Home is where the work is: Tips for successful telecommuting

While it’s a great perk, make sure you know the best practices for effective telecommuting.

May 17, 2012
from Robert Half International

The continual proliferation (some might say onslaught) of new technologies and communication tools means more employees have the ability to work outside the traditional office environment. Translation: Many accounting professionals are now able to swap business suits and stressful commutes for comfy clothes and 10-second strolls to a home office.

In fact, in a recent Accountemps survey, one-third (33 percent) of the 1,400 chief financial officers (CFOs) we polled reported increased use of remote work arrangements, such as telecommuting, at their companies in the last three years.

While there are many advantages to working out of your home, there are also unique challenges. If you’re new to telecommuting or you’re considering pursuing a remote work arrangement with your employer, the following tips will help you overcome some common hurdles:

Anticipate and mitigate management concerns

Even if your firm has a telecommuting policy in place, you still might have some convincing or reassuring to do when you request this option. Despite the rise in remote work, the myth of the pajama-clad, TV-watching telecommuter remains in the minds of some managers.

Help your cause by writing a detailed proposal that addresses potential concerns. Rather than focusing on the work-life balance benefits you hope to enjoy, make your case by explaining how telecommuting will increase your productivity and reduce costs for the company. Highlight the skills and traits you possess that will enable you to thrive outside of the office. You might note your history of dependability, your strong work ethic and self-directed nature (assuming you’ve demonstrated those qualities, of course). Touting your time-management skills is also key.

If your supervisor remains unsold on the idea, request a trial period. You might suggest an “out” clause that enables your boss to discontinue or alter the arrangement if it proves problematic for any reason.

Get off to a strong start

Once you’ve convinced your manager that you’re an ideal candidate for telecommuting, the hard work really begins: proving it. First and foremost, understand that you’ll need to be highly accommodating and flexible, especially in the beginning.

If few other people in your workplace or department share your arrangement, you might face extra scrutiny from other supervisors and colleagues. Be sure to offer frequent project status updates and to be easily reachable. For instance, take scheduled — not spontaneous — breaks and pledge to return phone calls or email within a given time period. When in doubt, over-communicate.

Be disciplined in the face of new distractions

One of the benefits of working from home is that you don’t have to contend with incessant interruptions. There’s no boss peering over your shoulder, chatty interns invading your cubicle with questions, or gossipy colleagues trying to lure you into water-cooler gabfests. That’s not to say there aren’t myriad distractions of a different sort. Rambunctious pets, laundry piles and the latest viral videos can all pose a threat to your productivity if you’re not disciplined.

When your living quarters and professional space are the same place, it helps to train your brain to get into work mode by following a regular routine and starting around the same time each day. Before you begin tackling assignments, write a prioritized to-do list for the day to help you stay on track. For larger projects, set interim goals and then hold yourself accountable for meeting these self-imposed deadlines. Maintain a clean and uncluttered work area and minimize multitasking.

Limiting non-work-related web surfing, particularly on social media sites, is another smart move. In addition to those sites being time traps, your presence can be easily tracked on networking portals. Too many time-stamped tweets and “likes” will give others the impression that you’re taking advantage of your situation.  

Finally, look for opportunities to interact with your manager and fellow team members in person. Make a point of being in the office for group activities, such as departmental brainstorming or training sessions and celebrations. If you’re working from a great distance, try to visit periodically. Maintaining solid rapport with coworkers is vital whether you work in the corporate home office or from an office in your home.

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half International, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is one of the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. Follow Robert Half on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalf.