The Blog

Going Virtual

According to the research firm Forrester, 34 million Americans work at home at least occasionally. That number is expected to hit 63 million, or 43% of the workforce, by 2016, almost doubling today’s count. Technology has made it easier than ever to work remotely. Wireless internet, instant messaging, web conferencing and collaboration software allow us to do our jobs seamlessly, regardless of our location. The word “work” is morphing from a place into an action.

Telecommuting is gaining in popularity among employees. People with long commutes, young children or aging parents welcome being able to work remotely, even occasionally.

Corporations can also see the benefits of virtual work. First, they can cut down on the cost of physical office space if some of their employees work remotely at least some of the time. If a company employs 200 people, but only needs office space for 150, that can represent a significant cost savings. Another advantage for employers is that they can expand their pool of candidates if they aren’t limited by geography. For example, a person who only needs to come into the office once a week or less often, may be willing to take on a longer commute in exchange for working from home on other days. If the employee doesn’t ever need to come into work, he or she could be anywhere in the world. Telecommuting is considered another perk in the work/life balance. Employers who offer a telework option also make themselves more competitive as more employees look to this work arrangement.

There is still some uncertainty among employers and employees surrounding telework. Many employees want to consider it, but aren’t sure if it is the right fit for them. Employers, on the other hand, realize that offering virtual work relationships can be beneficial, but don’t want to give up control or security. Here are some tips for determining who will make a good candidate for telework, as well as some guidance to ensure that the relationship goes smoothly for both workers and employers.

While telework is an attractive option for many people, it isn’t for everyone. If you’re an employee considering going virtual, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself to determine if you’re a good candidate for remote work:

  • Do I have the discipline? It can be incredibly difficult to stay on-task with a work project when the sink is full of breakfast dishes and there's a pile of laundry on the floor. There are many distractions at home. You have to be able to put them aside to focus on work. If you're the type that just can't get started on work until your house is in order (is it ever really in order?), working from home may not be for you.
  • Do I have the motivation? Are you awake every morning at 5:30 am ready for your run or do you need to have your personal trainer barking orders to make sure you get in your workout? People who are self-motivated do well working remotely. Others work better when at task master is there to keep them focused. 
  • Do I have the space? Remote workers are more successful when they have a designated office space with the proper equipment setup. While it is possible to work while lounging on your bed, it isn’t advisable. It is best to have a place to “go” so you can mentally leave home and go into work mode. It is also easier to stay organized if your projects aren’t mixed up with your grocery list and kids’ homework.
  • Do I have the right personality type? Some people love the freedom of working remotely while others find it downright lonely. If you are an extrovert, deriving energy from people around you and enjoying the camaraderie of others during the work day, you may want to go into an office to work.

If you determine that working remotely is for you, you still need to address the logistical hurdles with your employer. It helps to set up expectations beforehand. Here are some questions employees and their managers should discuss before taking on telework:

  • What does remote work look like in this organization?
  • What are the expectations?
  • How "plugged in" do employees have to be? Are email and IM responses expected in seconds, minutes or hours? (Typically, managers would expect you to respond immediately - in about the same time it would take for them to walk to your office.)
  • How is activity and productivity measured?
  • What mistakes have others made?
  • What are your success stories?
  • Who will pay for any necessary equipment or technology?

If employees and employers have concrete answers to these questions, they will be better able to navigate virtual work arrangements.

Statistics show that the telework trend will continue to get more popular. Employees should first establish that they are good candidates for working remotely and then work with their managers to establish parameters up front to ensure a successful virtual work experience.

Photo Credit: The Guardian