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Jenifer McEnery

About Jenifer

Telecommuting is a 21st Century Possibility - Part 1

[Editor's Note: This is the first of a series of four articles. It is running jointly on E-Philanthropy and Technology Review and Grants and Foundations Review.]

Living abroad had long been a goal of mine and my husband. So when he came to me with a proposal to teach English in Budapest for six months, I jumped. (I mean I literally jumped!) I loved my work and, after seven years with my organization, was in a good position with exciting projects. Taking a six-month leave of absence would mean at best losing the benefits associated with my tenure and at worst mean risking the loss of my position.

It seemed as if I would have to choose between my career and fulfilling a personal commitment to my husband and myself.

Writing a grant proposal in a café one weekend I had an epiphany — I could telecommute! After all, this is the 21st century. Not to mention, most of my responsibilities could be accomplished electronically; and already I frequently held conference calls in lieu of face-to-face meetings to serve the needs of three remote campuses and busy faculty. Having worked for my organization for several years, I knew all the players well and had access to or knowledge of the critical information I would need for grant proposals.

Telecommuting could be the answer to my dilemma.

Let me tell you the end before I explain how I made it happen. The short version is that I spent six months telecommuting from Budapest, Hungary, returned to my job, and received a promotion a few months later.

However, proposing and negotiating my arrangement was not so simple. When I took the initial leap of faith and approached my supervisor — someone with whom I had a great relationship — I couldn’t have predicted that it would take another six months of convincing the chain of decision-makers to approve my request. In part, the problem was that my organization did not have a telecommuting policy; and, the fear of discrimination lawsuits if not all employees were allowed to telecommute ensued. Cost, productivity, oversight, and security were additional concerns. Although I do not think this is typical, I even had one individual concerned with whether I would be breaking international tax and residency laws if I worked while living abroad.

Over the course of four articles, I’ll share with you some of my adventures abroad (think bats and bomb scares). Additionally, I will address the questions that you should consider before proposing to telecommute. These include how to negotiate your position, how to prepare for implementing your course of action, and how to evaluate your success along the way.

As you read about my adventures, keep in mind that the research supporting telecommuting indicates that benefits are significant for both employers and employees. Employees experience improved work-life balance and reduced travel costs and other expenses associated with working in the office.

Employers gain happier, more productive employees. This translates into dollars saved from lower turnover and improved work output and quality.  In addition to increased productivity, employers also benefit from enhanced employer appeal and competitiveness for highly desirable employees. They gain increased available office space for employees required onsite.

Furthermore, employers leading and jumping onto the sustainability bandwagon see telecommuting as a positive way to go green and to reduce their employees’ impact on the road.

In most cases, I believe that a grant writer’s job is ideal for telecommuting. With significant cost savings for both employers and employees, what easier way exists for a grant writer to support a non-profit’s bottom-line in today’s economic climate while enhancing their own quality of life and reducing their individual impact on the environment?

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