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Techniques for Highly Successful Telecommuting

Telecommuting - Where Are You?

Telecommuting and Virtual Presence

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Last week I wrote a blog entry about a federal agency that was in a somewhat sticky situation with respect to telecommuting policies. This week I’d like to talk more about that.

 

As you know if you read my previous blog entry, this agency had to allow *all* employees to telework 3 days/week. I already discussed the problems with that.

 

The other problem with their arrangement is they had to follow the policy of not requiring any personal information from the employee. So the managers could not demand their employees’ home or cell phone numbers. This meant that when a manager need to quickly contact a telecommuting staff member, he couldn’t just pick up the phone. The manager’s best choices were to leave the employee a voicemail on his work number and wait for him to pick it up, or send an email and wait, similarly, for a response. The policy required the employee to check for voicemails/emails every 2 hours but, as you know, when you need an urgent piece of information from an employee, 2 hours is a long time to wait!

 

When you combine this with the previously discussed problem that there were many telecommuters whose roles or skills weren’t suited to telecommuting, you can see what a burden this becomes.

 

While I suggested IM (Instant Messaging) as a tool to reach an employee quickly, there was ambiguity about the managers’ abilities to require this. If the employee had up to 2 hours to respond, they said, then didn’t they have the same privilege for IM? Couldn’t they just ignore the IM for 2 hours? Clearly now you can see we’ve gone beyond the intent of the rules here. The policy to check for messages every 2 hours (at most) is not to give the telecommuter the freedom of waiting a few hours before having to respond to their managers or coworkers, but rather to make sure the telecommuter is checking in without overburdening him to check voicemail every 10 minutes. IM, however, is a tool that actively notifies you (through a popup window) immediately when someone is trying to reach you. However, bad relationships between the managers and telecommuters, including a serious lack of trust, had degraded the situation to the point where some telecommuters were holding the managers to the letter of the law (rather than the spirit) of every policy and managers were paralyzed into inaction for fear of being reported.

 

All these problems seem quite extreme so I should probably clarify. In the room full of managers I was training, there were some whose employees were willing to give out their home phone numbers. Similarly there were some who used IM without complaint. However, there’s always a couple of bad seeds, as they say, that can ruin it for everyone. These were the folks who caused the general frustration and lack of trust amongst the managers, and some managers had more of these than others (and perhaps these managers’ frustrated actions exacerbated the problem making other more neutral staff members behave more extremely too).

 

Again, there simply isn’t a magic bullet to solve this problem. I still believe IM is the right answer in this situation (well, ok, if you work from home I actually believe giving out your home # is appropriate, but short of that, IM is the best answer). However, to make use of the proper tools the relationship between the managers, the telecommuters, and the policymakers needs to be improved to the point where frank discussions about the best way to operate can take place, and open-minded interpretations of policies can ensure the best environment for getting the work done.

 

I have one more aspect of the challenges this group faced which I’ll write about next time. Stay tuned!

 

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The Danger of Across-the Board-Policies

Telecommuting and Virtual Presence

I’d like to tackle a sticky subject today. Some time ago I taught a “Managing Teleworkers” 2-day course for a US Federal Government agency located in California. I came to find through the course of the 2 days that they had a few major challenges they were facing. I will focus on just one today and revisit the topic another time to discuss the others.

 

This agency’s biggest challenge was that a labor union representative had helped negotiate some very strong pro-telecommuting agreements which included the rights for all workers to telecommute 3 days/week.

 

As I teach in my courses, there are 2 major factors to determining if someone should telecommute: their role and their skills. By saying that across the board, all employees who want to can telecommute, means there are people telecommuting whose roles really require them to be in the office. Additionally there are people telecommuting who sorely lack the proper organizational and communication skills to be effective. The managers of this agency had their hands tied and were struggling to balance the demands of the office with the lack of physically-present staff. In addition, since they couldn’t choose based on skills who could telecommute, they had poor performers or just people who weren’t well equipped for the telecommuting work style. While I’m sure many of the employees had the best of intentions, the managers were left worrying if any or all of the employees were really working to their full capacity.

