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If you fight traffic every day getting to the office, only to spend 8 hours in a cubicle, how does the idea of doing the same job from home in your PJ’s sound? Suppose you could sleep an extra 30 minutes a day? Or cut out a few trips to the gas station each week. I’ve worked from home for six years and I’ll show you here how to convince your manager to permit you to work from home. And then how to be productive from home.
Even if your office hasn’t offered work from home arrangements yet, don’t assume it’s impossible. Read on and I’ll show you how to pitch the idea to your manager. And then how to set yourself up for success.
If you’re a freelancer you may already work from home. But if you’re based in an office, don’t assume you’re destined for life in a cubicle.
A lot of your job tasks are probably measured electronically. If you update a database, there’s a record of it. There’s a good chance your manager studies a spreadsheet each day that contains your performance. And if it can be measured in the office, it can be measured remotely.
If you make phone calls there’s a record of them – and maybe a recording. If you know you’re going to sit in phone meetings all morning on a particular day, why spend an hour commuting somewhere when you can join the call from home?
Employers know that housing many employees costs them in the form of heating, electricity, furniture and security. Even in large companies, your department is probably being charged for each desk space.
So if some of your responsibilities can be measured from home – even for a few days a week – that frees up real estate for someone who needs to be in the office. If your department only needs certain space part-time, then designating certain desks as “commuter desks” can save the department money.
So Why Not Pitch the Idea to Your Manager?
They’re interested in retaining employees with proven reliability. So even pitching the idea of one or two days a week could be a win for you both.
In my six years at home, I’ve saved thousands of dollars in gas, tolls, and repairs on my vehicle. For the ninety-mile round trip to my job, over 6 years, I estimate that I saved almost 130,000 miles of driving! And assuming there are 20 work days in each month, I would have spent the equivalent of 90 days in my car!
In my experience working from home, I functioned as a member of an IT technical team so I gained perspective as the work from home user, and of the person supporting other work from home employees.
If you have the opportunity and can be just as productive while still meeting your career objectives, then give it a shot. Discuss it with your manager and see if you can work it out. Chances are, other employees in your company already are working remotely.
There are however a few caveats. I’ll go through them, then I’ll suggest a few ways you can pitch the idea to your manager, and then I’ll touch on the actual experience of working remotely – some of the issues you may run into, and a few things that’ll make you more productive. And lastly, I’ll mention some of the pros and cons of submitting expense reports.
All the benefits I’ve already listed are great, but working from home does require some resourcefulness on your part also. If you’re an employee, not a freelancer, you’d be working with a company laptop and depending on an internet connection to get your job done.
In the office, if you run into a technical issue it’s easy to pick up the phone and call the helpdesk, or tap on the shoulder of a co-worker for help. At home, sometimes help isn’t readily available. Sometimes you’ll need to be prepared to figure things out and get yourself back in business. If you can’t look in the back of your laptop, see what’s connected and recognize something that isn’t but should be, you may endure a few stressful (and unproductive) days here and there.
I’d highly recommend that if you haven’t already, that you invest a little time to learn some basic laptop functionality and the basic software your department uses, like Word or Excel.
Working from home is huge benefit, but if you don’t invest a little bit of time to learn some basic functionality of your laptop, it’s connection to your provider, and the basic software you use to do your job, then when something doesn’t work and you’re isolated at home, it can be very frustrating.
Make Your Life Easier
Most companies have a help desk, but in my experience working in IT, many of the issues called in could have been solved easily from home. I was amazed to receive calls constantly from the same very frustrated people about the same basic issues like:
- “How do I restart my cable modem, or how do I know it needs to be restarted?”
- “How do I copy a file from this folder to that folder?”
- “How to I restart my laptop?”
Some companies may have work from home training prior to you leaving the office, but if they don’t, you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration if you spend a little time and get to know things like:
- What’s the difference between shutting down and restarting? (Yes, many people don’t know)
- How do I turn my laptop’s wi-fi on/off?
- How can I tell if my VPN connection is working?
- How do I remove and replace the laptop’s battery?
- How do I access Windows task manager to end a frozen application?
- Where are my documents stored – what folder?
I’ve worked with some very frustrated customers who were sent home with no preparation and no knowledge of what they should familiarize themselves with. When they’re suddenly given the independence of working remotely and are unable to perform some basic tasks, their stress level rises very quickly.
So investing some time – even an hour getting familiar with what gets plugged in and where, can really make the difference between going home and being productive, or going home and pulling your hair out.
Sitting Down and Pitching the Idea to Your Manager
Ok, so you know your way around a laptop and you’re comfortable with the applications on it, now you want to pitch the idea of working from home to your boss.
