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101 Tips for Telecommuters

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Telecommuting-an increasingly common practice of working from home or away from a central office, while staying linked by phone and/or computer-has become a way of life for more than eleven million people in the United States, and the number constantly rises. But most books on the subject focus on its technological or administrative aspects rather than its human ones. What are the pros and cons of telecommuting for the legions of men and women that actually do it on a daily basis? And how can current or would-be telecommuters maximize their performance while minimizing their headaches?
In 101 Tips for Telecommuters, seasoned telecommuter Debra Dinnocenzo shares her practical, easy-to-implement "action tips" for making telecommuting as efficient and productive as possible. Written for full-time, occasional, and aspiring telecommuters, this helpful book covers everything from managing one's own time, balancing telecommuting with family demands, and working effectively with others from afar to networking the "virtual" way, getting a grip on technological overkill and even resisting the ever-beckoning refrigerator when working at home!
Dinnocenzo offers useful advice on special self-management factors to consider when telecommuting; how to keep in touch with all the people-coworkers, managers, support personnel, customers, and others-who make up your telecommuting world; and even how to nurture crucial ties with suppliers, vendors, and service providers.
In the new age of professional mobility, 101 Tips for Telecommuters is the perfect guide for the millions of Americans who want to succeed in this exciting and challenging new way of work.

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Contents

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101 Tips for Telecommuters

11. Manage the Maddening Mounds of Mail

29

12. Determine the Best Location for Your Home Office

30

13. Draw a Clear Line Between Your Work and Living Space

33

14. Determine the Best Address for Your Home Office

35

15. Design Your Office for Efficiency

36

16. Design Your Office for Good Health

38

17. Be Your Own OSHA Inspector

39

18. Dress for Success (According to the New Rules)

41

19. Make a Habit of Avoiding Bad Habits

43

20. Reject the Refrigerator that Beckons You

44

21. Work During Your Peak Energy Times

46

22. Making “The Rounds” for Efficient “Erranding”

48

23. Stay Fit and Healthy

50

24. Take Breaks to Relax, Re-energize, or Recover

51

25. Multi-Task to Maximize Your Productivity

53

26. Avoid the (Real or Perceived) Isolation Trap

55

27. Track Expenses and Expenditures

57

28. Simplify and Improve Continuously

59

29. Reward Yourself and Celebrate Successes

61

30. Take Responsibility for Developing

New Skills and Managing Your Career

62

Working Well with Your Family

65

31. Negotiate Expectations and Agreements

 

1. Assess Yourself for Telecommuting Success

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Assess Yourself for

Telecommuting Success

Telecommuting is not for everyone:

• You can get lonely and miss being with people every day.

• You may feel isolated and invisible.

• You might lose sight of goals and not feel motivated.

• You could detest some of the mundane aspects of working from home.

• You might experience more conflict with your family.

And it’s not easy:

• You may find yourself working more hours than before you telecommuted.

• You could be frustrated by the hassles of technology when it fails.

• You can run into problems with co-workers who resent your telecommuting.

• You might experience breakdowns in communication with your boss or your team.

• You could find yourself spending more time than you imagined serving as your own maintenance person, computer technician, electrician, office designer, furniture mover, and filing clerk.

But the rewards are tremendous! As other telecommuters will tell you:

• “I’m so much more productive than when I commuted to the office everyday.”

 

2. Focus Your Life

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Focus Your Life

Few things will undermine your telecommuting effectiveness as swiftly and significantly as a lack of focus. The myriad distractions that bombard a telecommuter (ringing phones, incoming faxes, buzzing doorbells, chatty friends, whining children, etc.) along with the ever-present demands of the moment (looming deadlines, crashing computers, demanding clients, frustrated co-workers, impatient bosses) contribute to our occasionally taking our “eye off the ball” with regard to our true focus.

A quick scan of the dictionary definition of focus produces words and phrases such as:

➡ convergence

➡ adjustment

➡ positioning

➡ clear image

➡ central point

➡ sharpness

➡ concentrated

Focus serves as:

� Your guiding light; the purpose underlying your actions.

� The vision to which you calibrate your achievements.

� The clear and unambiguous ultimate objectives or goals that justify your effort.

Achieving focus is at the core of success in nearly every enterprise. But a lack of it can be particularly detrimental to the telecommuter whose continued success is tied to achievement of results.

 

3. Focus Your Work

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out that the “big picture” represents the most critical aspects of your life focus; the details will fall into place naturally.

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Focus Your Work

Bringing focus to your work is critical to defining your job purpose and accountabilities. As a telecommuter, with a strong orientation to achievement of results, clarity regarding your job and your accountabilities is a fundamental communication tool between you and your manager.

