5 things not to do when telecommuting

5 things not to do when telecommuting

Summary: Companies have wised up to the benefits of letting some employees work from home. Having remote workers requires trust that the employee is focused on doing a good job, something easily lost.

No commute
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The benefits of having remote workers can be significant for both the employer and telecommuters. There has been plenty written about those benefits, not the least of which are better work environments for the employee and savings realized by the enterprise by not having to provide offices for remote workers.

While a good telecommuting arrangement can be a good thing, it requires a lot of trust that the remote workers are focused on the job, even with personal things often getting in the way. Making sure you don't do these five things will go a long way toward building and keeping that employer/employee trust.

Don't keep unpredictable work hours

Working at home makes it easy to slide into an informal work schedule, but avoid this at all costs. One of the quickest ways to get your supervisor/manager wondering if you are providing the quality work expected is the realization that you aren't always working during office hours.

Employers don't expect remote workers to have a work environment less professional than employees in the office, nor should they.

It is critical that the remote worker keep regular office hours just like fellow employees back in the office. While tempting to have regular short outings like taking the dog to the vet, these will eventually catch up with you. A good rule of thumb is to only take time off during the work day as you would in the office. Working at home doesn't give you carte blanche to run errands when you want.

Don't dress sloppy

It may seem that working at home is the perfect opportunity to work in shorts and T-shirts, but it's a better idea to dress as you would back in the office. This has a couple of benefits that will keep your employer's trust in the remote working arrangement.

First, dressing properly even in the home office instills a more formal work ethic. This is important because if the telecommuter doesn't feel professional the employer will eventually pick up on that. Just because you work at home doesn't make the relationship with the employer any less official. If workers in the office are expected to dress a certain way, telecommuters should respect that and do the same.

Many companies use Skype or other communication methods to regularly touch base with remote workers and these aren't always planned in advance. Always looking professional will cover your back if the boss unexpectedly makes a video call to check in with you.

Don't be unavailable during the work day

One of the expected perks of working at home is flexibility to take care of personal things when needed. Unfortunately, employers expect to be able to reach all workers, even telecommuters, during work hours no matter what. 

Supervisors know if they call a worker in the office that if they don't pick up they are likely at the water cooler or taking a short break. They understand that if they call the worker's office again in a few minutes they will probably pick up.

It's different for remote workers because the supervisor doesn't know exactly what's going on. If he/she is regularly  unavailable most likely the assumption will be made that said telecommuter is often not really working when expected.

That's not unreasonable since most office workers have company phones in the office where they are expected to be for the work day. Remote workers usually have cell phones and these can accompany the employee wherever. Supervisors thus expect to be able to reach the remote worker no matter what, and it starts to erode the trust when there's no answer.

Don't let kids and pets in the remote office regularly

This is a tough one as it can be hard to keep children and pets at arm's length when you work at home. Few things will make the employer question if allowing you to telecommute is a wise decision than an unprofessional setting with distracting noise in the background during work calls.

Employers don't expect remote workers to have a work environment less professional than employees in the office, nor should they. They have a right to believe that telecommuters will create a proper work space, and that includes keeping distractions away.

No matter how you explain it when background disturbances intrude on a work call, it will make a bad impression on the employer. Regular occurences will result in the company rethinking the benefits of having you work from home.

Don't lose touch with coworkers

One of the biggest negatives of having remote workers is the tendency for telecommuters to be isolated from the rest of the work team. Close-knit work groups communicate constantly and that applies to groups with remote workers.

Daily calls, especially video calls, to colleagues are a great thing and should be a priority. Even simple calls to see how coworkers are doing instill teamwork and head off concerns that remote team members are pulling their weight. There's no running into colleagues at the office water cooler for remote workers, so make the call.

Making the remote working relationship work is on your back

Following the five tips in this article will go a long way in making sure your telecommuting arrangement works and is recognized by the employer. Even understanding supervisors keep a constant watch on remote workers to make sure everything is working as it should. 

Using these guidelines will demonstrate how well the arrangement works, and that it is productive. While the employer has a role in making sure remote work scenarios provide a benefit to the company, it's firmly on the remote worker's back to show the boss it is so.

Topics: Mobility, Bring Your Own Device

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  • Headline

    Decent article, but the headline says, "5 Things Not to Do When Telecommuting" and the paragraphs are all structured with headers telling us *what* to do. Not a huge deal, but somewhat jarring.
    • Fixed

      I realized that after it went live and have changed it slightly to be less jarring. Thanks!
  • You left off one of the more important "not to do" items...

