5 things not to do when telecommuting

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
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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.

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