Telecommuting 2.0

Though it's just the beginning if November there is a definite chill in the air, the kind that almost settles in your bones.  Those mornings are the hardest for leaving the warmth of my warm, comfy bed and not to mention warmth of my humble little abode here in Smallville.  It seems that with the cold I move slower, at least initially. Fortunately today, I didn't have to brave the frost - at least not until evening - because my work work regularly includes telecommuting and today was that day.

As the job market changes so will the way that many of us work and even where we work. I consider myself somewhat expert at working from home. I've done it for at least 2 days a week for more than 5 years once I settled here in lower PA and continued to be employed in MD. After the first few shock-filled weeks of loneliness by the self imposed exile, it worked like a charm. As a newly relocated, single parent of a elementary school student (at the time) it was truly a Godsend.  For me on an average day, WFH saves me from 3.5 to 5 hours in vehicle time by telecommuting - rain or other inclimate weather is always cause for an even longer commute. Do you know what an extra 4 hours in a day affords me? Precious time with my girl,  the chance to try a new recipe and relish the Wunderkind bursting through the door yelling "what's for dinner" knowing I had. I could be a parent volunteer at her school for just my lunch hour if that's what was required. She could participate in many more early morning or after-school events, ride-sharing with other parents was now a viable option and attending her beloved field hockey games was one of highlights that are irreplaceble.  And We always had a few days during the work week when it was guaranteed I'd NOT be frazzled or exhausted at day's end.  Another bonus was when the Wunderkind was actually quarantined for a whole week for suspected H1N1 virus. As her caregiver I had to stay home as well.  So after I got the diagnosis, I stopped in the office picked up a week's worth of work and headed home. If I hadn't telecommuted, I'd have had to use precious PTO.

Yes, there were times when I did my grocery shopping at 1pm or scheduled dentist/doctor's appts early in the day but there were far more days when I worked way beyond my 8 hours at home, many times until the system kicked me out at 2am!! Sometimes it worked too well like during Snowmaggeddon 2010. No one was in the office for days but I could work because I was already setup at home. Just so you know, I worked but took it easy those days - I'm nobody's fool. 

With urban sprawl making one-way commute distances of 40 + miles more common and gas prices approaching the $4.00 per gallon mark, telecommuting is a real workplace option. To succeed in your WFH endeavor, here are a few tips:

Persuade your employer, by emphasizing the hours saved not commuting (whether spent sleeping, exercising or mediating) will lead to far less stress for you allowing you to become more focused and productive.  If management resists, ask for a trial period of 6-12 weeks but make sure they "buy in".  Keep them updated, call in regularly to check your voicemail and give them free reign to contact you at home during the day.

Be prepared! Make sure you have a real workspace you can call your own and it should have both a desk and door because one day the hubby, kids or both will be also be home on your WFH day and you gotta be able to step away and get your stuff done if you want this perk to continue. If you have your own equipment - computer, printer, file cabinet, extra phone line so much the better. My former boss never reimbursed me for my internet service provider, cell phone usage (thank God for rollover minutes) nor my printer ink but I figured that I was saving a small fortune just in gas money to make a fuss about it.

Speaking of kids, if you have kids  don't be fooled into thinking you can forgo a care provider for them since you are home - you can not - trust me at least not until they are very self sufficient tweens who'd likely do anything other than invade your spaces. Otherwise, don't give up your spot at your favorite daycare provider.

Make sure your employer truly "buys in" to the idea and does all they can to make it work for both of you.  When I decided to accept my current position, working from home was a key negotiating point.  However it took nearly 5 months before I got to work the first day home because I don't think management truly viewed telecommuting as a viable option. I'm still not sure if it's me they didn't trust or their system. Once I did get the opportunity, our system proved so slow and cumbersome as to be an exercise in perpetual frustration. I'd get kicked out every half hour.  That is until I learned about LOGMEIN, a free remote access program which make your work environment almost seamless. Don't hesitate to experiment with lots of freebies that can make telecommuting easier for you.

But the one thing you need above all is ...Discipline. Because the minute you go down to brew your morning coffee or toast your breakfast bagel, you'll notice a particularly foul smell in the fridge that last night you chose to ignore but now requires immediate attention or one of your kids will leave his/her lunch/science project/sports equipment home and they need you to bring it to them....or there's a stray cat/dog outside and you must save it!  Trust me this stuff comes up especially in the beginning when you're getting your bearings but you have to learn to see them for what they are - distractions and ignore them or tend to them on your lunch break.  

WFH can feel isolated and take some getting used to. But hang in there, it is definitely worth it.  And don't worry about missing office "stuff" while you WFH, it will help you avoid some of the office politics you didn't want to be a part of anyway. Unlike the cartoon above, DO get up take a shower, and by all means get dressed - no shoes are necessary though :)  Have breakfast with the boo and kids and make their lunches - make it special for the family as well.  If you can, take a brisk walk before you get started for the day.  It will serve to put you in touch with what's important and there's nothing like fresh air for focus and inspiration. Good Luck!


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