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Telecommuting can reduce traffic, pollution, improve morale and save workers money and wear and tear on their car. More....

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- by E.A. Zimmerman

When businesses increase traffic, the surrounding community can get cranky.  To avoid this, some companies are making other options available to employees, by encouraging carpooling, vanpooling, use of public transportation and biking to work; offering alternative or staggered work schedules; videoconferencing; and telecommuting.   These approaches cut down on traffic jams, reduce wear and tear on cars and roads, and decrease the likelihood of accidents.  In addition, they reduce gasoline use and air pollution.  To top it off, they save workers time, and money in a tight economy. 

home office, telecommuter
To be productive while working from home, you’ll need to manage your time and distractions. Photo by Doug Zimmerman.

That is not to say there aren’t challenges. Take telecommuting for example.  Many workers would relish telecommuting occasionally or all the time.  A survey of federal government employees indicated that 87% would telecommute if given the chance.  I am lucky to be able to work part-time from home for a non-profit organization headquartered 3000 miles away. Some government agencies are setting up their telecommuting staff swith a Dell telework system that uses strategies like encryption or biometrics to protect computer security.

With the wonders of high speed internet, I can function almost as if I’m located right down the hall.  It does take more effort to network.  If you’re not a good communicator, you can end up feeling isolated.  

Also, when working in a home office, the opportunities for distraction are endless.  It can be a challenge to stay focused, and work can spill over into your home life.  People who tend to succeed at telecommuting are self motivated, responsible, able to manage their time, can work independently, and are results oriented.

Not all jobs are suited for telecommuting. Here are some tips on how to minimize distractions and improve productivity if you do have the option of working from home.

  1. Establish a zone for your office that separates it from the rest of your home.
  2. Set goals and a plan.  Impose a schedule for projects, with intermediate milestones and deadlines. Reward yourself when you meet goals. For example, if I successfully work for a solid half day, I reward myself with a stroll in the great outdoors.  When I finish a deliverable, I might take some time off to visit neighbors.  Some people punish themselves if they do not meet goals – e.g., by forcing themselves to donate money to a cause they despise. 
  3. Establish set hours during which you can’t take personal phone calls. They need not be from 9-5.  Take advantage of the times of day when your energy levels are highest.  A self-employed friend uses the  8-10 p.m. time slot, after the kids have gone to bed.  Tactfully let family and friends know what your work schedule is and ask for their help in adhering to it.  Use call screening when that doesn’t work.
  4. Set up a separate work e-mail account so you don’t get sucked into reading personal e-mails during working hours.
  5. Stock a college dorm-sized refrigerator in your office with drinks and snacks so you’re not tempted to wander off to the kitchen, at which point you notice a dozen household chores that need attention.
  6. Make To Do lists.  This simple but effective technique helps prioritize, break tasks down into manageable chunks, and provides a sense of accomplishment when you get to cross something off.  Making a final To Do list at the end of the day will help you leave work behind so it doesn’t keep you awake at night.   It also gives you something to start right in on the next work day.

Following these guidelines will help you be productive, so you can then enjoy guilt-free downtime.  By getting the job done, you increase the odds that your employer will continue to offer telecommuting as an option. That can be good for you, business, the community, and the planet.  Except for the part where the cat walks across the keyboarddddqqqqqqqqqqqqqwertttttttttttttttttttyyyyyyyyy


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Originally published in the Villager newspapers on May 21, 2009


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