I have been fortunate. For most of my adult life, I have been able to telecommute to work. Indeed, from 2000 through 2007, I was able to hold a position as a corporate vice president at a 700+ employee company. During that time, I only had to make a total of 5 business trips, totaling 11 nights away from home. My wife and kids (when they were home) accompanied me on most of those trips, just so they could see places that they would never otherwise have visited.
Because I worked at home, I was able to watch my kids grow up and help my wife around the house so that she could get out and about each day. I was also happy to avoid driving to work and the need to be “dressed for work.” More importantly, I was effective. In 2004, my company’s sales force named me employee of the year – an honor that generally did not go to executives. The following year, one of my direct reports received the award. A year later, when the company adopted a new quarterly “Going the Extra Mile” award, my direct report and I received the first two. Like me, the fellow who reported to me worked from home.
Neither of us had jobs that are traditionally viewed as telecommuting positions. I was my company’s Vice President for Legal Affairs and my direct report was our only contracts paralegal. Every deal that my company considered had to come through my department and we were busy! At the same time, we were also pleasant with our co-workers and responsive to their needs in ways that most of them told me they had never experienced at other jobs.
I believe that most workers can make the case for telecommuting, especially after they have been on the job for a year or two and have proven that they are good workers. Of course, there are some jobs that do not lend themselves to telecommuting, such as cashiers, retail sales people, janitorial services and other jobs that require a hands on presence. If you work in an office or a cube, however, you may find that the best way to get a better job is to persuade your boss that you should be working from home. Here are some ways to help you make your case.
Be a Hard Worker
For the first two years that I worked for my company, I was working very hard. I got to the office at 6am and left at 4pm for dinner. After dinner, I would work for another four or five hours. Before leaving for the office in the morning, I checked my e-mail and responded to all my messages before I left for the office. I very quickly had a reputation for hard work and my boss appreciated it. When the time came for me to work from home, I started by working at home one day a week and then two. Soon I was working every day from home, with my boss’s full support. When other colleagues protested, my boss told them that I get more done from midnight til 3am from home than others do from 9am til 5pm at the office.
Before you can try to work at home, you need to know whether you can work at home. If you need to be on the phone all day but you cannot be sure that your kids or dog will be quiet in the background, you should not tell your boss that you want to work from home. First you need to find a place in your home where you can actually work. I set up an office with a dedicated phone and fax line (for which my company agreed to reimburse me after I officially started being home based). After you have a dedicated place to do your work, you also need to make sure your housemates (whether family or otherwise) are prepared to let you work. You will really need to impress on the people around you that for their purposes, you are not “there.”
Consider the Time Savings from not having to Commute
If you are working more than 8 hours per day, as I think many or most of us are doing, you should remind your boss that if you work at home you will have many more hours available for work. I used to have a 30 minute commute to work and it took me about 30 minutes to shave, shower and dress for work. If I factored in 30 minutes a week from unexpected delays, I saved about 8 hours per week, at a minimum, and was able to put that time to good use getting work done.
Consider the Added Efficiency of not Having to Juggle Personal Appointments
As soon as I started working at home, scheduling contractor visits to my house or school meetings became easy. If a contractor had to come to my home, I did not have to miss a day of work because I could work while the contractor was at my home. I did not have to leave work early for parent teacher conferences. I just scheduled them around my work day. Although everyone in an office notices when you are not at your desk, no one notices when you are not at home as long as you get your work done.
The fellow who reported to me had a dog that had to be walked at lunch time. When he worked in the office, he was gone for 75 minutes every day so that he could walk his dog (30 minutes each way and 15 minutes of walking). He did not get any down time at lunch because he was always rushing home. As soon as he started working at home, his productivity soared because he was able to spend 15 minutes walking his dog and still have time to eat lunch.
Recognize that When you Work at Home, You are Always at Work
I showed my boss that when I was working from home, I was always at work. Saturday morning, I answered all of the e-mail that my colleagues on the West Coast had sent me on Friday night. With my e-mail so close at hand, I never wanted anything in my in-box. Jerry, the chap who reported to me, felt the same way. We often had people complain that they sent us questions on Friday night because they hoped we would not get to them until Tuesday. When we answered on Saturday morning, their productivity went up because they had no choice but to complete projects on Monday morning.
There is No Water Cooler Time
When I worked in an office, I was constantly beset by people who wanted to chat. As soon as I started working from home, I was able to filter out all of the unnecessary chit-chat. As soon as the business discussion ended, I was able to hop off the phone and get back to work. Of course, I did not work non-stop, but if I needed a break I would put in a load of laundry or take a few minutes to empty the dishwasher. I was able to eliminate a small personal domestic responsibility and not spend the last half of my day figuring out how to get everything done when I got home at night. It all added up to increased productivity at my job.