If you work remotely, be certain you clearly define your:

• Mission

• Job purpose

• Key measures

• Rewards

Your mission should relate to the mission of your organization and should express objectives in areas such as market share, growth, levels of service to customers, positioning of your business relative to the industry, and the competition or perceptions of the marketplace or your customer base. Your job purpose states why your particular position exists and how it supports the mission. For example, the corporate annual report might provide a clear mission. But if you think your job purpose is to expand marketplace awareness and your boss thinks you were hired to increase sales, it would be useful to sort this out sooner rather than later.

 

4. Focus Your Day

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Focus Your Day

Regardless of the goal setting or time management system you use when telecommuting, you should begin each day knowing:

• What your priorities are (and why they’re critical).

• What you need to accomplish (be certain you can quantify, measure, or otherwise clearly define this).

• What your game plan is for achieving the needed results (this includes both the “how” and “when” components of your daily action plan).

• What the rewards are for accomplishing your goals for the day

(the immediate payoffs to you personally and professionally).

Your daily priorities are based on your job focus (Tip 3) and are the “call to action” for your day. For example, your priorities may relate to things like closing sales, completing articles, or designing strategic change plans. What you need to accomplish on a given day would be more specific and clearly measurable: complete a sales proposal, finish another phase of research, or complete the development of a change-management survey. While clarifying priorities and tasks to be accomplished are important to anyone who values productivity, telecommuters can be especially vulnerable to factors that diminish daily focus. Aside from distractions and demands of the day, you must maintain your focus without the benefit of co-workers, team members, or other more traditional workplace influences that may contribute positively to focus. For example, if a team is pulling together a major presentation or finalizing a project design, the energy and visible signs of progress that may exist in a team work area or a project “war room” won’t exist in your home office. Since you’ll need to maintain the same focus, however, you’ll also need to be clear about what must be done when you leave your office at the end of the day (hopefully, at a civilized hour!).

 

5. Avoid Time Wasters

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Avoid Time Wasters

Being a advocate of telecommuting, you’re likely to appreciate the value of time and ways to utilize it efficiently. It’s likely you’ve already calculated the time you are or could be saving by telecommuting. Perhaps you’ve also identified all the things you can accomplish with the extra time telecommuting will provide. While thinking through all of this is helpful, beware of “activity creep”!

“Activity creep” is the slow emergence into your day of “stuff” that needs to get done but is not essential to achievement of your key daily goals. When you work in a traditional workplace, this “stuff” simply lingers in the back of your mind and is annoying. But when you telecommute from home, it’s very much an “in your face” kind of annoyance that results in the waste of that precious time you so much wanted to save.

Here are just a few distracters that, in excess, may be a drain on your time and ability to achieve results:

• Reading the newspaper

 

6. Maintain a Healthy Balance (Manage the Workaholic Within)

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• Paying personal bills

Of course, some of these distracters may be on your list of fun things to do. Great! Use them as rewards or activities during work breaks

(Tip 24). The easiest way to avoid time wasters is to be conscious of the ones that plague you. Make a commitment to yourself to use your time wisely and keep yourself focused each day (Tips 2, 3) on the essence of your work and your key accomplishments for achieving your goals. If the threat of failure isn’t enough to motivate you, be sure to give yourself other rewards (Tip 29), incentives, or consequences that keep those time wasters at bay.

� Think about and list the major time wasters that create “activity creep” in your day.

� Right now—make a commitment to yourself to eliminate (or better manage) two of them this week.

� Make your commitment visible. For example, you could make a big sign or poster on which you write the time waster with a big red circle around it and red line through it. Or make little signs with a key word or symbol to remind you of a critical work goal

 

7. Stay Motivated (Manage the Slouch Within)

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Do at least one thing tomorrow that moves you toward the balance you’re seeking.

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Stay Motivated

(Manage the Slouch Within)

You’re undoubtedly a highly motivated, high-achieving, self-starter type of person with unbounded confidence that you will achieve high levels of performance and output as a telecommuter. And when all the forces of the cosmos and the dynamics of your universe converge in perfect harmony, this is likely to be the case. But let’s talk about reality. Those forces and dynamics don’t just occur; you make them occur or respond to them in ways that keep you motivated, focused, and productive. How do you minimize factors that compromise your motivation and productivity?

An important key to staying motivated is to avoid procrastination. This is a particular challenge, even for highly motivated telecommuters, since many of the contributors to procrastination are ever-present in the telecommuting workplace (such as household chores, family distractions, personal tasks, television, exercise equipment, etc.). So, use these guideposts to maintain your motivation and keep the “slouch” at bay:

 

8. Get and Keep Your Office Organized

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Get and Keep Your Office Organized

Tom Peters has written eloquently about thriving on chaos, but it’s an organizational state of mind—not the way you want to approach telecommuting. It’s not even open for debate; it’s a given, a truism, an unalterable fact of telecommuting life: lack of organization will doom you.

Managing the tons of paper (weren’t we fantasizing about the paperless office just a decade ago?!) is inherent in your ability to be organized (Tip 9), and efficiently processing the mounds of mail you receive (Tip 11) is vital. But you need a context in which to manage the “stuff” of your day, and this context is created by systems and structure.

Unfortunately, you can’t run to the local office superstore for your complete, customized system in a box! You need to create your own systems, based on your needs, priorities, type of work, and individual style. You can, of course, buy the components required to create workflow and organization systems that allow you to eliminate clutter on your desk; move essential work tools and resources under furniture, overhead, on the walls, onto shelves, into cabinets or lateral desktop files; or store items used less often in containers that provide easy access when you do need them.

 

9. Get and Keep Your Day Organized

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Quickly scan your office and identify:

5 Things on your desk that you can relocate to a smarter place.

(Now move them.)

4 Things in your closest desk drawer that aren’t used frequently enough to keep them there. (Now find a new storage space for them.)

3 Files in your closest file drawer or desktop files that haven’t been used in at least a month. (Now move them to a more appropriate file drawer or box.)

2 Areas where you have space that’s not being utilized most effectively. (Now rearrange them.)

1 Thing you can buy that improves the organization of your office.

(Add it now to your running list of things to order for delivery by your office supplier.)

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Get and Keep

Your Day Organized

Just as important as systems is the structure or routine of your day.

Telecommuting has the appearance—and misconception—to others of being an unstructured, easy-going way of working. Successful telecommuting could not be further from this misperception.

 

10. Keep the “Administrivia” Under Control

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Keep the “Administrivia”

Under Control

The devil is in the details, as they say, but nowadays the more dangerous devil probably lurks in your data. More pointedly, anything that compromises your ability to manage, track, file, and retrieve information is a serious villain and a major threat to your success as a telecommuter. Therefore, you must be passionate about organizing the current and archived information relevant to your work.

Whether you do this electronically or with traditional paper files

(and usually it’s a combination of both), how you manage information greatly impacts your efficiency and, ultimately, your success.

Don’t go cheap here—invest in filing and/or data management systems that are first-rate. Buy good equipment—sturdy file cabinets and plenty of them, portable file bins (on wheels) for easy access to a current project or client files, a fabulous rolodex or a great business card scanning software package—whatever choices are most suited for your specific requirements.

 

11. Manage the Maddening Mounds of Mail

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Manage the Maddening

Mounds of Mail

You may recall feeling burdened in the not-too-distant past by the volume of paper that filled your in-basket. It seemed that days would be filled with meetings, travel, and “normal” work, followed by the seemingly endless end-of-day processing of mail. (Unless, of course, you stuffed it in your extra brief case and took it all home to read!)

Then the enlightened age of technology brought us the time-saving

(and supposedly paperless) wonders of voice mail and e-mail . . . and you saved time, right? Not likely, since now you have three inbound sources of mail instead of one! And, no doubt, you feel as if you’re drowning in it all. How can you stay afloat?

The overriding guide on handling mail is to do it as quickly as possible BEFORE it backs up badly. (The plumber can unclog your pipes, but only you can flush out the mail that awaits you.) I vividly recall times when I was locked in meetings for days or out of touch due to travel or had taken a few days of vacation only to face upon my return 147 e-mail messages, 63 voice mail messages, and a huge box of mail. You, too? Recall those times, remember the feelings of dread, and swear to yourself right now that you’ll never let it happen again. But, how?

 

12. Determine the Best Location for Your Home Office

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101 Tips for Telecommuters

response. (Yes, your mother said to always say “Thank you,” but she didn’t realize that doing so would someday clutter someone’s e-mail box!)

• Deal with the *Do Later and *Read items as time permits, always looking for creative uses of snippets of time (while on hold for a caller, during lunch, in the bathroom, etc.).

• Use drive time to keep on top of voice mail (following “safe cellular” guidelines, of course), and always leave your office with something from your *Read file should you encounter a delay or reading opportunity (when your vehicle is NOT in motion!).

� Review your system for processing mail and your sorting system. If you don’t have clearly designed places for different types and priorities of mail, set up the appropriate places now.

� Be sure that your *Read items are easily accessible near your office door (so you can grab them quickly on your way out when you may have opportunities to catch up on your reading backlog).

