Re: Telecommuting Advice?

Subject: Re: Telecommuting Advice?
From: Jeffrey Osier-Mixon <jefro -at- jefro -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2005 13:25:37 -0700

I have been telecommuting full-time since 1999, part-time for two years before that. The main purpose was to be at home and around the house while my toddler (who is now 8) was still a toddler. Initially we lived about 45 minutes from the office, but took advantage of the situation to move farther out. In 2000 we moved about 2 hours away, and I was going in about once a month. In 2001 we moved way out, about 4 hours, and I got a pilot's license that makes the distance a little over an hour---close enough to be home for dinner, most of the time.
The major concerns I had at the beginning were: time management, family management, work management, and job security fears. I also hear you worrying about isolation. I'll tackle each of these briefly.

- Isolation: this can be a blessing or a curse. For me and my family, it is a blessing. We are able to live where we want to live, but that has ended up being in a small town of 5000 people, mostly loggers, retirees, or professional artists examining their own navels. There are very few high-tech folks around, and those who are here came here for the relative isolation. Sometimes I wish there were more folks around who understand what the heck I'm talking about when I'm excited about my job, or are even interested. On the other hand, it has given me motivation to explore my hobbies outside the office, as well as hobbies I probably wouldn't have considered if I had continued to live in the city.
The advice to take from this is to examine your values---decide how you want to spend your time. If you want to spend it at work, discussing work, then perhaps the isolation won't work for you. If you work for money but your heart is in gardening, or canoeing, or whatever, then telecommuting makes perfect sense, as you can live where your heart is but still achieve your earning potential. (Believe me, there are very few jobs in small towns that pay as well as technical writing.)

- Time management: a very valid fear. When you live with your own fridge and manage your own time with no one looking over your shoulder, you have to be disciplined. Personally I have found that a lack of distraction makes it much easier for me to get into my own little head and do what I need to do, to the point where I find myself a few hours later having acccomplished a LOT of work without looking up once. It is my preferred method of work. Not that there aren't distractions---the internet is always there. But I find that if I allow myself an hour or two a day to fart around, research things, read the techwr-l list, etc., I can then devote myself heart and soul to whatever I am working on. I also find that meditating each day at lunchtime, even 15 minutes or so, really helps me to focus.
I also find that telecommuting sets me free during the week to run errands, go to the dentist, etc. as long as I make up the time later in the evening, or at night after kids go to sleep. But I set my time limits before I start working, and I stick to them like glue. More than anything else, I have learned that my time is my own, and that is a very empowering lesson.

- Family management: this one really depends on the family. They have to be bought into the idea that when you are "in the office" your time must be respected. I still get visits pretty regularly to hear about the latest dinosaurs or math problems (we are homeschooling) but when I close my door, the family knows to stay behind it. The benefit is that making that decision is something that is instantaneous, and I get to spend my lunches with the people who matter most to me.

- Work management: it sounds like you have already done The Confrontation with your employer. I struggled mightily with mine and eventually left the company to find one that would allow me to telecommute. (And made about a 40% raise in the process---but that was 1998.) Many managers are fearful about coping with offsite employees. You can alleviate their fears by being on the ball, communicating well, having complete integrity, and getting things done. Same as in an office, really.

- Job security fears: this one is very real. I now live a 4 hour drive away from the center of employment for my particular niche (computer hardware documentation). That means if I get laid off, I'm in deep stink. It happened once---I was out of work for 2 months in 2002, the worst possible time in the last decade for a hardware technical writer to be out of work. I eventually convinced my last job that they still needed documentation, worked there for another two years, and left to join a startup last fall.
Job hunting from the far corners is not an impossible task, but it does take some effort---much more effort---than an in-town hunt where you can show up for an interview on the spur of the moment. I get about 10% of the callbacks I used to get when advertising myself locally. But, those 10% are much better qualified, because I state up front that I telecommute and my experience shows that it works for me.

- Travel fears: I hate business travel. Staying away from home is the absolute pits in my opinion. Before we moved out-far, I got a private pilot certificate so that I could fly myself back and forth to work, and we moved out as far as we could so that I could fly out in the morning, have my meetings and power lunches, and be back the same day. It has worked marvelously, and most of the time my boss finds ways for me NOT to come to the office. I have even had co-workers drive up here to meet with me while enjoying a weekend away from the city.
The lesson here is that there is always a way to do what you want to do, but sometimes you need to look for the non-obvious solution. And you need to make sure you actually know what you want.

I hope this helps, sorry for the length

Anyone have any advice for someone about to start telecommuting and how to deal with the usual stuff--boredom, distractions, lack of "face time" with others? How do I keep from getting so starved for adult conversation that I latch onto strangers at the grocery store or talk my husband's ears off? How do I keep from rearranging the furniture in the house or doing my spring cleaning when I'm supposed to be working? I'd like to know what's worked for other people.


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Telecommuting Advice?: From: Jones, Donna

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