Whether you’re a full- or part-time telecommuter, or you just like to catch up on projects at home or on the go—you’re not alone. According to Global Workplace Analytics, the number of people who work at home, not including those who are self-employed, has grown by 103 percent since 2005 and it shows no signs of stopping—with 3.7 million employees now working from home at least half the time. Telecommuting offers many benefits for workers, including flexibility and better work-life balance, as well as for employers, who enjoy cost savings and an expanded talent pool, to name a few. As people continue to jump on the telecommuting bandwagon, it’s more important than ever to find ways to stay productive, connected and happy.
Here are five easy ways to make the most of working at home:
- Be there with instant messaging (IM)—Instant messaging has two big benefits for telecommuters. First, it makes it possible for coworkers to reach you instantaneously, blasting any preconceived notions that you’re lounging poolside or at the movies. IM also keeps at-home workers from feeling isolated. Years of research on telecommuting has found that the live, synchronous nature of IM enhances people’s feelings of presence, belonging and emotional well-being. Other studies have found that the use of emoticons increased people’s overall involvement and created more harmony, and that global, virtual teams who engaged in digital interactions with a social and fun element to them worked better together and built better relationships. Software like Microsoft’s Office 365 offers IM via Skype for Business, allowing for real-time contact on a moment’s notice—complete with emoticons. It’s less formal, more conversational and faster than a phone call.
- Bad internet? Go mobile—Sometimes you can get stuck with sketchy internet service, depending on where you live. About 55 percent of U.S. households have just one provider that offers service at 25 megabits per second, the minimum the FCC deems necessary to access the most advanced online applications. And while about 75 percent American households with internet still use DSL, cable or fiber connection to get online at home, we may be moving toward a more mobile workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of internet users dropped from 82 percent just a few years before—with mobile-only connections jumping from 10 to 20 percent in the same period. Luckily, Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband data plans have made the possibility of a mobile workforce a reality. Add to that the fact that many popular, top-of-the-line productivity tools are now accessible on your mobile device. That includes office applications that let you create, edit and share from your PC/Mac or your iOS, Android or Windows device with anyone in real-time. That makes it easy to have a mobile backup plan if your internet isn’t as reliable as it should be.
- Be fluid. But know when to say when—A happy telecommuter knows when to call it a day—and it appears the newest generation of workers recognize that. A recent Deloitte survey found that Millennials are very much in touch with the importance a good work-life balance, citing it as their number one priority when it comes to choosing an employer, with flexibility (like telecommuting) coming in a close second. If you think about it, traditional office workers aren’t required to run back to the office to answer calls or have meetings. The beauty of working at home is the flexibility it offers, like the ability to pick your kids up from school or head to the gym during your workday. While making up those hours later is necessary, you are not required to continue working 24/7. Be sure to take some steps to disconnect when the workday’s done—like turning off your home office phone and closing your work email. Obviously, there are some days everyone needs to work overtime. But it should be the exception rather than the rule.
- Stay connected socially—Not all business takes place at the office. Grabbing some appetizers at happy hour, eating lunch or sharing coffee and a pastry a few times a month not only helps you see and be seen, it’s also an important way to connect with colleagues and supervisors. A 2015 study in the journal Human Performance finds that bonding over a meal can help build cohesiveness in a work team and establish friendships, while offering you a chance to relax and do some casual networking.
- Make the most of your company’s software—Products like Office 365, Skype for Business, SharePoint and Windows Phone have helped build a more productive work-at-home environment. Good software will help you make the most of connecting with your teams in real-time via conferencing, IM, video and sharing, while also taking advantage of advanced security and compliance tools, interactive reports, simpler dashboards and compelling data visualizations.
While many workers once used telecommuting to supplement their full-time in-office job, more and more people are using it as a replacement for being in the office. As this trend continues to rise, with approximately 55 percent college graduates reporting they have telecommuted for their jobs, it’s more important than ever to have the right tools to make your work-at-home experience flexible, productive and successful.