How To Buck The Trend Against Working From Home

By Larry Buhl

Yahoo's recent ban on telecommuting -- an effort meant to "raise employee morale"-- raises questions about the possible downsides of work-from-home jobs. Statistics from the Telework Research Network show that half of the U.S. workforce has jobs that are compatible with at least part-time telecommuting, and nearly eight in 10 employees would like to work from home. But if being out of sight also means being out of mind, telecommuting might not be worth the benefits.

Experts agree that working from home does not necessarily stall careers. But they do have several recommendations for determining whether it's right for your situation and how to make it benefit you and your employer. Follow company policies to the letter. This is to protect you as much as the company, according to Chuck Wilsker, president and CEO of TelCoa, a nonprofit telework education and advocacy organization. "The more procedures and expectations are set up for supervisors and employees, the safer the transition to telecommuting will be," Wilsker says.

Wilsker adds that if you're interested in working from home and your company doesn't have a formal policy, go to the human resources department with some recommendations for setting up a program. "Make it a standard agreement that states the mutual benefits, outlines the responsibilities of you and your supervisor and determines how your performance will be assessed," he says.

Use technology for "face time." Face-to-face meetings not only provide valuable visual cues and camaraderie but they also remind others that you're part of the team. When you're out of the office, find ways using technology to get face time. Whenever possible, choose video chat over emails and Web conferencing over phone calls.

Be proactive. Diane Stegmeier, founder and CEO of workplace change management consulting firm Stegmeier Consulting Group in Ohio, says working from home requires an even stronger ownership of your career. "That means proactively communicating with the manager about the results you're achieving and asking for new assignments that fuel career growth," Stegmeier says. "Don't wait to be asked to come in for a team or individual meeting. Instead, occasionally plan days to work on-site in the corporate offices. And reach out to colleagues to schedule brainstorming sessions to support team projects."

Document your accomplishments. This will help keep your boss in the loop and give you a strong record of achievement to draw from during performance review time, according to Barb Safani, CEO of New York-based career management and executive coaching firm Career Solvers. By consistently showcasing your productivity through your accomplishments, you help support your case for your telecommuting arrangement.

Assess how well you concentrate. An upside to working from home is not having anyone looking over your shoulder. That's also a downside for those who are lured by daytime TV, dirty floors, laundry or even a comfy bed. The bottom line: If you're easily distracted, you probably shouldn't work from home.

Test it out. Telecommuting doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. In fact, far more employees telecommute just one or two days out of the week. If you think your job would be right for telecommuting, try it one day a week or one day a month.
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