As the 21st century evolves, so does the work environment. More and more companies are moving away from the so-very-last-century practice of gathering all the minions in a cubicle farm and are replacing physical boundaries with technological ties. A 2014 study found that 38% of employers allow at least some employees to work from home on a regular basis.
Teleworking results in greater mobility and agility for the company, and also happier and more productive employees. Stanford University studied a travel company, Ctrip, (https://web.stanford.edu/~nbloom/WFH.pdf) and learned that telecommuters were 13% more productive, saved the company almost $2000 per employee on office support and worked more hours with fewer sick days – all with half the attrition of a more traditional employee.
In order for this to work for everyone, though, there has to be trust between employer and employee. If you’re a teleworker, or want to be, take to heart these 5 best practices for virtual work success.
Location, Location, Location.
Find the right spot in your house and make it sacrosanct. This doesn’t have to be an entire room, though it might be. It just needs to be professional-looking (think of a good background for video calls), quiet and distraction free, with the high-tech tools you’ll need, like high-speed Internet access. If your home doesn’t fit the bill, consider finding a telework center near your home – whether that’s a friendly Starbucks or a full-on rented space. In a similar vein, make sure that you still maintain a professional look as well. Even if you spend most of your time in sweatpants (lucky you), having a decent shirt and a slick haircut will help you psychologically as well as on those Skype meetings.
Set a Clear Schedule.
Your employer and your work-life balance will thank you. Ensure there are clear expectations for when you will and won’t be available, how quickly you will return calls or emails, and honor these agreements. Bring your family into the loop on your schedule as well so they understand that when you’re working from home, you’re still working. Sure, you may need to be flexible (hey, that’s part of the point of working from home) but communication is key.
Speaking of which, Communication Is Key.
Overcommunicate, even. This will keep your boss and coworkers reassured that you are present and engaged, even though you’re virtual. Weekly or even daily short updates or quick telephone or video meetings go a long way. Make sure everyone is in the loop on the status of your projects, and have a process for reaching out if you need help or have a question.
Find a Routine That Works.
The transition time of the daily commute/cup of coffee/settling in process that happens for in-office workers helps establish a ritual of “I’m at work now.” Be creative finding a similar routine at home. Maybe you make your coffee, pet the dog, and head straight to your desk. Or maybe you work out first then settle in. Hey, you might want to shower, put on a suit and tie, drive around the block, then return to sit on your couch and get started. Have a similar routine for when you “leave work” so you psychologically transition to your free time. (Hello, beer mini-fridge.)
Tech is Your Friend.
Take advantage of all the technology that is out there making telework a viable option for more and more people. Some companies use entire systems to manage projects and improve collaboration, whereas others rely on more informal IMs, texting, and email. However, keep in mind that there are times when nothing beats a human voice on the phone or even an in-person meeting. Sometimes you have to get out of your pajamas and go to the client, or check in with your boss to press the flesh.
There you have it – our top 5 ways to create presence in the distance. Take that Stanford study and these tips with you, schedule a meeting with your boss, and maybe you too can join the ranks of virtual professionals.