 

Unfortunately I simply don’t have a silver bullet for cases like this. Of course I made suggestions as to how to help balance the workload between the in-office workers and the telecommuters but there were further restrictions there (I’ll cover this more later) which prevented a simple solution (nothing is ever simple, is it?). The other tools and techniques I teach should help them with their difficulties measuring the employees’ performance. However, when measurement throws up red flags and other means of resolving performance problems fail, the option to reduce or remove the benefit of telecommuting is not available (or at least, very difficult to exercise) to this particular group of managers. This of course is a real challenge that will require some easing of the policies to really accomplish a workable long-term solution.

 

Stay tuned for my next blog entry where I’ll discuss the other challenges facing this group of managers and their teleworkers.

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Telecommuting Challenges for the Government

Telecommuting and Virtual Presence

I’m woefully behind on blogging, but I am making an effort to get back into it. And I have so many new things to write about. As I mentioned previously, I’ve started providing training to the government on managing telecommuters. I’ve done some in-person courses and lots of webinars. I’ve learned so much about the problems and challenges facing government agencies within telecommuting. It’s definitely a different culture than the private sector.

 

The main difference is simply that whereas telecommuting has been widely accepted into the culture of the private sector (at least in some industries like high tech), it hasn’t yet become pervasive (by any stretch of the imagination) in the public sector. Therefore, they don’t even have the basic elements like trusting that just because someone is at home, that doesn’t mean they’re sitting on the couch eating bon-bons and watching Oprah. All the things that many of us who are used to a telecommuting culture take for granted are all completely new to many in the public sector.  Besides the simple element of trust (which of course, is huge), there’s many other concerns too.

 

Another big challenge/adjustment is around the question of how to measure people you can’t see. In the public sector, managers are still very much used to measuring someone based on how much time they see them at their desk. Of course, even the most naïve manager understands that just because you’re at your desk doesn’t mean you’re actually working. It’s pretty easy to surf the web or play solitaire or whatever without getting “caught” if you really want to. But when someone is in the office, right near you, you interact with them nearly constantly and can, on a fine-grained basis, see just how much work they’re getting done. With the removal of that direct contact, managers who aren’t used to a more virtual environment simply don’t have the tools (and experience/confidence) to determine how much of the time people are really working. Of course the solution lies in measuring the results that are produced, but this doesn’t come naturally to many.

 

Yet another big area of concern I see is around team dynamics and cohesiveness. Never having faced a telecommuting environment, it can be quite intimidating to imagine how you will make sure your team continues to work together as the finely-oiled machine you’ve built them into thus far!  If you, as a manager, don’t know how you’ll keep track of what your telecommuters are doing, how can you expect your non-telecommuting team members to do the same? And if they can’t, how will they collaborate, handle dependencies within a project, etc?  

 

This is just a small sampling of the concerns that arise in an environment that hasn’t integrated telecommuting and other virtual work styles. The public sector has other issues around policy that don’t arise in the private sector. In particular, there’s a big push to integrate telecommuting into Continuity of Operations (COOP) in the federal government. COOP is simply the ability of the government to continue running in the face of severe weather, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or other events that can shut down their offices.

 

Keep reading – I plan on blogging about all these topics. And as you know, I always have a lot to say!

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How to Manage Teleworkers in the Government

Telecommuting and Virtual Presence

Life in the world of telecommuting has been busy and exciting lately. I have been providing training to managers in government agencies – to help them learn the best and most effective ways to manage their telecommuters.

 

Thanks to president Obama signing the Telework Enhancement Act at the end of 2010, the government is now required to allow more telecommuting and also to provide training to telecommuters and their managers to help them succeed. I’m thrilled by this! Especially in cultures and climates where telecommuting isn’t a way of life, it’s so important for people to learn the right skills and techniques to telecommute (and manager telecommuters) effectively. In a culture that isn’t used to telecommuting, there are a lot of changes necessary to one’s way of thinking and operating, to make telecommuting work. I plan on blogging on various topics in this area based on my experiences with my training – watch for more to come soon!

 

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Telecommuting Calculators

Articles, Telecommuting and Virtual Presence

Some time ago I wrote a blog post (called “How Much would you Pay to Telecommute?”) about the various ways an individual can save money by telecommuting. I gave some sample values and showed some basic calculations. However, I was recently asked if I knew of any web-based tools or calculators that can help an individual determine their own specific telecommuting cost savings, gas savings, reduced carbon emissions, etc. It was an interesting question and since I hadn’t previously stumbled across any, I decided to do some digging.

While I had expected to uncover numerous such tools, I was actually surprised at the limited options I found. However, even a few are better than none at all.

Tools for the individual:

By far the best tool I could find for calculating individual cost savings is the one at http://www.completesearchservices.com/wahSavingsCalc.html. While many of the tools focus only on gas savings, this one was much more comprehensive. Within the “Commute Savings” sections it tells you not just how much you save on gas when you telecommute, but also how much you save on operating expenses, vehicle ownership costs, and how much time you save. There are also additional sections that help you calculate how much you save on food and clothing, and how much you save on dependent care. Note that this tool is focused on encouraging you to apply for work at a specific company that supports telecommuting, but the calculations apply regardless of where you work.

If you want a simpler tool that will just tell you how much money you save in gas try: http://www.pacommuterservices.com/Commute%20Calculator.htm.

Tools for general population data:

The only details lacking in the above tools are those related to the environmental factor. This is the area where I was most disappointed. I found a couple tools that provided some details but were based on 10 year old data. The most useful tool I found however is not so much focused on individual savings as general population savings. However with a little math you can translate it into savings per person.

The tool at http://undress4success.com/research/telework-savings-calculator allows you to drill down to a particular region of interest and get statistical information about the current number of teleworkers and the savings from these numbers vs the number of potential teleworkers and the potential savings if they all telecommuted. It provides a wide range of data from the common, expected details such as gas and cost savings, to more interesting details such as greenhouse emissions savings, the equivalent number of cars taken off the road, and government savings on highway maintenance, etc

Tools for the employer:

Some tools I discovered were focused on the employer – to help a manager or a company determine savings from allowing their employees to telecommute. An interesting tool at http://www.tjobs.com/hiresavings.shtml calculates savings in taxes and benefits, office space, equipment, and absenteeism. It also provides some information about government credits for pollution reduction. The tool is a little awkward to use, especially if you start out clicking the “Credits” button first, like I did. Click the other buttons first and fill in those values, the Credits button just provides text-based explanations with no values to calculate. There’s also a nice ‘Source Data’ button you can mouse over that provides additional details for each section.

In all, there are a few good tools out there that, with some effort, can get you most of the data that you want. However, remember that these only show the quantitative benefits of telecommuting around, primarily, cost, gas, and time savings. These calculators however fail to elucidate the less tangible benefits in the areas of stress reduction, convenience, reduced interruptions, etc. Remember, there are more benefits to telecommuting than just the dollars and cents!

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Social Networking for the Telecommuter Part II

Articles, Telecommuting and Virtual Presence

Social Networking is growing bigger and more popular than ever these days. Social networking takes many different forms and serves many different purposes. In my previous article I discussed two of the three major benefits of social networking to the telecommuter – those being to educate/inform on topics relevant to the telecommuter, and to help the telecommuter keep track of and even grow his/her social network. This, of course, can be a key tool for the telecommuter who can too easily be cut off from co-workers and miss opportunities to meet new people and build new relationships.

In this article I will discuss details on what I believe is the most important benefit of social networking for the telecommuter…

Maintaining visibility within your social network

As a telecommuter, staying top-of-mind with your co-workers, manager, and staff is a big challenge and doing it successfully is a critically important measure of success in your telecommuting career.

As I mentioned in my previous article, FaceBook can be used to provide updates about the day-to-day aspects of your life and allow your friends to easily check-up on you and keep up-to-date on your activities. The really nice part of this is if you are “friends” with someone who lives far away (or who you don’t see face-to-face in the office because you telecommute), through postings you can still remain top-of-mind for each other and maintain a really strong connection.