Try to propose the idea to your manager from a position of strength. For example, let’s say you’ve just had a favorable performance review and you’re delivering on all your objectives. Now is a good time to suggest to your manager that you can increase your productivity even further by working from home.
If not full-time, then maybe a couple days per week. Once you prove yourself, you can always campaign for more.
Emphasize the additional productivity gains you’ll be contributing without certain distractions. Is there a certain task that requires undivided attention? Or are there certain tasks you perform where the place you sit at is irrelevant – like phone work or updating data?
You won’t be caught in traffic jams and be late or arrive in a flustered mood. In today’s world of email, instant messaging and Skype, you can maintain the same level of contact with virtually any of your internal or external customers.
If you’re in an area that experiences bad weather occasionally, and there’s a chance the office may close, you’ll be home typing away in your PJ’s, right on time.
If you’re pitching the idea to a manager who currently has no other employees working from home, their biggest fear may be that one of their dependable employees – you – will be out of touch.
So you need to present the idea emphasizing that you’ll be online and immediately reachable during business hours. Assure him/her that when they need to reach you, you’ll either pick up the phone or respond to their message right away.
It’s great to have your own productivity practices, where you respond to emails at a certain time of the day, but when you have the perk of working from home and the person who signs your paycheck comes knocking, you better respond – quickly.
With the rest of your team, this may not be quite as critical, but you want to cultivate the reputation of a responsive and effective team member, regardless of your work location. There will always someone stuck in the office, resentful that they’re commuting an hour each way and you’re not. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to say that it took three days to get a response from you.
Getting to Work
If you’ve got the go ahead, great! Even if it’s just a day or a few days per week, let’s get setup to be efficient and productive.
Try to have a dedicated room where you can lay out your supplies and leave them there undisturbed. If you can avoid it, don’t leave important papers on your desk at night and then have the kids doing their homework there.
And if you’re in a health-related job, you’ll need to take HIPPA precautions – even working from home. Like not printing any PHI, or Personal Health Information that you don’t absolutely need.
And if you do need to print PHI, have a cross-cut shredder to dispose of the paperwork each day.
Here’s the Paper Shredder I use.
It’s not the top of the line because I don’t print hundreds of pages. But it works great to shred up to 12 sheets at a time and is less than $50. It also comes in handy to shred old bills and other personal paperwork.
If you have a spare bedroom you can use as a dedicated office that’s great. I found having a dedicated office space helped not only to have your supplies undisturbed, but it’s also nice to be able to separate work from home and close that door at the end of the day.
Do you need a new $900 desk with the big hutch and fancy shelves? Hell no! What you need, is a surface big enough for your laptop or docking base, a keyboard if you use one, a printer, a phone, a few supplies and some elbow room.
If you really want to look like a corporate executive and you can afford the big bucks, then go for it. Instead, I bought two nice Wood File Cabinets
Then I went to Home Depot and bought a solid-core wood door that weighed about 30 pounds and stained it to match the file cabinets. It didn’t have the hole for the knob drilled yet. Once I put it on top of the file cabinets and had all my supplies on it, you’d never know I was working on a door.
It had more surface space than any store-bought desk for less than half the price.
One tip – if you have a wireless printer, don’t put it right next to your cable modem. They’ll interfere with each other.
Have a Reliable Broadband Connection
Whether your business is paying for your internet provider or you are, it has to be reliable. Sure it’s possible to work wirelessly, and some days you may even be able to get away with sitting on your back porch. But you should at least have the capability to connect directly to your provider – in other words, plugged in.
If you’re using a company-owned laptop, lock it up. I cannot stress this enough. Even if it’s in your home. If your company doesn’t supply cable locks, it’s in your best interest to spend the $10-$12. Almost all laptops have a small hole that accepts a cable lock. The last thing you want is to lose a laptop with company sensitive data on it. Or several years of your own files.
There will be times you’ll need to bring your laptop into the office or on the road. So you’ll need the lock when you leave for the bathroom, lunch or anything else.
Cable locks are simple to use. All you do is loop it around something very difficult to move, like through a grommet in the desk, and then secure the lock into the laptop. They’re barely noticeable.
Using locks can save you a lot of embarrassment. Some companies will force you to pay for a lost laptop depending on the circumstances – and if it’s not locked, then be prepared to pay for it. This is the Cable lock I have and it’s simple to use, strong, and barely noticeable on your desk.
Sticking to a Schedule
Even if you’re home, it’s best to stick to a schedule. If your office dictates your schedule, then make absolutely certain that you’re at your desk, logged in and available during those hours. Many companies expect you to be available via instant messaging. Working remotely really emphasizes this for you, so you want to be visible when you should be. Try to develop a reputation with your co-workers that you’re just as reachable as if you were working down the hall.
