PART-TIME TELEWORK SEEMS LIKE THE PERFECT compromise: You get to reduce your commute, eliminate some distractions, and occasionally work in your bathrobe, while still scoring a significant amount of face time at the office.
Indeed, bouncing between home and office can be bumpy, as Judith Lederman, owner of JSL Publicity & Marketing in Irvington, N.Y., found when a client asked her to work on-site three days a week. “It’s been a tremendous adjustment,” says Lederman, who’s been homebased since 1989. With the blare of speakerphones, the general buzz of office chatter, and her client’s too-tight quarters, “it’s been very difficult to get used to,” she adds.
On the positive side, Lederman has learned that cubicle life has some advantages, not least of which is her client’s speedy T1 line for Internet access. Then there’s the human touch: “Just having people around to brainstorm or schmooze with can be invigorating,” Lederman admits. “That’s the kind of thing being in a traditional office is good for.”
These ups and downs are typical, says Gil Gordon, owner of Gil Gordon Associates in Monmouth Junction, N.J., which consults with companies on telecommuting and virtual office programs. “Until you really settle in, that switching-back-and-forth thing can be a little disconcerting.”
Fortunately, with some planning and a few adjustments, you can make an alternating arrangement work in your favor. These six tips will help.
Be Flexible Rather than expecting to accomplish the same things wherever you are, a better approach is to use the different work environments to your advantage. “Plan your week and figure out what you’ll work on at home and at the office,” suggests Martha Buxton, director of marketing at TeleCommute Solutions in Atlanta, which implements large-scale corporate telework programs.
For example, use time in the office for face-to-face meetings and group planning sessions, and save solitary computer and phone work for home. Matching your tasks to the environment also makes it easier to anticipate which files and equipment you’ll need for the day.
Make Yourself at Home If you’re a part-time telecommuter who has a desk at headquarters to call your own, you’re lucky. Many companies can’t afford to have workspace go unused and instead use a “hoteling” system in which workers reserve space in advance.
“We hotel on a first-come, first-served basis,” explains Buxton–which means late arrivers are out of luck, although the company does provide each teleworker a locking cabinet for file storage. When Lederman arrives at her client’s office, she’s directed to whatever space is available that day–a nomadic arrangement that usually means schlepping files from cube to cube.
To feel more comfortable and less temporary, bring a few small items from home, such as a picture of the kids or your favorite mousepad or headset. But “always leave your workspace the way you found it,” Lederman advises. Hopefully, others who use the space will do the same for you.
Learn to Share It’s easy to get used to always being the first one–make that the only one–in line for the fax machine. “At home, I have my own printer, my own fax,” says Lederman. But at her client’s office, a staff of 60 shares just one of each.
Again, plan your tasks for your location. For example, save print and fax jobs for days when you’re home; in the office, take advantage of any equipment you don’t have at home, such as a heavy-duty copier that collates and staples, or a large-format or color laser printer.
Take It With You
Toting your laptop from home to office? Make sure you always have all the necessary connection gear on hand, advises Jim Sinocchi, director of executive and internal communications for the Personal Systems Group at IBM. Sinocchi works at home one day a week and spends the rest of his time shuttling between IBM’s main and satellite offices.
To stay productive, he’s loaded onto his hard disk the appropriate drivers for printers in each of the locations, and he keeps plenty of extra cables in his bag. Anything that minimizes setup time and frustration when switching offices–whether it’s a notebook port replicator or docking station for quick connection and disconnection from multiple cables, or remote-access and file-syncing software such as Symantec’s pcTelecommute ($100; 800-441-7234, www.symantec.com)–is a smart investment, agrees Gordon.
Be Easy to Find
Shuttling back and forth can make it hard for clients and colleagues to find you. At the very least, change your voice-mail message each day at home and at work to clarify where you’ll be.
Better still, to avoid confusing everyone–including yourself–with your changing numbers and whereabouts, forward calls from one location to the other. More simply, you can use a cell phone so callers can reach you wherever you are, or consider a “follow-you-anywhere” phone service such as Ameritech’s EnRoute.
Stick to Your Schedule Depending on the nature of their work, full-time telecommuters may be able to sleep all day and toil in the wee hours, but part-timers should proceed with caution. “While [you] might be tempted to adopt a radically different schedule [at home], it’s probably not a good idea,” says Gordon. “The less you stray from what would be comfortable at the office, the better. The bottom line is to assume that you might have to go into the office.”
Gordon also cautions against major lifestyle changes, such as moving farther away from the corporate office or starting a macrobiotic diet you’ve always wanted to try. If your work schedule changes and you wind up back at the office full time, you’ll face a longer commute or the challenge of keeping up with a high-maintenance diet at the corporate cafeteria.
FACTS & STATS
Desktop Pressure Cooker
Technology can be a double-edged sword for teleworkers and office-bound employees alike: While 55 percent of respondents to a recent Kensington Technology Group survey said technology makes them more productive, almost as many (47 percent) blame it for increasing stress as noted below.
Fortunately, today’s competitive job market is putting pressure on employers to sweeten the pot by offering flexible work schedules and telecommuting options, as well as higher compensation and incentives.