� Also, check the size of your trash can—you probably need to order a larger one.

 

13. Draw a Clear Line Between Your Work and Living Space

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Draw a Clear Line Between

Your Work and Living Space

More than likely, you won’t have an ideal location for your home office unless you: (1) are fortunate enough to have designed your home with this in mind; (2) have the luxury of renovating or remodeling to create an ideal work space; (3) have a former carriage house on your property that lends itself perfectly to your needs; or (4) you have a huge house and a large, empty room (with a bathroom, small kitchen, lots of windows, plenty of electrical outlets, multiple telephone jacks, etc.) that yearns to function as an office. If none of these scenarios describes your situation, you have lots of company—and need to improvise! Situating your office within your home with a clear demarcation between office and home is one of your biggest challenges and most critical requirements for successful telecommuting.

To whatever extent possible, your office should be removed from the activities and distractions of your home and family. If, however, you’re using a spare bedroom or other location that’s not in a separate wing of your mansion, consider a few steps to promote real and psychological separation:

 

14. Determine the Best Address for Your Home Office

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Determine the Best Address for Your Home Office

Just because your office is in your home doesn’t mean your home address also should serve as your business address. True, your mail reaches you more directly if it’s dropped in your home mailbox, and packages left on your doorstep easily are accessible. However, there are several disadvantages that you should consider.

If you live in an apartment, condominium complex, or gated community, mail might not be delivered directly to your door.

Additionally, delivery services sometimes face delivery restrictions in these situations. A package delivered to the property management office on Friday afternoon might not be accessible to you until Monday if you can’t retrieve it before the office closes. If packages can be delivered directly to your doorstep, they often will be left there for days if you’re traveling or away on vacation—and the mail can begin spilling out of your mailbox in a short period of time while you’re away. So, if you receive your mail at home, you’ll probably need to ask someone to retrieve it or ask the post office to hold it when you’re out of town. This can prove to be a big nuisance if you travel more than occasionally.

 

15. Design Your Office for Efficiency

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after-hours access to your mail. Dedicated ship-and-receive services seem to provide the best combination of options and flexibility for a telecommuter with mounds of mail, occasional packages and express shipments, and varying degrees of travel.

Do you need a change of address? Review the types of mail and packages you receive, how you receive them and problems you encounter. If you need to change your address, check the yellow pages for options (Mailbox Rental and Receiving) or create a new version of your home address.

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Design Your Office for Efficiency

If even the thought of designing your office makes you panic or begin fantasizing about hiring an interior designer to make it magically appear, this might be an area where you do need some expert assistance. Keep in mind, however, that you ultimately must think through your equipment and furniture needs, space limitations, necessary work flow and requirements, as well as your individual work style. It’s unlikely you’ll get what you need if you attempt to abdicate completely and trust anyone else to design an office that will work for you. So whether you’re planning to work with a design expert or pull together the components of an efficient office on your own, you’ll need to give careful consideration to a few key issues:

 

16. Design Your Office for Good Health

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Design Your Office for Good Health

Any way you cut it, you’ll spend a lot of time in your office. So it behooves you to make it not only a safe and pleasant place but also an environment that promotes good health. This is desirable since unhealthy situations and habits can lead to inconvenience, expense, and pain for you—and your employer is not likely to be thrilled with a workers’ compensation claim that is avoidable. To begin, there are any number of steps you can take personally to ensure that you stay healthy (Tip 23) and that your office is safe (Tip 17). Let’s focus here on how the design of your office can support your sustained good health and continued productivity. Keep these key things in mind when you select your office space, choose your equipment, and design your office layout:

• If you don’t have plenty of natural, northern light streaming into your office, supplement with a good balance of ambient

(bright, indirect light for the room) and task (direct light on your work space) lighting. Avoid bright sunlight, lighting directed at your computer monitor, or bright light directed at your eyes.

 

17. Be Your Own OSHA Inspector

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puter is great for traveling, it’s not the best option for significant office use. If your notebook is your primary computer and you like having everything in one machine, consider a docking system or port replicator that enables you to use a more appropriate monitor and keyboard for extensive office computing.

• Assuming you spend any amount of time on the telephone, don’t even debate with yourself—buy a headset that gets that telephone off of your shoulder and frees your hands for other productive work (Tip 92). The savings in neck strain and raging headaches will make your headset one of the most cost-effective investments in your entire office.

Select one aspect of your environment (air, light) and one aspect of your equipment that can be changed to improve the health level of your work space. Implement it now (open the window, adjust your chair height), or schedule execution of your improvement ideas as quickly as possible.

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