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Smarter telecommuting

A majority of white collar workers telecommute at least some of the time

How common is telecommuting?

According to a recent survey, the average worker telecommutes at least two days per month. Almost 40% of respondents said they have or are currently telecommuting, up from a baseline of 10% twenty years ago.

These results are exclusively for workers who telecommute during normal weekday work hours, not those who occasionally work from home at night or on weekends to complete an urgent assignment.

Researchers have concluded that people working from home are as productive as those who commute to their workplace. In addition, setting up the required proprietary computer connectivity and security is now relatively easy.

The rise of the Gig/Portfolio economy

Though the numbers of workers doing telecommuting leveled off in recent years, an increasing percentage of workers are self-employed, working from home–or at least manage an independent, contract-based enterprise from home.

The old employment model of working for a company from youth until retirement began collapsing over a generation ago. A significant portion of millennials and those of lower income now work multiple “gig economy” jobs, many on a project-by-project basis (e.g., people you can hire on TaskRabbit to help on tasks ranging from household chores and higher skills-based hands-on labor).

In addition, there is a parallel group of highly educated, well-paid professionals who currently work multiple jobs in what they call “portfolio careers.” Interestingly, many ‘talking head’ subject matter experts on TV have this kind of work life. They have busy, demanding work schedules, but earn good money. Unfortunately, by contrast, the majority of university/college instructors barely earn a living wage despite their graduate degrees.

Many employment forecasters predict that the gig/portfolio economy is the wave of the future, with a majority of us moving from one paid project to another, much the way actors move from one theater/movie production to another.

Telecommunicatewithlaptopremotely

Who telecommutes?

Telecommuting is very common among the college degreed, upper income, mostly white-collar top quintile (10%) of workers. Their jobs require a high level of computer literacy, so they can more easily transfer job tasks to a home office, whenever necessary.

Next, I’ll describe common problems folks encounter when working from home and the best strategies for overcoming them.

Working efficiently from home

Most of you reading this Insights series have worked from home some of the time. Unless you have responsibility for setting things up the first time, gaining access to your company’s proprietary systems is usually easy. –A greater challenge is exercising the political and interpersonal skills required to maintain your job security and professional reputation. This is especially important for those who seldom spend time at their company’s home office. To protect yourself, be sure to stay in close contact with your manager(s) and colleagues at work. Carefully track how you are allocating your work time in case you ever need to justify it.

workfromhomeTelecommunication

Set up your home office to ensure efficiency

You’ll be a lot happier and more productive if you pre-plan a work-friendly home office designed for efficiency and comfort.

A short checklist of requirements–

  • Create a separate, distraction-free office space

Avoid pulling up any available chair in front of a makeshift desk. You’ll be spending many hours in front of your (preferably large screen) computer, so make sure your desk chair is ergonomically designed to fit your body. Does it have a flexible back? Is the height correct? Is your desk large enough and at the correct height?

What about the office area itself?  Ideally, it’s a separate room with a door. Regardless, make sure it’s free of distractions from family, home phone, TV, pets, a too-busy view of neighborhood traffic, etc. –If there’s no way to eliminate ambient noise, buy a noise-cancelling headset.

  • Set boundaries with family and friends 

You need to set clear boundaries with family and friends before beginning to work from home. If you don’t do this, mutual frustration, even resentment, can build over time. –For example, you can no longer afford to drop things to take care of a friend’s kids; nor can you leave your home office to join friends for lunch.

While there’s no avoiding urgent matters, it helps to post your office hours on the office door along with a ‘stoplight’ with red for ‘don’t disturb,’ and green for ‘available.’  One big benefit of telecommuting– You have some freedom to create your own schedule, depending on how closely you need to coordinate with others in the home office in real time. Regardless, make sure you establish a routine with regular hours.

  • Make sure you have everything you need

You’ll need a considerable inventory of office items for your home office, paperless or not. Do you have permission to bring these things home from the home office–or will you need to buy them on your own and request reimbursement?

Install wall art, white boards or anything else that gives you a sense of comfort and helps you stay focused on work. If you’re lucky enough to have a separate bedroom for your office, you can store supplies is the closet. –Don’t forget to include a plant or two. Believe it or not, recent Scandinavian research confirms that doing so provides measurable health benefits.