Your Family will not put Pressure on You to Work Less
As soon as I started working at home, there was no more pressure for me to come home in time for dinner or to get to a ball game. At six o’clock, I could get up from my desk and go have dinner with my family. If I needed to go do more work after dinner, no one minded. If my kids needed help with homework after school, they came into my office to do it and I could pause to help them with their math or science and get back to work 4 minutes later. My family was happy and that made me happy. That ultimately made my boss happy.
Gently Remind your Boss that You will become a More Loyal Employee Working from Home
You and your boss both need to acknowledge that it is a benefit to be able to work at home. You need to appreciate the fact that your boss is willing to let you work from home and reward your boss by going the extra mile for him or her when your help is needed. You do not need to become a doormat, but you do need to make it clear from the early going that you are your boss’s ally. Your loyalty to your boss will ensure that your boss remains loyal to your home-office assignment.
Don’t Forget about the Savings that Your Company Can Enjoy if You Work from Home
If you are working from home, you do not need to take up office space. Office space costs money so by keeping you at home, your company can use space that would otherwise have been assigned to you for other purposes. You also will not take up space in the parking lot or use up any of the overhead costs that you would otherwise have generated being in the office.
You Won’t Spread Disease
I realize that you probably would not go to work with the mumps or measles but you very likely would go to work with a bad cold or some other communicable disease that could infect your co-workers. Even though you can make it through the work day if you are sick, you might make some of your colleagues get sick and then they will miss work because of it. If you can work from home, you do not have to risk infecting your peers and making them miserable and your department run shorthanded.
You Can Better Assess your Direct Reports and You Can Be Better Assessed by Your Boss
If you are not in the office, there is much less opportunity for politicking. That means that your direct reports will have to impress you with their work and you will have to impress your boss with your work. Being based in a home office is the great equalizer because it filters out all of the sizzle and forces employees to be assessed based on their substance.
Your Company Can Relocate and You can Relocate but the Company does not have to Lose You
If you work in an office and the company decided to move its office space 200 miles away, you either have to move or look for a new job. If you have a home office, you can work from home regardless of where your company is located.
In 2000, I moved to Florida even though my boss was based in Massachusetts. I was able to move because my boss trusted me to get my work done wherever I was located and she did not want to lose me. A year later, my company was sold (twice, actually) and my new boss was based in suburban Chicago. I stayed in Florida and contentedly worked from home. Three years later, my company relocated from the Chicago area but I continued working from Florida. I was never interrupted by an office move and I was never troubled by the location of my company. I actually did not meet in person a majority of my bosses over the past seven years because, as one of my company president’s once commented to a new boss of mine, “you do not need to meet Dave because he is always working and you do not want to get in his way!”
Home-based Workers are not Subject to the Weather
I used to live in Massachusetts and snow storms would often keep my office closed. When you work from home, you can work through the weather regardless of what the weather is doing outside. I have worked through major blizzards and through major hurricanes (including a week when my company was shut down due to a hurricane a few years ago).
Home-based Workers are less likely to have Conflict with Co-Workers
It is inevitable that people working in close quarters in an office may develop some hostility at times. That hostility may be compounded from day to day and week to week. If more workers are working from home, there is less opportunity for worker hostility to disrupt their department’s efficiency.
Home-based Workers have Lower Job-Related Costs
Working at home does not require nearly the investment in clothing that working in an office requires. I have been wearing shorts and a t-shirt to “my office” for the past decade. On the rare occasions that I go into an office, I feel like I am going to church because I have to get all dressed up. My personal comfort aside, I realize that I have saved a few thousand dollars in the past decade by not having to buy suits or a lot of “business casual” attire. I also have not had to spend money on gas or car maintenance to go to work. This has saved me many thousands more. I am not greedy and my bosses have always known that I do not mind pinching my raise a bit each year because I readily acknowledge that I am saving money by not going into an office. Indeed, very often, I would direct a portion of my raise to my direct reports so that they could have bigger raises. I never could have done that if I needed my raise to buy new clothes or to pay for commuting costs.
Allowing Workers to Telecommute is Environmentally Friendly
Companies that allow workers to telecommute are helping the environment and that looks good to investors and to the public. Every employee that works from home reduces the carbon emissions associated with getting to work (unless the worker walks or bikes to work). In all likelihood, it also helps to reduce the amount of trash that the worker would generate during a typical work day because the worker will not be stopping at Starbucks or grabbing a takeout meal.
If you want to telecommute, you are going to have to convince your boss that it is in the company’s best interest to do so and the above arguments should give you some good ammunition to make your case.