Like FaceBook, Twitter is another tool that allows you to provide updates to those who “follow you” via “tweets”. Tweets are short simple messages, similar in style and length to text messages, that are broadcast to everyone who chooses to follow you. Twitter is another tool that allows you to briefly pop into the thoughts and focus of those who follow you, even though they may rarely or never see you face-to-face.

However, while FaceBook and Twitter offer advantages to the telecommuter in helping maintain visibility to their coworkers, there are some drawbacks, or at least cautions, you must consider.

Both these tools frequently have a personal, non-work-related focus. People often post or tweet about details of their lives such as what they did with their family that weekend, their favorite new book their reading, and, for some who take it to an extreme, what they just had for breakfast that morning. They also often use it to complain about some aspects of their lives – work being near the top of the list!

If you do choose to encourage co-workers to “friend” or “follow” you via these tools, consider carefully what you post. Frequent posting/tweeting can become annoying for your co-workers, especially if you post during company time while people are trying to work. Not only is it a distraction to your co-workers, it’s also a clear indication to them that you’re not hunkered down working from home but are instead “goofing around” on FaceBook or Twitter. You may find that too much of this behavior leads to your telecommuting privileges, or worse yet - your job, being revoked so fast that your head will spin!

This is not to imply that these tools are all bad. Used properly, these types of tools really can help you maintain relationships with your work contacts you don’t get to see every day in the office. Think outside the box. These tools aren’t just for posting about your personal life. You can use them to share interesting information that you find online related to your industry or area of expertise. Twitter, has a nice feature where you can “re-tweet” interesting information that you’ve received that you think your followers would like to see. Sticking to professional topics to tweet or post about will cast you as a great source amongst your coworkers of useful/valuable industry-relevant information. Now if that’s not a perfect way to remain top-of-mind with people you don’t see very frequently I don’t know what is!

So talk to your co-workers before you connect with them via these types of tools and see if they agree to it. And if you do have a lot of your work contacts connected via these tools, think about what you post or tweet. If you forget that your manager is connected to you and you start posting/tweeting about how you’re getting bored with your job and plan to start looking around for something new, you may suddenly find yourself with all the free time in the world to job hunt!

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Social Networking for the Telecommuter Part I

Articles, Telecommuting and Virtual Presence

Social Networking is growing bigger and more popular than ever these days. Social networking takes many different forms and serves many different purposes. In general it helps you build and maintain relationships. This, of course, can be a key tool for the telecommuter who can too easily be cut off from co-workers and miss opportunities to meet new people and build new relationships.

Social networking serves three major purposes, two of which are discussed in this article. Stay tuned for my next article with the third, and perhaps most important benefit of social networking for the telecommuter.

1. Education and information

Social networking lets you learn from others in a similar situation to yourself with very little effort. Whereas in the past you’d have to read a book written by an expert, or find in-person meetings with other people with the same interest or challenge as you are experiencing, social networking gives you easy access to all kinds of every-day folks, scattered around the globe, who want to talk about the exact topic you care about. You can find valuable information about all aspects of telecommuting – everything from how to request such an arrangement from your manager and where to find the best telecommuting jobs, to tips, tricks and techniques of all kinds to help you succeed as a telecommuter.

Blogs are one of the best places to gather this kind of information. For instance, there are many telecommuting blogs whose authors write posts on a large variety of telecommuting topics. Many of these blogs offer the very convenient capability to allow you to subscribe to the blog via an RSS feed, where you can be notified of new postings as soon as they come out without having to bookmark the site and keep checking it. You can track a handful of your favorite blogs easily – to get different viewpoints from different authors. Some blogs and sites (such as my own at http://avoidgoingtowork.com) also allow you to become a free subscriber where you can receive ongoing emails from the author about all kinds of telecommuting topics.