  • Take care of yourself

Some people get so involved in their work that they neglect to get up and stretch or even stop for lunch. You aren’t a robot, but a human being who needs to step away from what you’re doing to maintain efficiency and well-being.  If you have a tendency to forget such things, set break times with an alarm in Outlook or another calendar. If, on the other hand, you’re easily distracted, avoid mindlessly going to the refrigerator throughout the day to avoid gaining weight.

Getting regular exercise is also requisite to your efficiency and health. Just as important is getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night ensures steady energy and productivity. Finally, some enjoy taking their work to a local coffee house. If you do, make sure to take all important steps to ensure your online security.

Carefully track how you are allocating your work time.

Most of you reading this Insights series have worked from home some of the time. Unless you have responsibility for setting things up the first time, gaining access to your company’s proprietary systems is usually easy. –A greater challenge is exercising the political and interpersonal skills required to maintain your job security and professional reputation. This is especially important for those who seldom spend time at their company’s home office. To protect yourself, be sure to stay in close contact with your manager(s) and colleagues at work. Carefully track how you are allocating your work time in case you ever need to justify it.

Set up your home office to ensure efficiency

Want to be a star work from home consultant or employee? You’ll be a lot happier and more productive if you pre-plan a work-friendly home office designed for efficiency and comfort.

A quick list of requirements that should help

  • Make your office separate from your regular living space – Avoid distractions

Make your office somewhere you can thrive at work. Avoid pulling up any available chair in front of a makeshift desk. You’ll be spending many hours in front of your (preferably large screen) computer, so make sure your desk chair is ergonomically designed to fit your body. Does it have a flexible back? Is the height correct? Is your desk large enough and at the correct height?

What about the office area itself? Are you able to avoid possible distractions?  Ideally, it’s a separate room with a door. Regardless, make sure it’s free of distractions from family, home phone, TV, pets, a too-busy view of neighborhood traffic, etc. –If there’s no way to eliminate ambient noise, buy a noise-cancelling headset.

  • Be clear and set boundaries with friends and family

Protect your time. You need to set clear boundaries with family and friends before beginning to work from home. This will help maintain the all important work/life balance. If you don’t do this, mutual frustration, even resentment, can build over time. –For instance, you can no longer afford to stop your work to take care of a friend’s kids; nor can you leave your home office to join friends for lunch. Sometimes these things are just not possible, but if you have a clear schedule posted you can take control over possible distractions.

While there’s no avoiding urgent matters, it helps to post your office hours on the office door along with a ‘stoplight’ with red for ‘don’t disturb,’ and green for ‘available.’  One big benefit of telecommuting– You have some freedom to create your own schedule, depending on how closely you need to coordinate with others in the home office in real time. Regardless, make sure you establish a routine with regular hours.

  • Ensure your office is well stocked with supplies

You’ll need a considerable inventory of office items for your home office, paperless or not. Do you have permission to bring these things home from the home office–or will you need to buy them on your own and request reimbursement?

Install wall art, white boards or anything else that gives you a sense of comfort and helps you stay focused on work. If you’re lucky enough to have a separate bedroom for your office, you can store supplies is the closet. –Don’t forget to include a plant or two. Believe it or not, recent Scandinavian research confirms that doing so provides measurable health benefits.

  • A healthy body lends itself to a sharp mind

This is very important. Some people get so involved in their work that they neglect to get up and stretch or even stop for lunch. You aren’t a robot, but a human being who needs to step away from what you’re doing to maintain efficiency and well-being.  You need to work time into the day to get up and get the blood flowing a bit. If you have a tendency to forget such things, set break times with an alarm in Outlook or another calendar. Some times it’s best to set a routine where you get up and move around for five minutes at the top of the hour – every hour. If, on the other hand, you’re easily distracted, avoid mindlessly going to the refrigerator throughout the day to avoid gaining weight.

Getting regular exercise is also requisite to your efficiency and health. This needs to be a part of your schedule to have a healthy life. Just as important is getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night ensures steady energy and productivity. Finally, some enjoy taking their work to a local coffee house. If you do, make sure to take all important steps to ensure your online security. Many times people are waiting to hack into your computer through the open WIFI network.

Exercise when telecommunicating

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