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The Rules for Telecommuting

When it comes to freelancers carrying their laptops to cafes and turning coffee bars into offices, the rules are relatively clear. They’re a mixture of common sense and consideration with a big tip to the wait staff thrown in. Break the rules and the worst thing that will happen is that you have to find a different café or spend more time working from home. For telecommuters, though, the rules are a great deal tougher. Human resource departments, especially in government organizations, tend to pour out detailed eligibility requirements before they allow employees to set up a cubicle in their bedroom. Their suspicion of this new way of working makes the risks higher even as the practice becomes more popular; get the rules wrong and you could find your telecommuting privileges revoked and your job pulled back into the office.

Here are the rules to follow if you want to retain your opportunity to work in your pajamas:

1.     Don’t Work in Your Pajamas

Sure, you have the opportunity to work in your pajamas, your underwear or even with a laptop propped up against your knees without leaving the bed if you want to. But don’t do it. The first rule of telecommuting is to work as though you were in the office. That doesn’t mean that you have to wear a business suit or put on a uniform, but what you wear will affect the seriousness with which you treat the work. You should feel that you’re a professional even if you’re not in a professional environment. And it will save you embarrassment if your boss or a client suddenly pops up on Skype and wonders why you’re not operating the camera.

2.     Always Deliver

Telecommuting is a privilege that businesses grant to their employees to make them happy when they can’t think of a good reason not to allow it. While there’s plenty of evidence that suggests working from home increases productivity, reduces absenteeism, lowers stress and generally makes workers happier and more effective, for businesses new to the idea, it also requires a great deal of trust. Managers want to be certain that if they let their underlings do their own thing in their own time in their own homes, they’re still going to get the results they want.

You always have to deliver those results, even if that means putting in the extra hours.

Before you leave the office building for your day or two at home, know exactly what you’ll be bringing back to the office — and let the boss know what to expect. When you turn up again with exactly what you promised, your boss will know that this telecommuting thing is a good idea.

3.     Don’t Wait to Make Contact

One of the benefits of telecommuting is that you don’t have to see or talk to anyone at the office. After seeing them for eight to ten hours the day before, that’s a real advantage. But just because they’re out of sight doesn’t mean they should be out of your mind.

If you’ve got a question, if there’s something you need, be sure to get in touch with your colleagues immediately. Don’t wait until you see them again. Your colleagues should feel that you’re still working alongside them even if you’re not actually in the next cubicle over.

An email or a call during the work day reminds everyone that you’re not sitting in front of the television while they’re slaving over a hot keyboard but are simply slaving away over a different keyboard in a different office. You don’t have to go as far as installing an instant messaging system that would reveal when you’re in front of the computer and when you’ve popped down to the stores to get a sandwich, but you don’t want to create the impression that when you’re out of the office building, you’re off the team.

4.     Make Use of the Office Time

When you find yourself spending a few days working from home, the time in the office takes on a different meaning. It’s not just a chance to catch up on office gossip and see what teammates have been doing while you’ve been sitting at your kitchen table; it’s also a time to prepare for your next telecommuting days.

There are some things that you just can’t do when you’re not in the office or in the same room as your boss and your other team mates. You can’t look at the overall status of a project that involves lots of different people. You can’t have everyone together in the same room, looking at a screen, discussing what should go where and suggesting improvements. You can’t bounce an idea off the person next to you in an open-plan office and feel the embarrassment when they ask where the search field is or point out that this function has a different layout to the same function elsewhere on the site.

There is plenty that you can do with shared document services, Skype video conferencing and even Google Plus’s Hangouts. But none of them have the same freedom as sitting in a real meeting room together and knowing that you’ve got the time to have your say.

Use your days in the office to hold meetings and talk, so that when you’re working from home, you can focus on the tasks.

5.     Make Your Calls from Home

If you are going to find yourself making telephone calls for work during telecommuting days, try to do them from the office. It’s true that it’s hard to sit in a Starbucks today without hearing a lawyer discussing a case at the table next to you or a start-up founder trying to talk some money out of an investor but when you’re discussing business, you want to do it in private and the person you’re talking to wants to feel that he’s got your full attention.

That’s true too if you’re expecting a call. If you know that a customer, a manager or a supplier is going to be calling you at a certain time during one of your telecommuting days, try to be home when the call comes in. When you’re finished, then you can pick up your laptop and head to a café with wifi, good coffee and its own set of rules.

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