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I’ve Been Teleworking Since 2001. Here’s How I Make it Work

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At my job in the 1900s (you guess the decade), my supervisor told us that she wouldn’t approve our working from home anymore. That was too bad, because I always accomplished much more from my den than I did in the office. I didn’t have the distractions, and amazingly, I had the discipline to to focus on my work.

Mind you, I was working from home in addition to—not instead of—my regular office hours. It was a paper and print-driven office from the Dark Ages.

Fast forward to 2001, at a different job. I realized that it was best for me to find a job that allowed me to work from home nearly every day. I’d been freelancing on top of my day job and working on web and digital media since 1995. So, I was already working from home and accomplishing an amazing amount of work.

When I broached the subject, I needed to convince my supervisors that I would produce great work from home, and that at times, teleworking would be a necessity. I thought of explanations, justifications, and I even prepared a few visuals—just in case. But I figured that perhaps I should just ask.

It worked.

I’ve since left that job, but I still needed to make my supervisors feel comfortable with my work arrangement. Here’s how I’ve “survived” these 14 years by making my work…work.

  • I have an office space.

There’s nothing like having a space devoted just to work. Sitting at the dining room table or on the bed doesn’t compare to the comfort of working from a desk. It’s easier to stay organized (most days) and keep my office clear. A separate space also helps me “leave work at the office” when I’m done for the day. Of course, I do have days of slipping back to “the office,” but I can keep work and my personal time separate when I don’t feel like I’m sitting or lying on “my desk.”

  • I use ergonomic equipment.

After I experienced a repetitive strain issue, while working in a traditional office, I learned the value of ergonomics. When I transitioned to my home office, I knew I needed to have equipment that would ease potential injuries. Now, if I have to work in an uncomfortable space or position, it’s a sure path to pain.

  • I am accountable.

After I turned 29 a few times (ha!), I needed some help detailing what I do each day. Now I keep a work journal, and even better, I have notes and progress info for my projects. Toodledo is my BFF, and our team can see my current tasks. This is great for accountability since my work is verifiable, and I don’t have to panic when someone asks, “What did you work on yesterday?”

  • I avoid distractions.

It’s 2015, people, so there’s no need to worry that we teleworkers will be lying on the sofa, talking on the phone, and watching TV. Oh, no—there are more interesting distractions: Texting, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and my jam: Twitter. The key for me is moderation, since keeping current with social media is actually a part of my job (ahem!).

  • I take breaks.

When I first started teleworking, I felt obligated to work uninterrupted, so I rarely took breaks. That turned out to be a fast track to Burnout City. I try to stand up every 15 minutes, walk while I’m on the phone, exercise my eye(s), and stretch.

If I can’t make sense of a project or the task seems too hard, I make a cup of tea. Focusing on something else for five minutes usually does the trick, and I’m rewarded with a burst of energy and productivity.

If I was on a roll with a task, I thought that it was best to work straight through lunch, and some days I wouldn’t eat until dinner…then, I finally got burnt out. It should go without saying that taking care of oneself should come before even work, but even I need this reminder. I make sure I eat and drink plenty of water.

  • I interact with my colleagues.

I spend the bulk of my time on conference calls or in a virtual meeting room, so I don’t lack contact with many of my colleagues. But it’s a bit different than the conversations that flow when you pass in the hallway or go for coffee. I make it a point to meet my co-workers for lunch; granted, they’re mostly working lunches, but the time with them is still fun and productive.

  • I have a “Plan B.”

It was years before anything went wrong with my equipment, or I had a with power outage, or phone and ‘net connection failure. When the power outage finally happened, I panicked but quickly recovered with a sprint to my local coffee shop.

If a crisis arises, I have six nearby places from which I can work, and I know how noisy each is and if I’ll get in trouble for laughing or groaning with my co-workers on the phone (thanks, Ron).

I also keep updated on my agency’s policies for accessing our network. That way, I’m not exposing our network or my documents to vulnerabilities.

Do you have tips for making telework better? Share your thoughts below!

Angela Hooker is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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7 Comments

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Profile Photo Angela Hooker

Thanks very much! Having a Plan B probably has done more for ensuring that I can be trusted to work remotely, even when a crisis arises…especially since there’s no such thing as a fire drill when you’re teleworking from home!

Profile Photo Junebfl

Angela,
It appears that teleworkers work harder than traditional workers. I observe coworkers lounging in the PM for their afternoon tea, shopping in the canteen or frivolous office talk which has no value.

I telework once a week and I am satisfied with that as my position requires interaction. Great article, Angela. Thanks.

Profile Photo Angela Hooker

Thanks, June! You hit the nail there; I definitely work harder from home than when I’m in the office. There are too many distractions for the type of work I do when I’m there. At home, where it’s quiet, it’s easier to focus and make real progress.

But you’re right—it’s critical for everyone to know the best place for them to work. Since your work is driven by interaction, or for people who do better working around others or in a bustling space, home alone isn’t the right place.

Profile Photo Amber V Hammond

Spot-on advice, Angela! I’ve been working from home since 2012 and love it. It really suits my personality and work style. However, sometimes I find it hard to remember to take breaks, so I employ the Pomodoro method (and use a phone app by the same name) to help break up the day and force me to take breaks to refresh my mind and body. Thanks for the Toodledo recommendation. I’ve been using a notebook to track my tasks through the day in case I ever need to account for my activity, but I’ll check out that link!

Profile Photo Angela Hooker

Thanks, Amber! I’ll have to check out the Pomodoro app. I’ve been doing a modified version of that method, but I didn’t even realize it. I’m glad to know its name!

If Toodledo doesn’t work for you, there’s always others like Remember the Milk. I must have evaluated five or more similar tools.

BeaKline

I want to telework a few days a week but the State of Maryland will have no part of it. The State of Maryland website states “in favor of teleworking and gives all the right reasons….then flatly states no way when the subject is brought up. I did the same type of work for a private company and teleworked over 50% and it worked well. I am used to meeting deadlines and would love to work without the commute, office distractions and drama.