Telecommuting 101

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Saturday 16th October 2010
In this article
  • Skills you need to telecommute.
  • Equipment needed to ensure success.
  • Finding assignments.
Telecommuting 101

For the uninitiated, the term "telecommuters" refers to paid employees plying their trade away from their regular office setting. SharpMen might want to telecommute full-time or on an occasional basis. On average, most telecommuting arrangements involve working away from the office once or twice per week.

SharpMen who dream of being able to work from the comfy confines of their own home see this work option as a means of balancing their busy lifestyles and reducing job-related stress. Employers are also beginning to realize that telecommuting actually increases worker productivity while simultaneously reducing accommodations costs, layoffs and absenteeism. Check out these SharpWork tips for assessing whether telecommuting is an option for you:

Telecommuting Pros and Cons

Many public and private-sector studies reveal that telecommuting improves employee lifestyle, organizational bottom lines and recruitment and retention capabilities. Some of the other advantages SharpMen should consider include:

  • Increased work satisfaction
  • Improved personal productivity
  • Reduced expenses (i.e., food, clothing, parking, insurance, etc.)

The telecommuting arrangement also stresses the importance of family and is ideal for single-parent/dual-career households.

Of course, there are also negative aspects to telecommuting. There is a great potential for social and professional isolation brought on by reduced interaction with colleagues and a potential to be passed up for promotions due to not having an "office" presence. Worse still, during a downsizing trend, your lack of "face time" may make it more likely that your position will be deemed dispensable. Finally, because you’ll be working in the place where you also live, it may be difficult for you to maintain an adequate balance between work and family.

Costs and Benefits for the Sharp Employer

As experts have long stated, costs involved in program set-up and training are usually one-time fees and are quickly recoupable. Though remote access and equipment involve ongoing maintenance and upgrading costs, these expenses are often negated by the savings realized once telecommuting is put into practice.

Moreover, increasing numbers of SharpMen are making employment decisions based on how willing a prospective employer is to allow telecommuting. This means that employers should take into account that recruitment/retention can be enhanced if they are flexible about alternative working arrangements.

Other considerations:

Cost. Real estate and office costs are another determining factor to the wary employer. Experts agree that organizations could save one office for every three telecommuters on their payroll. For example, in AT&T’s use of telecommuters, the company saved $3,000 per office for a total savings of approximately $550 million.

Productivity. Productivity is also positively affected in a telecommuting arrangement. One report revealed that telecommuting one to three days per week increases worker productivity by 10 to 20 percent. A case in point: American Express telecommuters handled 26 percent more calls and generated 43 percent more business than their office-based counterparts.

Management of telecommuters. Telecommuting arrangements are growing by leaps and bounds. In October of last year, a study by Telecommute America found that the total number of American telecommuters jumped to include ten percent of all working U.S. adults in the last year.

An April 2000 Lee Hecht Harrison survey on telecommuting focusing on nearly 800 human resource professionals found that 90 percent saw telecommuting as a growing trend; 80 percent would telecommute if given the opportunity; 68 percent see no difference in managing off-site and on-site workers; and 29 percent argued that while telecommuters were indeed harder to manage, the benefits still outweighed the hassles of management.

Setting Up a Home Office

There are a few things SharpMen must take into consideration when assessing the suitability of their home as a place of business. For example, it is best to have a separate room dedicated to your work, and you should also be mindful of having sufficient working and storage space. Lighting, room temperature and a comfortable workstation are other factors to be assessed.

Another concern is quiet. Are your kids at home? Is your neighbor a musician? Has a local dog made it his duty to bark all day? If your home does not provide some measure of peace in which to work, it may not be an ideal place to telecommute from.

Specific equipment requirements will vary with the job, while needs for some pieces of equipment generally apply to most telecommuting jobs:

  • a good telephone (hence the term "telecommuting")
  • a computer (note that long-term use of laptops does not provide ample wrist support, so consider getting a wrist guard to prevent wrists strain and carpal tunnel syndrome
  • a good printer
  • a scanner (depending on your type of work, this may be used as a copy machine)
  • a fax machine (look for printers with fax and scanning capabilities, like the Workcentre 470cx made by Xerox for $249.99 from Amazon.com.
  • a second phone line (if your work requires significant online work)

Necessary Skills to Succeed at Telecommuting

The ability to work solo. SharpMen who would make good telecommuters are those content with working by themselves. If you are the sort who will miss the regular contact with coworkers, then perhaps the telecommuting lifestyle is not conducive to your objectives.

Self-motivation. The skill of self-motivation is also crucial. As a full-time telecommuting employee, you may have the benefit of having management supervision; however, as freelance-type telecommuter, your ability to stay motivated will determine whether the bills get paid or not.

Time management skills. Also important are your time management skills. SharpMen who are hopeless procrastinators may make poor telecommuters. Not having someone breathing down your neck may be either a blessing or a curse — depending on your personality and work ethic.

Drawing the line. Another necessary skill involves your ability to draw a line between your professional work and your private life. Telecommuting SharpMen must have the ability to know when enough is enough. Too much work at the expense of personal and family time may well prove detrimental to all those involved.

Getting a Telecommuting Employee Gig

To get yourself set up as a telecommuting employee, consider "pitching" your current or future employer by using the stats under Costs and Benefits for the Sharp Employer. But before accepting any telecommuting position, be sure to ask the following:

  • What are the number of work hours and schedule of hours expected of you? How many hours should you be working? Must you be available nine to five, or can you work at your own pace?
  • Will you be expected to be "on call" during evenings?
  • Will you be a full-time employee or an independent contractor? This will determine whether you receive benefits such as health insurance, profit sharing and the like.
  • Can you return to the original office arrangement if things don't work out?
  • Will the employer still be legally liable for work-related injuries? This issue is generally governed by state law and relates to whether you are an "employee" or independent contractor.
  • Are you eligible for sick and vacation pay?

Asking these questions up front will help you determine whether the telecommuting option makes sense for you.

Finding Assignments

If your telecommuting arrangement will be a means for you to work from home as a freelancer, finding job leads can be challenging. Similarly, finding a new employer who is telecommute-friendly is also difficult. The following listing can serve as an initial reference:

  • Net Source Telecommuting Jobs — this site offers a product that provides the names of 750 US companies that hire telecommuters, part-time, full-time and as independent contractors. The "deluxe package" includes contact addresses and position titles of hirers, and 321 s, and loads of other How To info. There’s even a 30-day 100% money back guarantee if you are not satisfied. Very handy for the SharpMan with other things to do.
  • The Hartman Research Group
  • Telecommuting Jobs
  • Fleming LTD Telework Consulting
  • Homeworking
  • Gil Gordon & Associates Telecommuting
  • JALA International
  • Telework Collaborative
This article last updated on Saturday 16th October 2010
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