Part II: The Blue Print
In part one of Taking Your Job Home: Facing the Issues, we covered concerns your employer would have if you asked him to let you work at home. There were five issues: Privacy and safety, Dealing with Co-workers, Communication, Job Function, and Trust. We ended by suggesting that you think over each of these issues carefully so you’re ready to address each one when your supervisor brings them up.
A good way to begin addressing these issues is to write them down. Then, put what you’ve written into a clear, concise “blue print” for your manager so that she can follow along with you on how your plan on how a telecommuting work arrangement would succeed. (A written blue print is also important for supervisors who may agree with you but then need something to present to their superiors who might actually have the final say.)
Carefully cover each issue in your plan, even if you think your supervisor won’t be concerned about one or more of them. A blueprint always shows parts in the construction plan that aren’t necessarily relevant to what a builder is working on, just to keep things in perspective. Remember: The Company is what employers are most concerned about, even if they genuinely do care about their employees. The bottom line is always their bottom line.
Before going over the blue print with your supervisor, start with a cover letter. Entice your supervisor to even want to read your proposal. Let him know that reading the proposal could actually benefit him. Begin by pointing out some facts about telecommuting and its benefits.
Did you know, you could write, that telecommuting has been shown to…
- dramatically save businesses in premises costs, office overhead, and even labor: Why rent more office space than necessary if there are people who can use their own offices?
- increase productivity anywhere. Instead of traveling, telecommuters could be working.
- improve retention: Workers who feel they have autonomy, who are able to stop and rest when they need to, and who feel they have a better work-life balance are more likely to stay with their current company. This means lower recruitment costs and less training of new workers in the future because people continue to remain with the company.
- better attendance: That’s right, working from home usually means that workers continue to work later hours or while they’re sick to finish a project because they can still be home. This demonstrates a higher commitment from workers and usually increased productivity.
Now to begin the blue print
Getting to the Issues
Privacy and Safety Issues
How can you insure that the information you work on at home will be kept private? Tell your manager about your security systems, such as computer firewalls, locked filing cabinets, a completely private office space, and/or a separate telephone land line. Remember that his/her concern will be: how do I know other people won’t be getting into sensitive information? What would be the consequences to the company if this privacy was breached? Alleviate those fears.
What about safety? In some cases, insuring safety can become expensive and complicated. Will you need a fire extinguisher, or a stress mat to stand on? Who will pay for that? What about OSHA issues? What about MSDS’s (Material Safety Data Sheets) that are required by law to be onsite where ever dangerous chemicals are? Plan in advance how you can either provide for these items yourself, or how you can make it easy for your company to provide them. The potential of lawsuits will be a concern to your manager if privacy and safety issues are not properly handled.
You can’t control the attitudes other people, but you can do plenty to discourage hard feelings. (Obviously, bragging that you’ll get to stay home, when your co-workers will be scraping ice off their windshields before work is a no-no.) Let your colleagues know that they can contact you at any time. Make sure they know you will still working with them, albeit at a distance. Discuss with them about the several methods of communication that will be used to maintain constant contact.
On a more personal level, make notes of their birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions you normally congratulate them on. Remember to call a co-worker who recently had a baby—just as you normally would do, for example. Have occasional get-togethers with them after work hours, or for a lunch. Keep in touch, and do it often. The water cooler chats may be no more, but you can still find plenty of ways to stay in the loop.
How will you and your supervisor remain connected? Let your boss know that she can reach you at any specified time you agree on (say, from nine to five), and that you will make sure there is always a way for you to be immediately contacted—just like in the office. Give her your cell phone number if you think you’ll be on your work phone so often that she might get frequent busy signals. Help your boss to feel like she will still be able to “pop in” your office to tell you something she feels is urgent. Having a separate folder in your e-mail for work related mail might be helpful. It would be terrible if you accidentally deleted a note from your supervisor, or if work related mail went into a spam folder. As with anything else, the more separate and organized you keep your work from the rest of your life, the better.
Job Function Issues
Along with informing your boss about your well-equipped office (computer, fax, landline, printer, scanner, software, and so on), what is your back up plan? Hardware breaks. Computers crash. Then what? How will you prevent vital information from getting lost? Depending on your profession and the sensitivity of the information you work with, developing a Plan B could be vital.
Having an employee work from home can make some supervisors feel a little blinded. If they can’t see you, that could make them nervous. You’ll need to help them feel confident in your commitment and ability to do your work offsite. Sometimes, the issue is lack of trust; other times it’s a combination of trust and a manager’s need to feel in control. How can you assure your supervisor that you will work just as hard and competently at home; and, if necessary, show him he will still maintain control?
On the other hand, even if a manager believes that you are committed to doing a good job working from home, she may not have the confidence in herself that she will be able to effectively manage from a distance. If she should mess up (forget to give you important information because you weren’t present at a meeting, for example), it could be her job on the line. You may need to help her feel confident in their selves as well as feel that they can trust you.
Of course, giving your superior a pep talk about control and confidence might not be too wise. You can, however, indirectly show her that she can confidently supervise you by setting up schedules for communication (i.e. times to checking in for orders/instruction), and agreeing on ways to measure your progress (e.g. giving frequent progress reports or agreeing on a deadline for a particular assignment). The more concrete you can be, the easier it will be for a manager to visualize a successful work-at-home arrangement.
Rolling it up
It’s always best to avoid making a manager feel he is locked into anything. Suggest a trial period. It should be long enough for you to prove your capability to telecommute, but not so long that it makes him nervous. Is your work project-oriented? Perhaps you could both agree that the trial will last until you complete writing a manual, for example.
In fairness to you, too, an agreement should also be made that telecommuting—whether temporarily or permanently—will not cause you to lose your current status at work. In other words, your physical absence will not reduce your rank in any way; eliminate you from a raise, a promotion, etc. It’s important that you protect your bottom line, just as a company would do. Don’t be so desperate to work from home that you compromise your career in the long run.
- Pamela La Gioia
Pamela La Gioia is a telecommuting expert who researches telecommuting opportunities for her website members at www.teleworkrecruiting.com.
© Pamela La Gioia