How to work from home and get more done
October 9, 1998
by James A. Martin
(IDG) -- PROBLEM: No matter how hard you try, you just can't get everything done at the office.
SOLUTION: Stay home and work--but first you'll need the right gear, and a plan.
Constant mettings and interruptions, telephones ringing, deadlines looming ominously -- it's all just part of an ordinary day at the office for Kyle McMaster, an operations analyst for the department of planning and development in Chandler, Arizona. "Where I work," McMaster says, "there are generally three or four people coming in and out. With all the distractions, and with the kind of work I do, it can be hard to concentrate."
So McMaster asked her supervisor if she could telecommute some days. Her boss said no at first, concerned that McMaster would be difficult to reach on her telecommute days. But McMaster persevered, arming herself with examples of how teleworking improves productivity. Eventually, her supervisor agreed to let her work from home once a week for a six-month trial period. The trial was a success, and McMaster now works at home every Tuesday.
Telecommuting has become increasingly popular, and for good reason. "You can be at least 15 to 25 percent more effective" when teleworking, says Gil Gordon, president of Gil Gordon Associates, a telecommuting consultancy in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey.
But as McMaster's experience shows, many bosses aren't keen on letting their staff work from home. And workers can end up being less productive at home than at the office -- thanks to such distractions as children, Home Depot, and Judge Judy. To make telecommuting work for you and your boss, you need the right hardware and software, and you need a strategy.
Making homework work
The first step is to write a detailed plan that shows how telecommuting will benefit your boss. Listing the advantages "changes telecommuting from a favor to a business proposal," Gordon advises. "The more professional you are, the more credibility your plan will have." Include data such as productivity improvement statistics and a list of firms with telecommuting programs. You'll find a summary of recent surveys at June Langhoff's Telecommuting Resource Center (link below).
Keep a log of what you do at work for several weeks. Divide the tasks into those that could be done more efficiently at home and those better performed at the office. The longer the home column, the more weight your plan will carry. Also, set clearly defined goals based on your responsibilities; this gives the boss a yardstick by which to measure the success of your plan.
Equipment is a key issue. If you already have a PC and modem at home, you're ahead of the game. If you don't, it's up to you and your company to hash out who writes the check. "There's no single right answer for who pays for what," Gordon explains. "But in general, companies tend to pay for the computer -- if it's required in the job -- an extra phone line, and business-related phone calls, while the telecommuter usually provides the furniture." And don't forget software -- you'll want an e-mail package, a reliable Internet connection, and possibly a remote access program for logging on to your work PC or the company server.
You'll also need a comfortable work space; otherwise, productivity can plunge, while the risk of a repetitive strain injury rises. Invest in an adjustable chair and a desk with a sliding keyboard tray.
Be clear about how you can be contacted when out of the office. E-mail your home office number to colleagues, and put it on a note attached to your office PC monitor. And don't forget about tech support. The ideal telecommuter is comfortable getting phone support from his or her PC vendor. If this isn't you, you'll have to work out a solution with your company's IS staff.
If you suspect your boss will be skeptical no matter what you say, propose a trial. Gordon recommends working at home once a week for a month to break the ice.
After you present your proposal, summarize any remaining negotiating points and try to schedule a follow-up conversation. Then recap the final agreement in writing. It's good protection, especially if your boss is replaced by one even less supportive of your teleworking.
Once you have the green light, you need to make the plan work. For starters, schedule tasks for times when you can do them most efficiently. If your job includes lots of Web research, for example, surf at off-peak times to avoid Net traffic jams. If you're groggy in the a.m., start your day handling e-mails, returning calls, and dealing with other routine chores.
But above all, be careful not to be too productive. With all that equipment and information at your disposal, it can be hard to shut down at day's end.
"Initially, I felt I had to work twice as hard at home as I did at the office," says McMaster. "I was trying to prove how much more I could get done. But it was worth it. The quality of my work is better -- and so is my life."
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