If you have some discretion over your schedule, it’s best to be disciplined and block out certain hours. It’s tempting knowing that laundry needs to be done, dirty dishes are in the sink and the lawn needs to be mowed. And it’s easy for your kids or neighbors to see you “home” and think that you’re available.
Yes, it’s a perk to be able to make that 30 minute run over to school when one of the kids forgot their sports uniform or lunch or to get to an occasional medical appointment. But my advice is, to treat your work from home arrangement just like the office. Run any errands on your scheduled lunch break just as if you were in the office. Don’t duck out unless you need to, and if you do, be upfront with your manager.
Contacting your manager and saying, “hey I have to run to my daughter’s school, I’ll be back in 30 minutes, OK?”, is much better than taking the chance that nobody will notice, and then having something hit the fan while you’re AWOL. That puts the seed in your manager’s mind that you’re taking advantage of your work from home arrangement. And that can be very hard to shake.
I’d also offer to make up the time by working through lunch or staying on later for the equivalent time. Your manager may refuse, but making the offer drives home the point that you’re not taking advantage of your arrangement.
The occasional call or message asking your manager to take care of an emergency shows your honesty and integrity. And to maintain your work from home arrangement, sometimes it’s best to go out of your way in that regard.
If you have a scheduler or appointment book, document whatever irregular hours you work. Then there’ll be no confusion and no perception that you’re abusing the work at home arrangement.
Filing expense reports would usually be determined by your own situation. If your job description mandates that you work from home, that’s great. Then most likely, you can expense any travel to work-related meetings or training.
In my situation, I approached it differently. Some employees in the company were working from home. But nobody from our area had ever been permitted to. It was against our departmental policy.
I encountered a situation where I suddenly needed to work at home. I discussed with my manager, the fact that I had two kids, ages 7 and 10 at home, and was in a real bind. She then went to bat for me and together we carved out some responsibilities. Some new and some I’d already been handling. I went home as our departmental guinea pig to see if this could work for our department.
So the last thing I wanted to do was to nickel and dime her for office supplies or an occasional trip to the office. I was saving hundreds of dollars per month in gas, tolls, and lunches. Not to mention the wear and tear on my car and the headache of commuting. And best of all, I was able to see my kids off in the morning and see the school bus drive up in the afternoon. To hit my boss up for $50 here and there, didn’t seem like a smart thing to do.
In your case, if the policy isn’t clearly laid out, and you have the option to expense certain items, feel out the situation. Only you know the management and the politics of your office. Weigh out the benefits of working from home. If you’re traveling much of the time at your manager’s request, then, by all means, I’d suggest submitting your expenses.
What Happens if Your Internet Goes Out?
Many companies have their own work from home policies. They may require you to report to the office if your internet service becomes unavailable for a certain period. Sometimes your provider can’t provide an ETA for the restoration of service.
My company’s policy stated that remote employees should contact their manager immediately upon learning of an issue with their provider. And if the employee was without internet service for two hours – which rarely happened -then he/she was obligated to report to the office.
Anytime your internet service goes out and you’re unable to work due to a provider issue:
- Always call your service provider. Reporting it right away documents the fact that you’re unable to work for an issue beyond your control.
- Always get a service ticket number from their help desk agent and write it down. Then provide it to your manager. Chances are, there may be a wide-spread outage that your manager wasn’t aware of yet so you may be helping him/her.
Being proactive in situations like this shows your manager that you’re not taking advantage of the situation and gives them the idea that you’ll be back to work once the service is restored. These are the situations where you can reinforce the idea that your remote arrangement was a good idea.
Sometimes working remotely requires you to be more resourceful than you would in the office. I had an issue with my provider where a certain piece of equipment caused an outage for the whole neighborhood. The provider told us up front that service would be unavailable for the rest of the day. Rather than drive the 45 miles to work, I brought my laptop to a friend’s house about 4 miles away. Being proactive can sometimes save you a lot of time.
If your kids have a snow day keep in mind there are no snow days for work from home employees. Remember that perk that you pitched to your manager where you’ll be able to be productive regardless of the weather? Well here’s where you pay the piper. Your kids may be at off and itching to go sledding, but you’ll be expected to work. But overall, the conveniences of working from home throughout the year should far outweigh the occasional snow day.
Regardless of the occasional difficulties, the opportunity to work from home is one I’d recommend highly. Even one or two days a week can really help to balance your work and home life. For someone with kids in school, you’d be there in the morning and afternoon. And if they’re involved with after school sports, you’d now be able to see at least part of their games. You’ll save you thousands in commuting costs, and hundreds of hours in the car. And when you can shut down at quitting time and just walk down a flight of stairs, you tend to be more refreshed and present for your family.
Have you had a chance to work from home, or are you considering it?