    Don't spend all of your work day on games, social media and other distractions then try to cram a full days work into an hour or so late at night. Just as in a "regular" workplace job,
    you can take short breaks (water cooler, coffee, etc.) and a regular lunch break. To keep
    respect, work at your telecommuting position the same way you would if you had an on-site
    position (both respect from your employer and SELF-RESPECT, something that seems to
    be lacking in some segments of modern society).
    • Another hard lesson to learn

      is that the 'fridge is not a client :-)
  • It depends on your employer

    I violate four of these rules regularly. I have global phone calls early in the morning and late at night and so do many of my coworkers. It is not unusual for us to be gone at odd times during day. Nobody cares how we dress, as we don't do video calls, only voice with desktop sharing and IM. My employer, a major computer manufacturer, cares about what we get done, not whether we are sitting at our desk at a certain time during the day. We make appointments for meetings and need to keep our commitments to attend them, of course. The one rule I try to follow is to keep it quiet when I am on the phone.
    • Totally agree

      Three out of the five so-called "rules" are essentially the same thing - be available. And a fourth - "dress formal" - is just plain ridiculous if you're never video conferencing.

      Bmeacham's description of his job profile is more applicable and relevant to the typical telecommuter.
  • Don't allow the house to become the office. Don't take work home with you.

    I run a business. Originally, I ran it from my home office. However, my office got cluttered with equipment, so instead of shoving more equipment into my office, I started leaving it in the living room and the dining room and anywhere else it would fit. And then the spouse said "No more!".

    The other problem, and it's a big one with our completely connected lifestyles is that, come 5PM, even though work was over, well, it wasn't really over. I'd still be tinkering with work when I should have been enjoying family time. (This is what happens when you do what you love.)

    So we built a nice little winterized shed and that is now the office. It's about 20 steps outside the door. It works because it forces me to psychologically move from home to work and back again. I haven't decluttered everything from home yet, but we're making progress. We have our living room back.
  • Awkward -

    "Making the remote working relationship work is on your back"

    Traditionally, "work on your back" cannot be done remotely.
    • Awkward in what way?

      Was that a double entendre?
      • Just an awkward statement

        "Making the remote working relationship work is on your back"

        It's just an awkward statement. As a skimmer, I had to slow down and read it three times.
        Maybe it's the -ing participle form mixed with the -ing gerund, and then sandwiching relationship between working and work. The idiomatic expression "on your back" right after the word work causes confusion. The subject of the sentence is "making the remote working relation ship work" - - kind of difficult to take in at a glance without any punctuation.

        I'm not a grammarian by any means, which is why I probably didn't analyze this right, but I do know enough to know that it was awkward.

        "You are responsible for making the work-at-home relationship succeed"

        hmm - better.
  • Metered vs Non Metered Jobs

    Telecommuting for creative, project oriented work can indeed be a temptation to slack off, since the boss only gets measurements of results days, weeks or months after the fact, and only knows, in real time, how long you are connected to the office VPN. But for jobs that are inherently availability-oriented such as customer service, there is metering whether in the office or not. In fact, the biggest deal breaker that can PROHIBIT work from home is the need to connect to employer-provided, rather than employee-provided, networking equipment, such that time on phone, content of phone calls, continuous screen shots during calls, etc. can be measured, and customer data cannot be leaked to the non work part of an employee's machine. HOWEVER, if the employer DOES overcome these obstacles and allow telecommuting, one's work IS monitored continuously. If you would be expected to take 50 calls per day at the office, for example, the boss KNOWS that you cannot meet the 50 call goal if you are slacking off, on or off the computer, so there will probably be less emphasis on whether you "look" busy. Of course, a job like that may require schedules that coordinate with other workers, so you have to take the calls at specific times and not at other times.

    I have worked in customer service and tech support before, and there is NO WAY the company could have let people "take home" their work, except for managers, who could monitor employees at the office from home with company provided equipment. Scheduling was semi-automated so as to keep a specific body count vs time of day profile. If the work COULD have been set up for telecommuting, the only advantage would have been the ability to pay some workers a reduced wage to stay home on "standby" in case the call volume went up suddenly, and the full wage when actually online taking calls. This would allow people to volunteer for the standby shifts and save the company money until they were needed.

    So in summary, job descriptions that are "metered" would need less subjective appearance of busy-ness for telecommuting, but are much less likely to be able to allow working from home in the first place.
    • With The Right Monitoring Tools, It's Very Possible

      At my last company, I was the project manager for the work from home initiative. This was a drive to cut costs in our technical support division without outsourcing. When I left, we were at 1500 people working from home in over 33 states. It has been quite the success. These are not only support people at this time, but sales as well. The work from an environment where their calls are monitored, computers can be screen captured, and they have methods to contact support personnel when needing some help. I was very instrumental in making sure that the home environment mirrored the office as best as possible and it went very smoothly.