Another useful type of site that can help you learn a lot about telecommuting is a telecommuting forum. Forums allow groups of people with a particular common interest to become members where they can post questions, provide answers, and participate in ongoing discussions. You can find a forum on most any topic and a good forum can really help you, whether you just monitor conversations without choosing to participate, or you post your burning questions and receive answers. Of course, providing answers to other people’s questions and participating in the conversations and discussions helps build the community.

2. Keeping track of your social network

In our busy lives, we encounter many people, and it can be hard to keep track of all of them. With the advent of the internet, email certainly made it easier to keep in touch with people versus old-fashioned letter writing. Yet, the internet has evolved again with tools like Linked-In and FaceBook, making it even easier to keep track of people we know.

As a telecommuter, you don’t see your peers very often. And, if your company is globally distributed, or just a big supporter of telecommuting, you may have coworkers who are spread across the country or the globe. Keeping track of people can become difficult as time goes by and people move around. Even if they stay at the same company as you, if they change jobs and/or organizations it’s harder for you, the telecommuter, to keep track of them. At least if you work in the office, there’s still a good chance you’ll bump into them in the hallways or cafeteria now and then.

Linked-In is a popular tool that allows you to “connect” with people you know who are also members of Linked-In (and the tool has become popular enough now that many people are members). You can post information about yourself and people who are connected to you can see who else you are connected to, making it easier to connect to common acquaintances. The really nice aspect of Linked-In is that you can send someone a message via the tool. So even if you don’t communicate with a Linked-In contact for years, during which time they change jobs, move, get a new phone number, and change their email address, you can still find them to reconnect. Linked-In also has features that allow you to search on people who are in a similar profession or working on similar projects/goals/etc.

Like Linked-In, FaceBook also lets you connect with or “friend” people you know. FaceBook is different than Linked-In in that people use it a lot more to provide ongoing updates about their lives to keep their “friends” updated on the details. Linked-In tends to have a more professional/career focus whereas FaceBook is used much more for social and personal, non-work updates.

Stay tuned for my next article where I’ll discuss what is arguably the most important aspect of social networking for the telecommuter, and some important tips about how and how not to use social networking tools!

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Status of the Telecommuter

Articles, Telecommuting and Virtual Presence

As I’ve previously mentioned, there are two ways for a manager to keep track of your productivity. One is to see how much time you spend working (see my previous article on using time tracking sheets). But the way a really good manager measures you is by the quality and quantity of the work you do rather than how many hours you spend working every day.

If you’re a telecommuter, you miss those casual hallway chats with your manager that helps him keep at top-of-mind what you’re working on and what you’re producing. So the best solution is to simply use a status report that you send him at the beginning or end of every week.

Tasks & Activities:

Your status report should show the tasks and activities you’re working on, broken up into 3 parts:

  1. What you’ve completed in the last week
  2. What you’re currently working on
  3. What you plan to work on

This gives your manager the opportunity to have a weekly reminder of what you’ve accomplished and what you’re working on. It also gives him the opportunity to see what you plan to work on next week so he can ask you to change your plans if he has some urgent new task he needs completed or priorities have recently changed.

Priorities:

Speaking of priorities, it’s always good for you to list the priority of the activities you plan to work on. You can break item #3 above into two sections. There are the activities you plan to work on next week (e.g. your top priorities). And the activities that remain on your plate but you don’t expect to get to in the next week that will have to be put off for later. If you like, you can list each task with a HIGH, MED, or LOW priority so your boss can really see where your focus is and he can give you feedback to adjust it if things have changed for him.

Issues & Problems:

In addition to the section showing your tasks and activities, you should have another section showing issues, concerns, roadblocks, or areas where you need your manager’s help. Don’t be afraid to tell your manager about problems. If he doesn’t know, he can’t help you. Even if he can’t help you, he can prepare his management, reset expectations or schedules, or notify your peers who are depending on your work. Don’t use this section for whining or complaining. Only list facts, that cause (or you suspect down the road will cause) problems with your project or task, or cause you to miss a deadline, etc. If you have personal issues with a co-worker not pulling their weight for instance, save that for your next one-on-one phone call with your manager.

