Working From Home: How to Telecommute

The pros and cons of working from home and how to get your boss to allow you to telecommute.

Do you want to work from home?  With modern technology, more and more employees are able to telecommute. If working from home sounds like an ideal situation, first determine whether you can, in fact, do your job from home (either full time or part time). Then decide whether you are a good candidate (personality-wise) to work from home. If, after taking these preliminary steps, you are eager to give it a try, convince your boss to allow you to telecommute by preparing a thoughtful, detailed telecommuting proposal.

Here's how.

Can You Do Your Job From Home?

Some jobs are ideal for working at home. For example, if you are at your desk, typing on your computer or making phone calls all day, there's no reason why you can't do all that from home. Even jobs that might seem impossible to do from home -- like managing a restaurant or selling real estate -- have desk-based aspects, like balancing books or making calls.

If you can answer "yes" to all of the following questions, you're well-positioned to make a smooth transition to telework. If some of your answers are "no," figure out which part of your job you could do from home or how you could change your work situation so that you could work from home. Also, consider whether the issue could be resolved by working at home part time.

  • Does your job involve desk-based work, like entering data on a computer, reviewing financial documents, or sketching architectural plans?
  • Could you spend an entire day doing only desk-based work?
  • Do you work independently on most of your assignments or, if you're part of a team, work independently on your part of a project?
  • Can you plan your work ahead of time, knowing in advance what the working day will bring?
  • If you have to meet face-to-face with other people to get your job done, could you limit these meetings to certain days of the week?
  • Can you equip your home office with all of the technology and other materials you need to get your job done?
  • Do you already work offsite for business reasons (like travel or client site visits), and if so, will you be able to further reduce the amount of time you spend at the office?

Will You Like Flying Solo?

In addition to these questions about your job's suitability for telework, you'll have to do some soul-searching about whether you are suited to working at home alone.

Do you like to work alone? By definition, working at home means working alone. You'll be far removed from the company of coworkers and colleagues and the hustle and bustle of the typical office environment. This kind of solitude can drive some people crazy. To help assess whether you'll truly be happy spending long stretches of the day alone, think about how much you enjoy the social side of working in an office.

What are your time management skills like? Also consider your time management skills. To work at home, you'll need to be disciplined about working when no one is looking over your shoulder, and you'll need to be good at prioritizing your tasks, meeting deadlines, and avoiding the many distractions of home, like your fridge and undone chores. Good time management skills will also help you avoid the other end of the spectrum -- becoming a "teleworkaholic." Unlike a regular job, where you pack up and go home at the end of the day, you never really get away from the office when you work at home.

Getting Your Boss to Approve Your Plan

Getting approval to telework from your current employer will require more than a simple, "How about it?" It is a major step that could affect your future with the company. Treat your proposal to telework as you would a major client presentation or critical work assignment. You must demonstrate that you're a good candidate for telework by providing solid business reasons for working at home, rather than making a personal plea. If you tell your employer that you'd like to work at home because you don't want to miss a moment of your new baby's development or because you'd rather be at the gym than fighting rush hour traffic, your work-from-home proposal might not get off the ground.

Write a telework proposal. Put together a formal telework proposal to present to your employer. Your proposal should:

  • show your employer the business benefits of allowing you to work from home
  • set up a work schedule and communication plan, and
  • include facts, figures, and case studies or articles showing that it makes good business sense to let you work from home. Go beyond generic information on the benefits of telework and do research tailored to your specific industry, job description, and economic concerns.

Persuade a reluctant boss to allow a trial period. If your boss is reluctant to allow you to work from home (maybe your company has never permitted anyone to work from home), ask for a trial period. If you've provided a careful, well-thought-out proposal, even the most skeptical boss is likely to allow telework on a trial basis.

Doing the background work, drafting a proposal, and convincing your boss to allow you to work from home takes time, energy, and patience, but for many, making the transition to working at home is a life-transforming event -- imagine waking up on a work day and commuting from the kitchen to your home office, a cup of coffee in your hand and the sun shining through your window.

For more information on how you can change your life and make working from home a reality, get The Work From Home Handbook , by Diana Fitzpatrick and Stephen Fishman (Nolo).

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