Succeeding in a long-distance relationship (with your employer)

April 30, 2018

If you work in an office, picture the start to a typical day. You walk to your desk, set down your water bottle or coffee. You fire up your computer and get settled in. You check your email and look at your calendar for the day’s upcoming meetings and deadlines.

Now, picture your commute to work. Did it involve a car, bus or bike? Maybe you walked. But what if your commute was as simple as walking down the hallway of your house? Then you might be a telecommuter.

Depending on the industry you’re in, telecommuting may or may not be an option. But if it is, be sure to arm yourself with the right tools (and plan) to help you succeed. Working from home can be a very parallel experience to working at your company’s physical location, and it can be a positive experience for both the employer and employee.

I’ve been telecommuting since 2013. Here are some of the misconceptions, hurdles and solutions for being a successful telecommuter that I’ve learned over the years.

The 5 Cs for telecommuting success

#1: Communication

One big difference between working at your company’s office versus at home is that at the office, you’re surrounded by people. At home, you’re likely flying solo. Not being in the same physical space as your co-workers does impact communication. Those chats you might have in the hallway or the ability to pop your head into someone’s office can be valuable exchanges of information—not to mention relationship building—that are not possible if you’re not there. To ensure you stay as in-the-know as possible, be sure to check in regularly with your co-workers and managers, either by phone, email, video chat or a messenger app, such as Slack. A quick message on Slack is the equivalent of a cubicle drop by, with the addition of GIPHYs. And we all love a good GIPHY.

#2: Configuration

Configuring a suitable work environment within your home is essential. This means having a dedicated space that you use solely for work, and you are of the mindset that this is your work space. The wall color and décor may differ, but the architecture of your work station should be virtually the same as if you were at the office. Would you sit at a desk at the office? Then you should sit at a desk at home. (No sitting on the couch, or trying to do work from bed.) Do you have a TV blaring in your cubicle at the office? Likely the answer is no, so you shouldn’t have a TV on in your home office either. (It’s tempting to have the TV on for background noise, but ultimately it’s a distraction.) Do you have access to a phone, printer and filing system at the office? Then you should have similar access at home. The more your home office echoes that of the company’s office, you’ll feel like more of an extension of the team versus an island unto yourself.

#3: Connectivity

Being plugged into the activities of your company can be as easy as utilizing software, apps or websites that allow sharing. Microsoft Office 365 offers a shared calendar, among other tools, which enables all members of the company to see everyone else’s schedule. This is especially important when you’re working at home, since you otherwise wouldn’t know if someone was tied up in a meeting or out of the office for a personal day. Keeping calendars up-to-date is helpful for everyone.

When it comes time to stay organized with projects and deadlines, an online project management tool, such as Basecamp, is invaluable. Much like a shared calendar, having a shared space for projects allows everyone to have access to assignments, notes and deadlines in real time. 

And if you’re in a job where you need to track your time, there’s an app for that. Harvest makes it easy to login online or use a mobile app to keep track of your time while you’re working on any given project. Think of it like clocking in and out during a chess match and it’ll make it feel more like a game, less like a chore. And the bonus is that your time sheets are always up to date and accessible by managers or those who need to see them.

#4: Consistency

Setting your at-home work schedule is between you and your employer, but one way to create harmony and success is by being consistent. Having a consistent schedule to your day and week provides structure, just like you would have structure if you went to an office each day. If your company’s hours of business are from 8am–5pm, then when working at home, keep your work hours the same. 

By following the same schedule as everyone else at your office, you maximize the time you are available to your co-workers and vice versa. If they pick up the phone to call you, or you shoot someone a message, both parties can expect a prompt response, which helps make working at home seamless. 

Having this consistent structure also eliminates some of the worries people have about working from home: “I would always be distracted and never get anything done.” “I’m not sure I’d be able to stop working and have normal personal time.” “People will assume I have free time during the day and won’t understand that I am actually working.” By setting consistent hours it’s just like going to the office and it creates healthy boundaries between your work and home life.

#5: Commuting

Though most of these tips focus on the tele portion of telecommuting, we don’t want to ignore the commuting part. Despite the many tools available to help you succeed in working from home, sometimes being there in person can’t be beat. In our creative environment at Vendi, being on-site for photo and video shoots is essential. There are also times when presentations or client meetings would best be handled in person. These visits are a great opportunity to connect face-to-face with your coworkers and clients, building deeper personal relationships which, in turn, make the tele portion of telecommuting that much smoother. Striking the right balance of tele and commuting will help make for a successful long-distance relationship (with your employer). 

BONUS #6: Companionship

Worried that working alone at home might be, well, lonely? Not to fear. A perk of working from home is having the ability for constant companionship from a furry four-legged friend! Hey, if you aren’t able to be in the same space as your co-workers, you might as well have someone to talk to, right? If you’re looking for a true companion of a dog, might I suggest a Boston Terrier? They love to stick right by your side.

Berklee - assistant to the creative director

If you have the opportunity to telecommute for your job, give it a try! As with most things in life, there are pros and cons, but with all the technology and tools available to help you succeed in working from home, you might just find that you enjoy it.

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