Administrative:

Lastly, you can add a short section at the bottom of your status report listing administrative details such as reminding your boss of the upcoming vacation you’re planning on taking, the conference you’ll soon be attending, or even the upcoming deadlines on projects that you’re working on.

By sending your boss a weekly status report, you keep your activities and accomplishments at the top of his mind. And he gets visibility into what you’re working on so he can adjust your priorities if he needs to, or confirm that they match his own priorities. As a telecommuter this activity is vitally important to help you stay connected with your manager and keep him in the loop. You don’t have to wait for him to ask you to send a status report, you can just start sending them to him each week – he will find them valuable even if he never thought of asking you for them before.

 

Sample Status Report

Name: Nicole Bachelor

Week Ending: 8/7/09

Accomplishments:

·         ABC System Migration: Completed server migrations 12-15

·         Completed graphic design for Todd

Other activities performed this week:

·         Working on server migrations 16-18

·         Ongoing customer support for XYZ Corp integration

·         Software Release 4.2 Project: Working on design phase

Future Plans:

Next week:

·         HIGH: Complete server migrations 16-18 and begin final server configurations

·         HIGH: Software Release 4.2 Project: Complete design phase

·         MED: Tie up XYZ Corp integration

Future:

·         MED: Software Release 4.2 Project: Begin implementation

·         LOW: Graphic design for Mary’s project

·         LOW: Take training on new tracking system tools

Issues/Concerns:

·         Need specs from server team on final server configurations by mid-next week to make sure we don’t slip the ABC system migration project. Still waiting to hear back from Bob – can you help?

·         FYI: Will not work on Software Release Project implementation phase for next 2 weeks because Fred is on vacation.

Administrative:

·         I will be at the developers conference in San Francisco in the first week of September.

  

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Time Tracking for the Telecommuter

Articles, Telecommuting and Virtual Presence

In an ideal world, your boss measures you on your productivity – the quality and volume of the work you do – rather than the number of hours you’re seated at your desk. But unfortunately the latter is a much easier method for some managers. If your manager is willing to let you telecommute, but has concerns about how to measure your time, you can propose to him that you’ll log your time, so he can see how it’s being spent.

A time-tracking log doesn’t have to be complicated or sophisticated. If your company doesn’t already have something you can create your own in a simple spreadsheet or Word document. Attached is an example you might want to use or copy: time-tracking-sample.xls

The categories you use will vary depending on the kind of job you have. I recommend not having too many categories or it can become overwhelming both for you to fill in and for your manager to review. Ten categories not counting the “miscellaneous” ones is probably plenty. As your job changes over time you can take items out that you find you’re not doing anymore or add new items.

Here are some ideas for the kinds of categories you may want to put in your timesheet.:

  • Projects: List all the individual projects you’re working on. You may be entirely dedicated to one large project (if so, are there sub-projects within it you could list where you split your time across) or you may be working on a number of different ones.
  • Role work: If you perform multiple roles throughout the course of your day, list these. For instance, if part of your job is to create presentations for your manager to use during talks he has to give, list that as a category. Or perhaps you’re the graphics expert on your team and you often have to whip up a quick graphic image for someone on your team.
  • Measured goals: Think about what kinds of things you are measured on at the end of the year. What formal goals has your manager laid out for you for this year? For instance, if you are expected to generate a certain number of sales leads each month, put in a category for “lead generation” activities. If you’re being measured on successfully reducing the helpdesk call volume for your service, put in some categories like “helpdesk call analysis”, “service usability improvements”, etc.
  • Miscellaneous: You’ll need a few miscellaneous categories that you don’t use very often but probably apply to just about everyone reading this article in one way or another:
    • Administrative: Use this for time spent in general things like attending your boss’ team staff meetings. But try to keep use of it to a minimum. Managers don’t like to see more than a few hours a week going into a general administrative bucket as they can’t really tell what you’re doing and lots of time on “administrative” tasks mean you’re not getting work done on your actual projects.
    • Training or Development: Use this category if you need to take training classes or spend some of your time learning a new aspect of your skillset.
    • Time Away: Use this track vacation or sick time.

