- Job requirements
- Required work skills
To get started as a telecommuter, you must be sure you have what it takes to work alone, and then you need to have a number of logistical things in place. We have categorized the various items into three groups: you and your office, your company and colleagues, and the connections to/from your office. The most important factors for each of these are:
You and your Office
- Quiet office space
- Ergonomic office equipment (desk, chair, keyboard, lighting)
- Large computer display
- Phone headset (wired or wireless)
- Video Web camera
Your Company and Colleagues
- Your manager’s support
- Your team’s support
- A job that is telecommutable
- Secure remote access to your company’s internal resources
- High-speed internet connection
- Unlimited local and long-distance phone service
- Dedicated business phone line
- International calling service (low cost)
- Secure remote data backup service
Each of these are described in more detail below.
You and your Office
- Self-motivation—And self-discipline are the most important work traits you’ll need to be an effective telecommuter. You must be able to keep motivated and maintain productivity to show the skeptics that remote work can be effective. You must also have self-discipine to know when to stop working each day so you don’t burn-out. Burn-out is very common for teleworkers who work at home as the work is always nearby.
- Quiet office space—One of the great benefits of telework is you can often work for long stretches in peace without interruptions from office mates taking frequent social visit breaks or from noisy phones and loud conversations over the cubical wall. However, if you work at home and have a house full of young children, that old noisy office environment may seem like a better deal. It is important, therefore, that you establish a quiet and private environment at home or in a local telework office so you can think clearly and so that your local noise sources don’t cause distruption during teleconferences. Asking your family to not disturb you during work hours can work well if you have a door to your home office and relatively soundproof walls.
- Ergonomic office equipment—It is very important to have the same level of ergonomics in your home or remote teleworking office as you likely would have in a traditional office space. Having the correct desk height, back supporing chair, ergonomic keyboard, adequate task lighting, and a good pointing device (mouse, trackball, or graphics tablet) is critical to your long term physical well-being.
- Large computer display—Having as large and as high a resolution display as money will allow is wonderful for being able to display shared documents along side local reference material as you work through issues with colleagues. Keep in mind that your computer display substitutes for office desk space when you are working virtually.
- Phone headset—Your neck will not last long with a phone pinched between your ear and your shoulder. This is especially true for telecommuters that often spend hours at a time in back-to-back conference calls. Therefore, spend the money on a good quality and comfortable headset. See the tips section on headsets for more information.
- Video Web camera—If you would like to try out video with your colleagues, you must have a high-speed internet connection to start with, and a good quality web camera. The less expensive cameras with their cheap lenses will make you look inflated (fish-eye effect). We have found that video only starts to get interesting and useful when the image of the other person is near life-size, very nearly real-time in motion, and of at least VGA resolution (640×380 pixels).
Your Company and Colleagues
- Your manager’s support—This is perhaps the most critical element of a successful telecommuting experience. Your manager, and ideally his/her manager must fully support you being a telecommuter. They must be committed to meeting at least weekly to stay in touch and in general they must treat you as they do the other team members in terms of job assignments and recognition.
- Your team’s support—If you work closely with others on projects, they also most support you being a telecommuter. This is much easier if they are also telecommuters, but if not, then they must at least be willing to install and learn to use the various communications technologies that make virtual work more productive. In fact, even traditional office workers will likey find that they too are more productive when they use these tools.
- A job that is telecommutable—It may seem obvious, but to be a telecommuter, you must have a job where a significant portion of the work can be done remotely. Jobs such as crane operator, race car driver or massage therapist can’t be done very well remotely. There are, however, thousands of jobs where 100% of the work is telecommutable. Examples include financial analyist, software engineer, program manager, Web designer, writer, tech support, order processing, buyer, or graphic artist. Pretty much any job that involves mostly computer work is telecommutable.
- Secure remote access to your company’s internal resources—Depending on your company’s policies regarding data security, and your need to access company information on internal Web sites and databases, you will likely need to have encrypted access through your company’s firewall. This is easily accomplished with a large number of technologies today. You will need to work with your company IT and network security departments to get setup. Usually what happens is you are given software for your home computer that can create what is called a VPN, or Virtual Private Network connection with the computers at your work. This is essentially a secure, encrypted tunnel for your data to travel securely. Once setup, it is easy to use. If your company is more lax about security, then you can probably use a tool such as GoToMyPC® to access a computer in your office and use that as an access point for your company data.
- High-speed internet connection—If you do any remote desktop sharing, extensive Web browsing, or especially video over the internet, you must have a high-speed connection to your place of work, and the faster the better. It is best not to cut cost and purchase a slow DSL connection. Speeds for these budget DSL links can be so slow that participating in a multi-way NetMeeting becomes problematic, with hangups and slow response being a big issue. So, look for speeds of at least one Mbps downstream and 384Kbps upstream.
- Unlimited local and long-distance phone service—If you make a lot of lengthy calls to colleagues (e.g., daily conference calls), then you will likely be best off paying for an unlimited phone service of some sort.
- Dedicated business phone line—It is probably obvious, but if you work from home, you will definitely want to install a separate phone line for business calls. This line should include voice mail service so missed calls can be captured in a secure way. A home answering machine is not secure enough for many companies.
- International calling service—International calling can be particularly expensive, so if you make frequent calls to international locations, you should try to find some sort of international long-distance calling plan. There are many services available today that are low-cost and easy to use. Just one example is OneSuite®. Another option is to opt for an internet based phone service such as Skype® or Vonage®. You must be careful with these if your internet connection is also busy with video or desktop sharing traffic as this can distrupt the quality of the voice service.
- Secure remote data backup service—And, finally, one absolutely critical thing you must have in place is some form of PC backup. This can be something you do manually each day, but it must be done consistently to be effective. You also must be sure to keep copies of your data offsite, away from your telecommuting location. This minimizes the chances of data loss in the event of a dissaster such as fire, earthquake, flood or theft. One very easy way to satisfy both the backup and offsite requirements here is to signup for one of the internet-based system backup services. Some examples of this are the services from Iron Mountain® or Carbonite.