Frank G. Zarb School of Business

Telecommuting – There Are Pros And Pitfalls

Dr. Janet Lenaghan is the new dean of the Zarb School of Business - the first woman in the school's 50-year history.

While reports  say that the LIRR unions and the MTA have reached a tentative deal, worry about a strike prompted many people to think and start conversations about whether they could work from home as effectively as in the office.

Dr. Janet Lenaghan, Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship, offers the following advice for workers who are considering the possibility of working from home, which presents its own unique set of challenges:

The role of a telecommuter differs from that of a traditional at-work employee.  While there are many advantages to having the flexibility of working from home, there are important pitfalls to avoid which can easily harm one’s success in such a role.  Here are a few tips to consider.

*Engage your boss in a discussion of the expectations as a telecommuter, and formulate goals accordingly.   Managing an employee who telecommutes may be new to your boss, and you need to alleviate their concerns about your ability to do so successfully.   Provide continuous feedback and reports of your productivity and accomplishments.  Telecommuting is about meeting “deliverables” and less about face-time.  Demonstrate you can still be a high performer even though you are working off-site.  Remember to manage-up!

*Verify that your home technology is up to the task of telecommuting. This is the most critical tool to your success; make sure it can handle the new programs you will be accessing from home.  Also, verify with your IT department that the security is sufficient (ability to connect to a VPN and/or encrypt data).

*Create a designated space in which to work.  The space should be away from “home” distractions.  If you are a caregiver (i.e. children, elderly – even a puppy) you still need to provide alternative supervision.  A major misconception of telecommuting is that one can forego delegating caregiving responsibilities during work hours. This is the fastest increase your stress, and perhaps your job!!  Remember you are at home but still working – you need to be able to focus on your assigned responsibilities.

*Ask about any web conferencing platforms that your company and/or clients routinely use.  If you are not already familiar with them, download onto your home computer and give yourself a tutorial.  You don’t want to have issues when you are trying to impress a client or boss!

*If you are to participate in any group conferencing, be mindful of the camera view being projected.  For example, a nice benefit of telecommuting is saving on purchasing and caring for work attire, but when you need to engage in a video conference, remember that your image is being projected to the group – change out of the teddy bear pajamas!  Also, be aware of what is behind you – you may have won the champion keg-stand contest in college but that may not be the picture you want in your background when virtually meeting with a client.

 *Time management matters! And it doesn’t mean waiting until 4:30 p.m. to start tackling projects on your to-do list. Adhere to deadlines and remember that you’re working from home should not inconvenience those who are able to make it into the office.

 *Be very comfortable with your email – you will be checking it often. Make sure you are accessible and those at the office have your email address as well as cell and home numbers where to reach you.

 *Self-motivation, discipline and direction are all crucial to telecommuting success!   Just because you plan to work in your PJs doesn’t mean you can slack off.  You will encounter many distractions at home and need to devise a plan to ensure they don’t derail you (things like the laundry, or mowing the lawn can wait).  Also, you may need to establish boundaries with family and friends whom often misunderstand telecommuting, and may think you are available to them as you normally would be when you are home.  So, be sure to tell that friend that likes to drop by unannounced, to wait until you are off work!

 *Equip your work space with all necessary items to successfully perform your work.  Remember you will not be able to borrow from a co-worker sitting next to you.

 *Finally, remember to turn it off!  The lines between work and home are already blurred, but may become undetectable when telecommuting.   You may extend your work day to include the time you would have spent commuting, but you need to establish and communicate a time when you will shift to your home life.  Your health and wellness, in part, depends on your ability to step away from work and engage in your life!

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