Track your time in hours. For instance, I spent 2 hours on this activity or 3 hours on that. You can list .5 if you like but don’t split hairs down to the minutes. The idea is to give your manager the big picture, not the fine-tuned details.

You can choose whether to fill in your timesheet once at the end of the week or to fill it in at the end of each day. It may seem easier to just deal with it once/week but it can be hard to remember exactly where you’ve spent your time all week by late Friday afternoon. Looking at the meetings on your calendar or skimming through the sent items in your email can help. Try filling it out at different frequencies and see what works best for you. If you need to, put a daily or weekly reminder in your calendar, towards the end of the day – to help you remember to do this.

On a related note, if you spend all or most of your time on the phone (perhaps you take support calls for your company’s product or service, routed to your home number) – you can make a call log, similar to a time log. Track the start/end time of each call, who you spoke with, and what the general topic/nature of the call was. My suggestion: buy a phone that will display the time you spent on the call when you hang up!

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Crunch Time Makes Telecommuting Lonely

Articles, Telecommuting and Virtual Presence

Let’s face it. Without the right skills, telecommuting can be lonely - stuck in your home office all day, not seeing another person face-to-face. Fortunately there’s lots of techniques and tricks to make sure you get a little human contact most days. However, even the career telecommuter who has all these skills down cold can suffer from loneliness during crunch time.

We all have our routines when work is “normal” – going to the gym at lunch for regular workouts, clearing out our overloaded inboxes once/month, etc. However we’ve all had periods of work that are just crazy too. Maybe your boss dumped a major project in your lap with a tight deadline and lots of visibility. Or maybe a coworker just left the company with little advance notice and you have to help cover their responsibilities until someone new can be hired (and trained). These crunch times can be as short as a week or as long as a few months (if they’re more than that, then I’d say that has become “normal” and it’s time to evaluate if you still enjoy your current job).

During these crunch times we tend to keep our heads down and get less human interaction. If you work from the corporate office you might be working through your lunches and taking less breaks to chit-chat with your coworkers. While this can leave you with less human interaction, just having your coworkers around you gives you enough so you probably don’t feel too lonely – and you probably do take short breaks (walking to the cafeteria with a coworker to grab some lunch to take back to the desk?) to chat with others.

But when you work from home things are different. During crunch time you’re probably handcuffing yourself to your desk all day. You’re not taking breaks, not getting out of the house, and not seeing anyone. You probably feel you don’t have time for all the techniques you’re used to using to get out of the house and see people.

If your crunch time is going to only last 1 week, you can probably just deal with that lack of face-to-face human contact. But if it’s going to be a long haul, you might just go crazy from loneliness before you reach the end of the project. So consider carving out just a little bit of time to make sure you get some human interaction.

  • If you’re used to going to the gym 2 or 3 times each week for a workout and to see other people, try to continue to go at least once/week. Block off an hour on your calendar on the least busy day of the week. Even if you only have time to do a ½ hour workout instead of your usual 1 hour workout, it’s more about getting out of the house than anything else.
  • Or if you don’t have the time to drive to the gym and back, see if any of your neighbors are around during the day and want to take a weekly walk with you. Even a 20 minute walk will give you some company, get the blood going, and break up an otherwise lonely day.
  • Perhaps you can take your laptop to a coffee shop once in a while and use their wireless access to continue working. You probably won’t talk to people much at the coffee shop (and we know you don’t have time for long conversations anyway) but you’ll be out of the house and around other people.
  • Can your spouse work from home occasionally? If so maybe now is the time to push him or her to try it one day/week. Again, you’ll be too busy to hang out with your spouse much (and make sure he/she knows that in advance) but just having another person in the house can take away that lonely feeling.
  • What about driving into the office once/week? Even if you can work from home every day, going into the office now and then will break up the monotony of working in an empty house week after week.

If you can just find a way to make sure at least a few days a week you see other people in one form or another you’ll find it much easier to bear a long crunch time without feeling too lonely.

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