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This article was published on April 23, 2011

The next workplace: Tips, tricks and testament for telecommuting

The next workplace: Tips, tricks and testament for telecommuting
Brad McCarty
Story by

Brad McCarty

A music and tech junkie who calls Nashville home, Brad is the Director TNW Academy. You can follow him on Twitter @BradMcCarty. A music and tech junkie who calls Nashville home, Brad is the Director TNW Academy. You can follow him on Twitter @BradMcCarty.

Sometimes we stumble onto ideas. Last week, as I was trying to come up with an idea for what I’d write about this week, I stumbled onto the fact that I was doing a pretty decent amount of traveling in the next 30 days, and someone asked me how I was going to continue working while I did. That gave me the idea that there were surely some interesting stories about people who had given up on the idea of a traditional office, and in doing so had come up with some unique insights about that fact.

Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed when I went searching for the people or the stories.

To start, let’s talk about Christian Faller. He’s a freelance business development guy, for lack of a better term. Christian and I had been trying to get together via Skype for a chat, but my schedule kept preventing that. Finally though we were able to talk for a bit and Faller had some interesting things to say about his recent move to Singapore and what having the globe as his office has provided him.

Faller frequents CouchSurfing and has done a significant amount of travel both through and unguided by the site. I asked Faller where his favorite “office” was so far and surprisingly the German native stated that he liked living in Canada and the US the best so far. That “so far” list? In the past 2 years, he’s worked from over 20 countries.

Whether it’s the matter that Faller “really [doesn’t] know whether [he] wants to do this forever” or if it’s that “feeling that [he] might miss out on something”, he continues to travel as much as he can and he works from everywhere.

But where is the business advantage? In Faller’s case, he states that his travel has allowed him to pitch to companies that his biggest asset is the ability to have cross-cultural thinking. With the global, no-walls economy that we have today, it’s an invaluable asset.

Christian Faller – Future of Work by The Next Web

The whole idea has hit close to home for us here at TNW, as well. Zee, our esteemed Editor-In-Chief, has plans to move to leave his London flat for Dubai in the very near future. Whether you understand his reasons or not, the interesting thing is that his ability to perform the scope of his job absolutely won’t change because of the move.

We’ve talked at length before about the ways in which technology has enabled us to work from near anywhere. The question then rises as to whether or not it’s the right solution for more businesses. It should be a telling fact, however, that many job search websites have included the filter option of “Telecommute” to their offerings, as demand for “work from anywhere” jobs continues to rise.

There are a number of factors that come into play when you’re considering the idea of a telecommuting employee. Without going into too much detail on each of them, the basic idea is that you need to find the right person to do the right job and provide them with the right equipment. While this isn’t different from an ideal in-office situation, the added freedom for the worker can adversely affect someone who isn’t fitting that “right/right/right” scenario.

I spoke at length to a business coach who works with companies that are transitioning toward a virtual office setting, and here are some points that I was given for both sides of the employer/employee equation.

For Businesses

Set the criteria — Obviously you will likely have some positions that require the work to be done from your company’s office. For those positions that you are considering a telecommuting option, make sure to clearly set the criteria that is expected in order to take them. From eligibility of employees to the performance expectations, all of these should be plainly laid out before the first work day happens.

Tracking time — It’s imperative that you’re fully paying your employee in the same way that you would if they were working in your office. If your standard employees have paid lunches or breaks, so too should your ones working from Starbucks. The same is true for those employees when computer problems or power outages happen. If you’d have to pay them if they were working in the office, you have to pay them when they’re not.

Prepare to pay — While it might seem to be a great idea to take your 5-year employee to a home office setting, you have to consider the resources that are available to them. Do they have the right computer to do the job? What about a phone system? Is their home’s dial-up connection sufficient for doing the work that needs to be done? If not, be ready to dish out those expenses from company funds in order to get the most out of the work-at-home setup.

Be flexible — It might seem second nature to many of us, but established companies often times have difficulty transitioning to a flex time system of work. If your employee’s job is not dependent upon their ability to pull information from other people then allow them to work their scheduled 8 hours at any point during the day. So long as the quality of the work is not affected, keep that schedule open.

Keep talking — Even if an employee is on a flex time schedule, it’s imperative that an open line of communication is maintained. Whether that is accomplished by mandatory office time or pre-scheduled meetings, make sure to stay in touch just as you would with an in-office employee.

For Workers

Be a professional — We’ve heard lots of tips about how you should still wake up, shower and get dressed for a day at a home office. Beyond that, though, there’s a level of professionalism expected from you that even office workers might not have. Showing up to a Skype meeting in your bathrobe? Bad idea. Treat your home office as you would any other professional environment.

Stay in place — Oh sure, the door is open for you to take on any number of jobs while you’re working from home. The fact is though that an established record of long-term business relationships will look good to future employers, freelance or otherwise.

Get social — It might seem small, but it can lead to larger problems. The practice of working remotely can be a lonely one. That office camaraderie is likely more important than any of us give it credit for. As such, make sure that you don’t go hermit-style. Make a concerted effort to go to a local office occasionally, if possible. At the very least, get out of the house and work from a coffee shop or bookstore for a day. Having people around you can be a very good thing.

Be mobile — Faller brings up some great points in my talk with him about traveling with a bare minimum of things to keep him productive. You should work to find the ways that you can minimize your required equipment so that you can still be mobile when it’s necessary. From plumbers to noisy family members, a lot can happen in your house. If all you need is a laptop and a mobile phone, you can work from far more places.

Get balanced — We’ve talked about this before during our week on productivity, but it bears repeating: Balance your work and your life. For most of us, it’s hard to quit at 5pm when our office is in our living room. Find a workspace that isn’t your living space, and leave it there when it’s time to quit for the day. Your family…and your sanity…will thank you.

Maybe it’s not the right idea for every job or every person, but telecommuting is increasingly popular. If you’re going to do it, or you’re going to offer it, do your homework and you’ll see the payoff. After all, wouldn’t we all like to visit 20 countries while still doing our job every day?