Monday, July 26, 2010

Two Places at Once: How to Avoid Letting Telecommuting Split You in Half

One thing about telecommuting is that you open yourself up to dualities--especially if you're a telecommuting parent. On the most basic level, telecommuters find themselves in two places at once: usually they're both at home and in the office. Or they're at grocery store and in the office. Or they're on vacation and in the office.

For instance, I went to the local Barnes & Noble yesterday, because my six-year-old wanted to go (and because my wife and I love bookstores too). Plus, I thought I might have an opportunity to see my 2011 Poet's Market on the shelves (not yet, though you can order it online here). Anyway, I went there to relax, but I was in editing mode before we left the store. In fact, everyone had to wait on me to finish working before we could leave. That's telecommuting.

Of course, there are positives and negatives to this situation (for both the employers and the employees). For both parties to have the optimal situation, it's up to the telecommuters to do a few things for their own sanity and well being. Here's a short list I've compiled (still a work in progress):
  1. Get out of the house. Your house is most likely your office too. So, you need to get out of that place from time to time. Seriously. Plus, you need to get some Vitamin D (from the sun) for your health. After my first year of telecommuting, I had dangerously low levels of Vitamin D, because I'd essentially turned my home into a cave.
  2. Get out of the office. For most telecommuters, this is even harder than getting out of the house, especially if you have a smart phone or some other electronic doodad that lets you check your e-mail, social network, and shave all at the same time and from anywhere in the world. While your work may be part of your life, avoid letting it become your life.
  3. Exercise. I'm not saying that telecommuters should all be Olympic athletes, but we should be able to take advantage of some of that time in which we're not commuting to go for a 20-minute walk or dance to some music videos on YouTube or something.
  4. Communicate with HQ. Make sure you don't get stranded on a telecommuting island. Communicate with your co-workers. When you have questions, ask them immediately. Don't let them build into 20-question e-mail messages. Communication accomplishes two things: first, it reminds your co-workers you're there and being productive; second, it keeps you focused and in touch with what's happening at the company headquarters.
  5. Stay organized. If you can't keep your office clean, telecommuting may not be for you. Here's why: You are living where you work. So while you can keep personal and professional messes separate when you're working in the office, that is nearly impossible to do when your office is in the house. Organization is key.

If you have tips of your own, I'd love to hear them.


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  1. Set office hours. Or do something that delineates work time as separate from home time. When I work from home, I stay in my office with the door partially closed while I am "at work" and then when I am no longer working, I only take critical or emergency work calls, and let the email pile up for the next day.

  2. Thanks, Cameron!

    Those are great suggestions.

    I started blocking off time in my Outlook calendar to remind me to "Go Home" and "Eat Lunch," because I was seriously forgetting to do that stuff. Of course, I'm still not perfect with shutting down, though I'm getting better.

  3. It is most definitely a pain to balance, particularly if you telecommute primarily. As for me, I work from home about 2-4 days a month, which is a nice balance. Also helps me to enforce the same rules I have at the office at home (since I'm at the office the other 18-20 days in a month). Minus the commute, of course.

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