According to a report published by the Telework Research Network, telecommuting has gained in popularity by 80% since 2005. Countless studies point to the benefits of telecommuting for employers and employees, like: reduced company overhead, greater employee satisfaction, increased employee productivity, decreased absenteeism, and a healthier work/life balance.
But, for some executives, the question remains—does an employee’s physical presence influence his/her team’s integrity, collaboration, and ability to innovate?
A number of successful organizations remain in support of telecommuting, suggesting that, with the right strategy, goals can be met. Toptal is one of these organizations, and Taso Du Val, CEO of this elite, worldwide network of tech professionals, believes the strategy for successful telecommuting begins with the telecommuter.
1. Consider Whether You’re an Ideal Candidate
Du Val’s organization implements top sourcing to determine if a candidate is first and foremost, a good fit for telecommuting. “Top sourcing is the method in which companies only recruit and hire the best of the best talent in their industry,” he explained. “These candidates typically embody qualities that people who work remotely embody, like self-motivation, organization, time management capabilities, and higher than average knowledge of their trade.”
Holly Reisem Hanna, Founder and Publisher of the award winning website, The Work at Home Woman, also considers potential telecommuter characteristics to be important. She believes successful telecommuters have a defining quality in common—problem-solving skills. According to Hanna, critical thinking must replace dependency on others.
2. Be Well Equipped and Organized
Telecommuters must have access to all the fixings of a traditional office to perform at top-level from home, including: an up-to-date computer, high-speed Internet, pertinent software and programs, a phone, a printer, and a scanner. Du Val also recommends supplementary tools that enable telecommuters to cast multiple lines for communication. “Skype, Collabshot, and GoToMeeting are the three pieces of technology we use the most,” he said. “We also use Google Docs and Google Drive quite extensively.”
3. Designate Office Space
Equally important is a dedicated workspace, preferably one with a door to shield distractions. Your workspace should be just that—a place where you conduct business and draw the line between work and home. Because telecommuting often involves web-based video conferencing, be sure your home office looks organized and professional on camera.
4. Set Ground Rules
Structure your time, establish office hours and be consistent. When individuals work from home, they are replacing office chatter and traffic with new distractions, like impending chores, pets, TV, and children. Create standards and stick to them to stay on task.
Hanna advised also speaking with management regarding expectations and performance goals. One of the greatest telework challenges is twofold. Management struggles with monitoring productivity while telecommuters fear their work goes unnoticed or undervalued. “Having a detailed system in place will help to monitor your progress and will let your co-workers and boss see exactly what you’re working on, taking the guess work out of what you do all day,” said Hanna.
5. Master the Art of Communication
As a telecommuter, you’ll need to build relationships deficient of visual and verbal cues that normally direct conversation, which is going to require sharpening other communication skills. The vast majority of your communication will take place via email, which means telecommuters must be masters at clearly and concisely expressing thoughts through text. Hanna suggests staying away from writing in capital letters or using too many exclamation marks, as tone can be difficult to judge.
Telecommuters can achieve a more personalized connection by using the recipient’s name and (depending on the situation) including emoticons. Proper spelling and grammar are also imperative to looking and sounding professional.
Du Val stresses the importance of voice communication, as well. If a discussion is better had over the phone or via Skype, don’t miss an opportunity to connect outside of email. “People can hear your passion and optimism in your voice, so it even comes through remotely,” he said.
6. Be Responsive
To be of value to your team, replace physicality with accessibility. This means answering phone calls as they come, replying to emails in a prompt manner and maintaining hours of operation that align with your team’s. According to Hanna, prompt response shows you are at the top of your game and respectful of others.
7. Meet Face-To-Face
Technology makes telecommuting possible and tools like Skype, CollabShot, and GoToMeeting are excellent ways to reinforce communication, but Hanna warns, these are “no substitute for good ole face-to-face interaction.” Remote employees should meet in person with their employer at least once, if not regularly. Du Val added, “This proves that both of you can associate a humanistic relationship to the work transaction, allowing for a deeper sense of trust and expected quality of work.”
8. Schedule Regular Meetings
Planning routine group discussions will also help to fortify a team dynamic. Du Val proposes weekly Skype meetings to brainstorm as a group and an in-person group meeting at least once a year to feel more connected to and valued by the company.
In closing, Hanna cautions people to be aware of work-from-home scams. Watch out for: vague job descriptions, lack of contact information, and poor ratings with the Better Business Bureau, Ripoff Report, or like websites. Trustworthy telecommute positions do exist and telecommuters can become valued members of their team, but it will require a heightened level of self-motivation, independence, and communication.