Telecommuting: the future or right now?
Are your facing the prospect of telecommuting fulltime? If not, you might be soon. Dell, Inc. declared it wants half of its workforce to work remotely by 2020 while other Texas companies like AT&T, Freeman, Rackspace, Medecision and even government entities like the City of Austin employ a substantial number of remote workers. And while software developers, consultants, and sales professionals have been telecommuting for a while now, there’s a new crop of unexpected telecommuters arising including administrative staff, operations managers, instructors, and nurses and other healthcare professionals.
The idea of working from home might scare you, or it might sound like a dream come true. Either way, find out if the opportunity is structured in a way that will allow you to succeed. At an appropriate time during the interview process (your recruiter can help you decide when that might be), ask if the organization has a remote work policy in place. If you’re lucky and they have one (less than 60% do), you may gain some valuable clarity when it comes to expectations. Otherwise, you may want to ask the following questions:
1. How much of your workforce works remotely?
If a sizeable number of employees work remotely, there’s a good chance the practice is valued and ingrained in company culture. Conversely, if you’re “the great experiment” you may face an uphill battle when it comes to the technical, professional, and emotional support necessary to make it work.
2. How many in my department or team will be working remotely?
Being the only one on a team telecommuting vastly differs from being among a team filled with telecommuters. Remote employees who are the “odd man or woman out” most often report feeling that colleagues say bad things behind their backs, make changes to projects without telling them in advance, lobby against them, and don’t fight for their priorities.
3. Does my workspace need to meet certain requirements?
Some employers require a specific home environment (like a dedicated office with a door that closes), high-speed internet, a dedicated phone system, and particular equipment or software. Find out what these requirements are and if you’re able to meet them.
4. Are reimbursements available to offset home office costs?
It’s not usual for employers to offset the cost of high-speed internet and other expenses for telecommuters who use them for business purposes. And with the new 2018 tax code changes—which includes the removal of the home office deduction for employees—many employers are rethinking their reimbursement policies. When it’s time to negotiate salary, be sure to consider the expenses you might incur by working from home, perhaps by even asking a CPA or a tax consultant for advice.
5. What tools will I use to communicate regularly?
Without technology, working remotely would be impossible. Companies like Atlassian (a major Austin employer) are making virtual collaboration as seamless as possible. When these virtual collaboration tools are used by the entire team—whether remote or not—everyone can feel equally connected. An employer not using collaboration tools may not have an adequate telecommuting infrastructure in place.
6. Will I have regularly scheduled check-ins with my manager and/or team?
Remember the “morning huddle”? These will still be important. A recent study shows up to 40% of remote workers report a lack of timely information—especially from management—that can be critical to succeeding in their jobs. Quick daily check-ins can counteract this problem. And a tip from the folks at Trello: With up to 10,000 non-verbal cues exchanged in one minute of face-to-face interaction, video meetings may be the best way to accomplish it.
7. What will my work schedule look like?
Many employees are attracted to telecommuting because they imagine it will improve their work-life balance. The irony, however, is that remote workers tend to work longer hours than their colleagues who earn the same amount. Experts suggest this could happen as a way for those who work from home to prove they aren’t just lazy. “Working from home is a privilege, so you better be responsive and productive,” says The HT Group Executive Recruiter Kate Aycock. “[There’s pressure] to make yourself even more available then you would be at work.” Employers with a mature telecommuting policy in place acknowledge this and go out of their way to protect their employees’ time and to define when they’re expected to be “on the clock.”
The answers to these questions can help you determine where the employer is when it comes to adopting telecommuting as part of its culture. If you’re unhappy with what they have to say, proceed with caution. Working remotely shouldn’t lead to lost money, time, or job satisfaction.
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