By Paula Santonocito
Today, more people than ever telecommute. But it can be a blessing and a curse—for those working from home, and the associates who interact with them.
Here’s how to telework like a professional.
Remember You’re at Work
This means that everything from your answering machine message to your emails should reflect the work image you want to project.
If you’ve got a great tagline that you use as part of your email signature when corresponding with friends, for example, carefully consider whether you want this to be part of your business correspondence before copying and pasting it. Anything controversial should be avoided. Why go there?
In a similar vein, avoid chirpy answering machine greetings or messages with background music. And by all means, don’t allow children’s voices, however cute, to welcome your business associates. Also stay clear of messages with religious overtones, such as “Enjoy this day that God has given us.” Yes, readers, these are real-life examples, and, quite frankly, they come across as a bit odd.
The Noise Factor
Conducting business from a home office has a lot of advantages, but it also presents challenges.
One of these is background noise.
Although it’s great that you can run a load of laundry while at work, if the washer and dryer are within earshot of your office phone you want to be sure to schedule this task for a time you won’t be on the phone.
The same applies to television and radio. If you’re taking a lunch break, for example, and listening to music or watching television, either turn off the volume before answering the phone or let your answering machine pick up. Otherwise you give the impression that you’re sitting on the sofa eating bonbons, when this is far from the truth.
Lunch and other breaks raise an important point. It’s perfectly fine to schedule a lunch break and to not be available during this time. For some reason, people who work remotely seem to feel guilty about doing this.
However, when you are working, do your best to control the noise in your environment.
When in Conference
This is particular necessary when you are in conference, via telephone or Internet technology.
Barking dogs and crying children have no place in a business meeting.
If your dog is prone to excitable outbursts when the mailman comes to the door, put her in another room. If your four-year-old constantly approaches you when you’re on business calls, you have to either get a babysitter or find some kind of solution. Bottom line: This is work time.
Yes, family emergencies occur, but they should be the exception rather than the rule.
When a situation does arise, you should not ignore it. The professional thing to do is quietly try to resolve it or, if necessary, let your colleagues know you have an unexpected situation.
And it’s not always a child or pet that can throw a phone meeting off kilter. It might be as simple as FedEx repeatedly ringing the doorbell because a signature is required for a package. Or the lawn maintenance crew choosing the optimum time to run a mower beneath your open office window. Stuff happens.
It’s how you handle it that matters.
One easy solution, though temporary, is to hit the phone’s mute button. For some reason, this feature doesn’t seem to be utilized all that often. There’s also nothing wrong with saying, “I’m working from my home office and that noise you hear is the guy who mows my lawn. He’s right under my office window. Can I please put you on hold while I close the window?”
People today get it. In fact, chances are they also work from home on occasion, and will appreciate your honesty and willingness to address the situation.
Still, you don’t want to become known as the person who always has a situation. If you find yourself interrupted frequently, you need to take a look at your work environment and determine what you should be doing differently.
Finally, both women and men who work from home, whether on a part- or full-time basis, often find they work more hours than they otherwise would.
Although it is called teleworking or telecommuting, as in the telephone, it’s actually Internet technology that has allowed for the proliferation of the virtual workplace. Unfortunately, for many people virtual has also come to be associated with working virtually all the time.
However, just as it is perfectly fine to take a lunch break, it is also acceptable—make that necessary—to establish parameters with regard to your availability. In a global business environment, this becomes even more crucial. For example, if you live in New York, you can’t be expected to participate in a conference call at 5:00 a.m. to accommodate your colleagues in the UK and then be involved in an hour-long meeting at 6:00 p.m. with associates in California, at least not on a regular basis. It’s a prescription for burnout.
If you find you have difficulty juggling family responsibilities or even obligations to yourself, like eating regularly and at reasonable hours, you should look carefully at the issue of boundaries.
When it comes to maintaining professionalism, advancing your career, and work/life balance, you want to be sure you make teleworking work for you—not against you.