by Stephanie Heying Bach
Working from home as a telecommuter can be an extremely productive approach to generating the fruits of one’s occupational labor. The perks of missing the morning and evening commute, the opportunity to work uninterrupted and even the ability to raid the fridge for lunch, make the option of working from home extremely attractive to many professionals in consulting industries. Consultants are known to have a streak of independence and resourcefulness that can be enhanced when working from a home office.
Still, many of us have difficulty making the case for working from home to employers who just can’t seem to jump over that hurdle. Some organizations worry about loss of productivity. Some are concerned about the potential inability to stay connected or communicate with employees working offsite. Others worry about losing ‘face time’ across the board by having to grant this privilege to all if they approve the arrangement for one. Still others have always set the ‘cultural precedent’ of working only from the office and are reluctant to rock the status quo.
While not all jobs lend themselves to the possibility of telecommuting, a significant number of occupations, including many types of consultants, require a good amount of ‘heads-down’ tasks such as analysis, design, programming, report creation and interpretation, writing, and other brain-intensive tasks.
These tasks can be especially difficult for those of us who work in cubicles, noisy offices or other ‘community’ spaces, where distractions and interruptions are common. Busy and noisy offices may limit the free flow of thoughts and ideas. If you are one of these workers, you may have a solid case to make. But you may not be able to make it simply by walking into the boss’ office and asking for a change in location. Instead, take some time to prepare your case in the form of a report or ‘deliverable’.
- Analyze how you spend your time in the office. Consider the percentage of time you dedicate in a day or a week to face-to-face meetings versus the time you dedicate to brainy tasks done in solitude. Write a list or create a chart showing how you divide your time and which tasks would benefit from your ability to work without distraction. If, say, 20% of your time is dedicated to strategic thinking and communication, you might consider asking for one day—or 20% of your work week—to work from home to accomplish some of these tasks.
- Prepare for access. Consider the arrangements you may need to make to ensure you are accessible to your office team when you work from home. Will you need a dedicated phone line, wireless or high speed Internet access, VPN access or other tools? Detail the arrangements you will make in order to accommodate your office needs while you are telecommuting to put your boss at ease over concerns about your accessibility.
- Dedicate a work space. Consider whether you will be trading distractions in the office for distractions at home. Working at your kitchen counter while the rest of your household comes and goes may not be the best work arrangement. Detail your work space arrangement–and even include a photo of your digs—to ensure that your employer understands your workspace will be noise-free and interruptions unlikely. This lessens the possibility that your boss or coworkers will feel like you are working from a soccer field instead of a professional environment.
- Plan a schedule. Suggest that you dedicate specific days for working from your home office. For example, every Tuesday or every Friday, to combat concerns that your office team won’t know ‘when you will be in and when you won’t.’ Assure your boss that you will make your schedule available to your team, customers or others who may need to reach you in a workday. Adding your schedule to your Automatic Reply message in your email account, or adding your schedule to your email signature may be ways to communicate this message if needed. Consider the language that you will use in these communications. ‘Working from my St Paul office’ may sound more professional than ‘Working from home’ to a broader audience.
- Monkey see/ monkey do. If you supervise employees on your own team, or are a core member of a larger work team, you should ensure your availability to them is the same as it would be if you were in the office. Consider their productivity/needs alongside your own so that you can determine the best schedule for the overall productivity of your group. If your normal office availability is 9-5, your telecommuting schedule should be the same. Detail this schedule in your ‘deliverable.’
If your boss still balks at the idea of a permanent work from home schedule, ask for a trial run to allow you the opportunity to demonstrate your productivity over a period of time. Many professionals find that the length of their work day remains the same, but working and production hours increase as they eliminate commuting time and daytime interruptions. You (and your boss) may find that you actually have the time to tackle some of those ‘evergreen’ projects you have been keeping for rainy days!
Stephanie Heying Bach is an accomplished professional with over 16 years of business and consulting experience, including: Web site development strategy, Web content strategy, Web content management and systems, Web marketing, usability testing, focus group facilitation, copywriting /editing, editorial planning, client/ project management, retail management and sales. Stephanie has a BA in Communication Studies and English from the University of Iowa and an MS degree in Communication Science from Northwestern University. Contact Stephanie at stephanieheyingbach.net.