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The Occasional Telecommuter: Tips for At-Home Productivity

The Occasional Telecommuter: Tips for At-Home Productivity

By Margaret Steen

Maybe you're trying to cut back on driving to save money on gas. Maybe you want to spend less time commuting. Or maybe your sink is clogged and you have to wait at home for a plumber but don't want to use your precious vacation time.

Even people who don't telecommute every day may want to work from home occasionally. This can be a great solution -- but it can also be more complicated than full-time telecommuting.

"Many managers still don't believe that you can supervise people that you can't see," said Carl Van Horn, professor of public policy and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. "That's especially true of the occasional telecommuter. They're not used to that pattern of behavior; they don't know what to do about it."

Experts offer these tips for making occasional telecommuting work:

Don't Assume It's OK

Managers are likely to get frustrated with employees who simply announce that they're working from home, instead of asking if it's all right. Even if you have a colleague who does it, you still need to ask.

If your manager raises specific concerns, such as attendance at an important meeting or measuring your productivity, offer some possible solutions.

Minimize Distractions

Although working from home when your child is home sick can be better than simply taking the day off on short notice, combining work and childcare is generally a bad idea.

"Telework is not a substitute for childcare or elder care," said Chuck Wilsker, president and CEO of the Telework Coalition, a telework advocacy nonprofit. So if you're thinking about solving your childcare problem by telecommuting for 10 weeks while school is out for the summer, think again.

Get the Right Equipment

This can be a tricky conversation with your boss, since you still have a cubicle at the office and will be there most of the time. But it's important to discuss what equipment you will need and whether the company will pay for any of it.

If you deal with confidential information, for example, Wilsker says the company may want you using company computers -- not a family computer you share with your kids. For many workers, a laptop that they bring back and forth from work to home is the best solution.

And if you usually go into the office for work but want the option to stay at home on short notice -- for example, to take care of a sick child -- you'll need to know ahead of time how you can get access to your work email and other files.

Don't Be Afraid to Head Back to the Office

Some people are more productive at home than at work. Others find that's true for some parts of their job, such as writing a detailed report. Some people, though, may find it difficult to be productive without their colleagues around and the structure of a day at the office.

"You need to have quiet, Wilsker said. "You need to have the right attitude. It's not for everybody. Some people can't work without having a little supervision."

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