Out of Sight But Not Out of Mind: How to Telecommute Successfully

It seems like yesterday – the first day I began a new job in my home office. I was all set to go with my spanking new office furniture, dedicated business telephone line, high-speed Internet, and plenty of office supplies. I shut my office door and announced to my husband that I was going to work and to please not bother me. I didn’t answer our home telephone line. I didn’t move the wet clothes from the washing machine to the dryer. I didn’t camp out in the kitchen all day snacking. I was at work and determined to stay the course JUST as if I was working from a corporate office location.

Fast forward almost 20 years. The furniture has some scratches. I really don’t need the landline telephone anymore, but my husband won’t allow it to go. My computer is much smaller. My desk is messier as my kids seem to dump everything and anything on it. I may now take a break to pull something out of the freezer for dinner (if there is something to pull out) or to throw a load of wash in.

All in all, my home office is, well, home. It’s where I’ve produced my best work. I’m comfortable. I can listen to any playlist I want. I can look out the window. I can work in my exercise clothes. My kids can pop their heads in for a quick hello when they get home from school. It is the magic that has helped me find the lifestyle balance I need.

More and more organizations are turning toward virtual work arrangements because they recognize that employees are more engaged and productive. In fact, Towers Perin (32,000 employees across 30 countries) performed a global workforce study in 2012 that confirmed the link between employee engagement and productivity. Many companies are therefore adapting their policies and procedures and giving employees, among many things, the flexibility to find balance. Under the proper conditions, telecommuting can offer that balance.

But it doesn’t work for everyone. The key to effectively working in a virtual environment is to ensure that you set up the proper environment.

Many of us at ABR work remotely. And I must say, it is a huge success. I joke all the time that when I worked in a corporate office every day, there were invisible walls that prevented our team from collaborating. Now I work remotely where real physical walls and miles exist, yet I collaborate with our team ALL day. How do we do it? We have a process in place for how we work together. Below are a few examples.

Tools: We use different types of tools that enable us to collaborate. For example, I can see what the team is doing all day on Microsoft Lync. If Karrin is in a meeting, then I might send her an instant message asking her to call me when she’s done. I can also post a message informing the team what time I’ll be back in my office if I need to be offsite. Our team lives and breathes on IM.

We also use Lync to share our desktops with each other. Sometimes it’s really helpful to see each other’s screens when we’re collaborating on a solution for one of our clients.

Meetings: We are very disciplined about our meetings. We hold staff meetings twice a month, which gives us a chance to catch up as a whole team. Since our meetings are always on Mondays, we spend the first couple of minutes discussing the previous weekend’s events. This is our “water cooler” talk. We then move into recognition, during which people offer kudos and thanks to team members for work well done. Sometimes we don’t get to the “real” business until 15 minutes into our meeting, but we feel that this time is valuable. The more connected we feel to each other, the more engaged we are.

While we are disciplined about scheduling regularly occurring meetings, we’re also not afraid to jump on the phone spontaneously in order to brainstorm or solve a particular issue. For instance, oftentimes when I’m designing a new program, it’s helpful to share my ideas with one of my team members to get some feedback. I’ll simply IM one of them and we’ll jump on the phone.

Process and Structure: ABR is not afraid to hit the pause button whenever we feel it’s needed. We always take the time to document our process amongst ourselves to ensure alignment across the team. It is easier to onboard new team members when we can spell out how we operate. We also spend a lot of time with our clients outlining how we work. Setting expectations up front helps us ensure we’re successful in meeting our clients’ needs.

These are just a few of the ways ABR successfully promotes working in a virtual environment. Do you work remotely? If so, what methods do you use to ensure success?

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