turn off the computer and hang up the phone.
"Don't let people at work abuse the fact that you are working at home," she said. "Your time is just as valuable as theirs, and there needs to be a work/life balance, or you will resent your work."
Case spends an equal amount of time at the company office as she spends working at home, but she accomplishes more when she works by herself without distractions.
"When I'm at home, I'm focused," she said. "I would even go as far as saying I get more done at home than I do in the office."
Do you work at home? Share your tips on how to collaborate and stay creative.