      As to this article, yeah, several of those rules are just not happening. The dressing professional part is my favourite. I regularly am in shorts and a t-shirt while working remotely, however, I do shower just in case I have to change and run in.
  • Demonstrate you are productive

    #1 item when telecommuting: Show demonstrable results. Make it absolutely clear in a demonstrable manner that you are highly productive when you are at home. You are being paid to be productive, and trusted that you will be so when at home. If it is unclear if you are productive, even if you are, your employer is going to look down on you working from home where you cannot be observed.
  • Telecommuting is NOT a remote cubicle and that's part of the deal

    OK, if one has videoconference sessions with the company regularly, I wouldn't expect a worker to be in a tanktop or shirtless when doing that. But it would be equally ridiculous to expect a full suit and tie, even if that is the standard dress code at the office. It is the worker's HOME, the company knew that when they agreed to allow telecommuting and it is both unrealistic and plain stupid to expect a home to be a faithful copy of a corporate cubicle. People dress comfortably at home, they have pets there, they have children, and they are entitled to have them. If workers are at home and pets and kids make occasional appearances, the company should deal with that naturally - what did they expect?

    Finally, one of the greatest reasons why people want and accept to work at home is time flexibility. That is part of the deal and it is not only unrealistic but a breech of agreement in terms to expect 100% availability, even greater than at the office. Imagine, for example, a female worker with an infant child, who arranged to telecommute so she could breast-feed her child. Should it be considered unprofessional if she was not available because she was breast-feeding?

    Your list could be slightly paraphrased and become a list of what companies should NOT expect their home workers to do. Yes, the lines between personal and professional do become more blurred in such a situation, and it takes a lot of discipline by the worker not to let things go too far (including the other way around, as mheartwood aptly pointed out), but if the company is not willing to accept that things ARE different from the office, the company is grossly unprepared to have telecommuter workers.
  • Don't dress sloppy - come on!!

    I cannot believe the ludicrous inclusion of #2 Don't Dress Sloppy. I had to see if it was April 1st. Get real fool. You're obviously of the crowd that believes the nonsense that what you wear actually impacts the output and quality of one's work. Your other points seem reasonable, I just couldn't believe my eyes on this issue. By the way, don't wave any suspect data or surveys to support your contention here, you'll never convince me and many others. Guy must be a manager at some level...
  • Mostly obvious and a home dress code, right...

    Why not include "work hard" and "don't spy for your competitors"? If you work at home and do video conferencing, you KNOW how you should dress. Otherwise the philosophy about feeling more "workish" if you dress up is nonsense. Based on that opinion, if you wear a tux at home you would be employee of the month all year long. This article did not need to be written and I did not need to waste my time reading it, the other points are blatantly obvious when they are not wrong. Each position is different, you can't apply a blanket set of rules to all work at home jobs.
  • Other Options for Monitoring

    There are PLENTY of tools now to make remote collaboration a breeze, much more so than even five years ago. Dropbox, Google Docs, Google Hangouts, Skype, screen sharing like Join.me, productivity measurement tools like MySammy, remote time card iPhone apps, the good ol' fashioned Terminal Server or GotomyPC. Not to mention with smartphones and Blackberries, people are almost always at the employers' beck and call anyway. Considering studies show that most telecommuters put in more hours of work than office staff, maybe one day employees will all be longing for the days when they could actually leave work at work.
    Sara Gardner
  • General Guidelines

    These are great general points and from the comments it's easy to see not every work situation needs every point made. Looking at my own remote working situation, I see many points that apply and some that don't. I am expected to keep reasonably close hours with the folks in the office as my team's work is shared between other departments so we all need to be on roughly the same clock. Staying in touch... answering email, instant messages and phone calls is supremely important. Letting the person managing the workflow know when you will be away is critical. Weekly team meetings bringing everyone together once a week is important to make sure everyone is on the same page with procedures and upcoming roadblocks, etc. But then again, I wear nothing but briefs when I'm working from home and that doesn't bother anyone. At work, a collared shirt and long pants are the only business casual requirement so if I do have a video conference, I can throw on a golf shirt. The most important things are a friendly phone manner with co-workers, being there when they ping with questions, doing my best work and meeting SLA's on deliverables.
  • Dressing sloppy

    Yes; I agree some effort is required, especially for webcam meetings.
    I've begin wearing a shirt now. As long as I don't move, everything is fine. And hopefully I won't have to answer the door either!