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Telecommuting may be the ultimate employee benefit

BECKY GILLETTE

Some people might consider having their employer allow them to work at home at least part of the week even better than a promotion and wage increase. While this isn’t suited to all types of businesses, many jobs today involve working on the phone and Internet, which can be done just as easily in a home office as anywhere else.

I’ve been fortunate as a freelance writer and photographer to work at home for more than three decades. Early on, this was a huge benefit while raising my two children. I could be there for them when they were sick, before and after school, and during vacations. I expected to go back to work in an office after the kids were older. But by then I was spoiled by so many years with no commute time, no need to get dressed up, and being able to multi task cooking, cleaning, gardening, exercise, yoga and volunteer work with writing work.

Over the years, I’ve been asked how I manage discipline. Some people tell me they could never work at home because they need the structure of a group office environment. There are so many distractions at home. How do you make yourself do the work that pays the bills? When I first started working from home, I would get up, start cleaning or gardening, and pretty soon it would be noon. And, well, I’d already shot half the day, so why start working at the keyboard now?

I made a rule, one that has served me well. The rule is that after that first cup of coffee, I’m not allowed to do anything else until the writing work is done. I may have a long list of other things I want to get done that day. But it is nose-to-grindstone until I get the writing work done. I’m also at my peak mental output early in the day.

Lists. Lists. Lists. That is tip number two. Each day know exactly what you need to accomplish that day, and don’t leave the work station except for breaks until it is done.

Becky Gillette at Lake Lucerne

Third, it is really okay to tell your family and friends that you prefer calls and visits after working hours. People understand. You just have to train them.

Next is managing your “research” time. I can easily get distracted when doing research for an article. One interesting article leads to another and you can end up doing too much research and not enough work towards the final product.

A more recent issue is social media. Yes, it can be great way to share passions, see what friends across the country and world are up to, and stay closer to those you love even if they live far away. It can also be a huge time waster. A productivity sinkhole. So, unless posting to social media is part of your job, I’d advise relegating reading and responding on social media to after-work hours.

Online buying? Same thing. This is not work. This is spending money. Keep the two separate.

It can be extremely helpful, especially if you have others at home during work hours, to have a workspace in a room where you can close the door. Others aren’t going to want to hear you talking on the phone all the time, and you will find it difficult to concentrate if house mates are listening to music or television. Plus, you might be tempted to join them rather than get the work done.

And be kind to yourself with your office space. You deserve having a window for natural lighting. You deserve a very good, ergonomic office chair. And don’t try to hunch over a laptop. Work on desktop computer with a full keyboard. And if you work on the telephone a lot, invest in a quality headset.

Writing is a natural fit for telecommuting, but so is information technology (IT) work. My son works in IT, and recently traded at 2.5-hour daily commute for telecommuting from home most of the month. One of the first things he did was set up his desktop computer.

Another benefit of working at home? I must have missed at least a cold a year, maybe two, from not having to go into an office where I might be exposed to other workers or customers with a contagious virus. I’ve gone as long as ten years without the flu.

Of course, there can also be downsides to working at home. One if a lack of social interaction. Talking with someone on the phone is just not the same as face-to-face contact. It can be easy to get isolated. But this, too, just takes some planning. Plan to take a walk, go to the gym, play a sport, do a volunteer gig that connects you with people, join a book club or discussion group, and make plans to get together with family and friends.

One thing that I also highly recommend is taking regular breaks just like you would do in a regular office. But it is easier at home to do 15 minutes of stretches or ten minutes of weight lifting. This can be extremely helpful avoiding computer neck and computer back issues.

Remember. You’re the boss! So be good to yourself.   

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About Becky Gillette