Telecommuting is a 21st Century Possibility – Part 4
Setting Up for and Evaluating Success
The streets were empty except for the main street that passed by the State Opera House on Andrássy út and Nyugati train station. It was National Day in Hungary and most of the residents had left for the weekend to avoid the mobs demonstrating in city squares. The police brigades were walking in full armor and prepared for any potential threat.
Most businesses were closed, but I had a deadline.
Searching for a fax machine or scanner in the central business district, I was suddenly accosted by screaming police sirens. I froze as patrol cars sped by and began blockading the street. There was a bomb threat in the train station on the corner where I was destined.
I turned around and went home. In place of a scanner, I took a digital photo of the document I planned to send, enlarged it, and emailed it to my colleagues for their meeting.
Setting up for and evaluating success will determine your longevity as a telecommuter. Though taking a digital photo in place of faxing or scanning was a pretty good improvisation and worked, I definitely needed a better solution in my offsite work office. Developing a work plan that essentially dissects all of your job functions and creates a road map for completing each of those functions is the best way to ensure success.
Your work plan should translate appropriate action steps into metrics. A good way to get started is to create a calendar with research, grant, and report deadlines, agreed upon meeting dates/times, and quantifiable actions with dates.
For example, quantifiable actions would include the number and date of expected research activities, phone calls to foundations or government program officers, outreach efforts to project managers, and other odds and ends related to your job. Essentially you are identifying all of your typical tasks and turning those tasks into measurable actions that will help you demonstrate your productivity.
Here are some considerations that should be incorporated into your work plan:
What hours will you work? Be realistic about both your personal needs and your organization’s needs. I agreed to work during regular business hours (EST) which meant that I was technically working from 2 pm to 10 pm Budapest time. This worked well for me because I tend to stay up late; and, it worked well for my supervisor because he could give me an assignment at 5 pm EST and I would have it completed by the time he logged in the next morning. Of course, this meant I was actually working before I was expected to be on the clock and an extra four hours each day. To compensate for my additional time, I was eventually granted Fridays off. The regular progress reports and performance reviews allowed an opportunity to make adjustments to my schedule.
How could you be reached? If you will be using video conferencing, instant messaging, email, telephone, or all of the above as your primary tools for communication, you will need to provide the requisite contact information. This includes phone numbers, user names, URL’s, etc.; and, you may also need to include instructions on how to use the tools. I used SKYPE so I could be available during office hours by video, instant messaging, and phone at a reasonable price. I acquired a local number so it didn’t cost my organization anything to reach me. However, I did have to download SKYPE onto my supervisor’s and some colleagues’ computers; and, I had to show them how to use the technology.
What will your responsibilities be and how will you fulfill them? For each of your major responsibilities, you will need to identify how you will accomplish the related tasks from your remote location. Writing grants and conducting online research seem pretty obvious; but, how will you mail the grant and related materials? Is there any information that you will need to have scanned or mailed to you?
Create a workflow document that breaks out each step associated with your major responsibilities and identify possible needs. This will help you to address any alternative measures necessary for completing tasks that require onsite personnel.
How will you stay informed of deadlines, important projects, and other work related information? You won’t be able to rely on others to keep you informed; and, it is unlikely that pointing the finger at someone else’s poor communication will take the heat off of you if a deadline is missed. You will need to identify what communication mechanisms already exist in your current work environment and whom the best person is to reach when you need information. You will need to schedule regular check-ins with not only your supervisor but also with other trusted colleagues.
How will you report progress? You will no longer be running into people by chance in the hallway or at the coffee kiosk (which is where many employees exchange information). The more you share, the more confidence your supervisor will have in your work from afar. Create a scheduled, written progress report to send to key people on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. If you have a shared database where information is managed, keep current with your entries. The more information you provide, the less likely your work will be questioned.
How will you ensure confidentiality with secure documents? If you regularly need access to delicate data or records, you may need to provide assurances that you have a secure network or office where information will be stored. You will need to talk to your IT and HR departments to identify preferred methods for managing sensitive content. I was able to use a company computer and secure login. Hard files required prior approval before removal from the office. However, I was able to have much of the information scanned and filed electronically in a secure electronic filing system.
What tools will you use to accomplish your responsibilities? Take a close look at your work plan and workflow. You will need to identify your technology needs (both hard ware and software). Basic equipment such as a phone, fax, computer, printer, and scanner are standard. But you will probably need a backup hard-drive and headset to use for high quality voice via Internet phone systems. It is best to have all of your necessary tools at your fingertips.
I had planned to access a fax and scanner through a business center in Budapest; but, unforeseen circumstances sometimes prevented access.
It will be very important that you test all of your equipment, software and hardware, in your new work environment (or another offsite location) before you begin your telecommute. Double-check access to databases and other necessary resources available electronically from offsite. Run through each step of your workflow using each of the identified tools to complete your task. For example, if you have a newer version of Word, colleagues with older versions may not be able to read your document.
Also keep in mind that if you plan to use a MAC and your organization uses PCs, you may have trouble using your organization’s mail systems, databases, etc. Remember that if these systems are designed for use with a PC, they may not be compatible with a MAC.
What possible obstacles do you foresee occurring and how will these obstacles be addressed? Anticipating obstacles and devising alternative solutions is important to your ultimate success. If you lose Internet access or electricity, you still need to get your work done on time. If you aren’t available for some reason, is there someone onsite who can fill your role? Some occurrences (such as bomb scares) can’t be predicted; but, accessing needed tools through business centers be a better back-up plan than standard business practice.
Answers to all these questions will address the basic issues that you will want to include in your work plan. In my case, I also added an end date.
I’m back in the office after a wonderful and quite successful telecommuting adventure. I returned to a promotion and new opportunities. I also paved the way for others at my organization to telecommute. In fact, shortly after my end date, a colleague used my work plan to create his own and successfully negotiated a full-time, permanent telecommuting position.
Now, rather than losing good employees, my organization offers flexible working arrangements in select, suitable situations as part of its employee relations efforts.
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Published September 16, 2009
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