5 Tips on how to telecommute and work off-site after a disaster

Shared Office Space
Office Sharing – Credit:LooseCubes

Lessons from SuperStorm Sandy – How to telecommute and be an effective remote worker.

Whether it’s part of your normal routine to work remotely or if you are forced to telecommute due to a natural event (think hurricane, wildfire or earthquake) there are a few tips you can follow. These can aid you in being productive while remaining flexible in your work hours and environment. Many of these can also be employed while in the office to keep you on track.

Check In – This is key to keeping your job, and to focus on what’s necessary for the main office. You want your boss and your co-workers to know you are okay and working. There is the unfortunate perception of “out of sight, out of mind” that happens to the off-site workers. In the event of a natural emergency like Sandy, employers want to know you are safe. Small offices typically have a go-to person that is often the receptionist or executive assistant to the boss. Larger corporations will have an HR representative or a designated disaster-relief coordinator. Let them know your status and make sure they have your contact numbers for normal work matters as well as for an emergency back-up. After you’ve established your ready to work, be sure to make (and keep) regular calls or appointments with your manager and peers. This keeps everything moving smoothly and in synch.

Work Space – Off-site workers should have a designated work space that is just for work. It can be as simple as a folding table that is set up for work and put away at the end of the day or a dedicated home office with all the trimmings – desk, chair, computer, phone line, multi-function printer/copier/fax, etc. If you can’t work out of your home, there are many alternatives as anyone who has visited a coffee shop has seen people staked out at tables with their laptops, cell-phones and stacks of work materials. Hotel lobbies can also be a workers haven for short periods. Libraries are often empty during the week-day and have free Wi-Fi. You can even find some free, temporary spaces using LooseCubes or LiquidSpace

A better solution, if you have the budget, is renting temporary work space. These are as simple as a first-come, first-taken cubicle to a furnished office with a receptionist. You can rent by the hour, the day or longer term. Two popular choices are Regus and Servcorp .

Don’t Over Communicate – People used to the buzz and camaraderie of the office may feel left out when working off site. It’s important to maintain a work flow and not get caught in the email trap of constantly checking for messages or emailing the office to find out what is happening. Likewise with other social media updates during the work day. Keep these to a minimum and avoid time consuming distractions. Calls to your peers should also be restricted, other than what’s necessary to check-in and stay current on projects. While the communications may feel helpful to you, they may cause resentment at the office and viewed as an interruption.

Keep A Journal – This can be as simple as a small paper notebook, or a notes file on your iPhone. It’s important to keep track of what you are doing and how long it’s taking. A quick status every 15 or 20 minutes is a small investment to monitor productivity and to record for your manager how you spend your time. Just write down a few words – “Conference call with Vanessa on Bueller design”, “Writing proposal for County” , “Emails” or “Coffee Break”. Look back on this at the end of the day, week and month for a quick snapshot of how you are spending your time. It’s often amazing to see how much effort is invested into an activity compared with the time we think was spent.

Set Limits – Just because you are not at the office, it doesn’t mean you are working 24 / 7. Set your schedule and make sure your manager, and peers, are aware of your hours and agree to respect them. There are always exceptions, and part of being a flex-time / off-site worker is to be flexible. Some companies feel the time you would have normally spent commuting to the office should be re-purposed as work time. Others understand that a four hour lunch break in the middle of the day for your volunteer activities is part of your package. What is important is to make sure everyone understands the expectations and to stick with them

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