Last month, I gave some tips based on experiences I had running my own business from my home, and promised I would offer additional tips about working from home, this time while working for someone else; “working remotely,” as it is often referred to today.
There are no set rules for how this works: I have done it a few times with different companies, and each experience was different. Some considerations include reimbursement for expenses, equipment (yours or theirs), time management and managing the expectations of your employer.
For example, my commute to work for one company required a 2.5- to 3-hour daily roundtrip commute, about 15 hours a week in my car. It was awful! I was able to lobby management about working from home, explaining that there were just not enough hours in the work week to waste that much time. It took some convincing, but it was the logical thing to do (not that companies always behave that way) and I was successful.
I was salaried (no overtime) and said that I could easily work 50 hours a week when necessary, be more productive, save hundreds in gas a month (with lower gas prices now, a much smaller issue) and even have more personal time. I already worked with account managers on Skype and, frankly, I was rarely sitting at my desk at the office collaborating with anyone. Sound familiar? Driving to work was a chore, not a necessity. I am sure that expressing that I would not be able to continue commuting much longer (which was conveyed indirectly) played a part, as well.
The most important factor to consider when determining if working from home is right for you is your personality and how you work. Can you develop a routine, manage timelines and deadlines, and stick to them without being managed? If the answer is yes, continue reading; if you can’t, working remotely would not work for you, and you would likely lose your job.
Let me digress here: Over the years, I have been writing about life lessons I have learned on my own and from others; you know, like the Golden Rule: “Do unto others….” If you take away only one of these lessons, it should be how to keep things in perspective; when it comes to working from home, keeping perspective is important, even critical, to your success!
Just think about this for a moment: What is your employer’s perspective (what issues do you think they will have?), and then put actions and documentation in place, whether they ask for it or not, so you overcome these issues before they come up!
For example: You should think about the concerns your managers may have while you are working from home: “Are you on the couch playing video games or working? Will those drawings be ready on time and accurate?”
I’ve said it before: Work smarter, not harder! Your employer should never have to wonder what you are doing; a weekly log (broken down by day) turned in every Monday worked for me. I did not detail each hour of the day, but I did break down every project I worked on, with a brief description of what I did for each, and “about” how many hours were devoted to each project that day. Don’t forget about professional development time: Lunch and learn with a rep, a one-hour webinar, etc., should be detailed, as well.
You should think about the concerns your managers may have while you are working from home:
‘Are you on the couch playing video games or working?
Will those drawings be ready on time and accurate?’
Of course, the hours should total at least seven hours for the day, and 35 hours for the week as a minimum. I say that because you want to manage their expectations. There will be weeks you report 50 to 60 hours (at least I did) and, of course, there may be weeks that are a little slower (the 35-hour week). I was always honest when reporting hours, not hesitating to list a 35-hour week once in a while (if that was a problem, the job would not last long anyway). If you are working 50- to 60-hour weeks, you need some balance. After all, everything can’t be pro-employer (in my opinion). On a monthly basis, you should have at least a 40-hour weekly average.
One more thing: You must have a five-minute limit for returning missed calls from your employer. Five minutes! I did not care if I was eating lunch, or I was in the bathroom…I returned the calls right away. You have heard the expression, “You are only as good as your last job.” Well, it will only take a few times that you can’t be reached by phone to create doubt and suspicion in your employer’s mind, and once that is there….
Of course, no one can work from home without the proper tools. You do not have to duplicate everything you have at work (such as an expensive plotter), but you will need a color printer, a good scanner, a way to back up your work locally and, of course, computer hardware and software. I was given a company computer, loaded with software and ready to go; there likely will be some issues you have to work out with IT, such as email and access to the company’s server, so be prepared for that.
In addition, be sure to document every item you take home, its condition and serial number, noting that it is not your property and will be returned upon request. Sign this document and have your manager sign it; be sure to keep a copy. One more thing on this: Because you probably will have administrator privileges on their computer, never install any personal software on it; if you need to download some software, get IT’s approval in writing first.
Last, but not least, let’s discuss reimbursement of expenses. internet, phone (landline/cell), paper and ink for the printer, pens, utilities (electricity)…what is appropriate and what is not? This is different for each employer and each individual situation. You must discuss these issues before you start, and document, in writing, what you will be reimbursed for and what you will not, as well as some “caps” on some expenses (if necessary).
Working from home can’t seem like a way to get more money out of the company, although you are, indirectly, at least from my perspective. Say you work a typical 40-hour week, 2080 hours a year, and earn $30 per hour, equaling $62,400 per annum. When you commute 10 hours a week, that totals 500 additional hours away from home. At the same salary, some would argue that, because you’re devoting 2580 hours a year with commuting, you’re really only being paid about $24 per hour. So, in my opinion, working from home under these circumstances is like getting a raise. They say “Time is money.” If you can arrange and manage this, be thankful; more than one company I worked for would not accept this option under any circumstances (they ended up losing me as an employee).
Back to expenses: On a biweekly basis, I was reimbursed based on submitting of receipts for general supplies, ink cartridges, paper, etc., noting any dramatic expenditures. I, like many with a background in live mixing, used a mic bag for all my receipts. It is imperative that you must save the receipts for every item you purchase; scan them into a folder called “Expenses” on your computer and submit. Being an engineer and having to create documents, sometimes in both electronic and hard copies, I used a local reprographic company for plotting, for which I was also reimbursed. (Eventually, when I had my own business, I bought my own HP plotter.)
I would not “nickel and dime” my employer for HVAC electric expenses or other typical “work from home” out-of-pocket costs. I was thankful for having this extra time in my life, and do not think it is appropriate to ask for too much. I always had a landline, which typically includes long distance, and did not bill for that. If you do not have a landline, I recommend you get one and bill for it…after all, at work you are on a landline, aren’t you? There is nothing worse than working from home, being on a cell on a conference call with clients and other team members, and the call drops.
On a monthly basis, I submitted a receipt for internet access; I billed and received only partial reimbursement because I needed it anyway. However, if you have to upgrade your internet service, I feel that you should be able to bill that entire amount. If you need only a few megs of upload speed or you are doing only audio conferencing, that’s no big deal and doesn’t require the best internet service.
A few last things: Be prepared for an internet blackout. (What would you do? Go to Starbucks?) I use a cell provider that allows your cellphone to be a “hot spot.” Make sure the company desktop has a wireless card so (and this has happened to me) the day you have a noon deadline and have to send out that report, it will be sent “on time.” Never experience the panic I experienced one day when I hit send and saw a spinning symbol signifying that there was no internet connection. When done right, you can just use your cell, finish what you are doing and pat yourself on the back for being prepared! Did I say this is critical?
Next, be sure to back up everything you are working on locally, and have backup software that will open work files in case you have a hardware issue so you can finish what you are doing. Again, you want to look like a hero by being prepared, and deal with the hardware issue later. Yes, this may mean having an expensive version of CAD software on your computer…but you will need it. I can tell you that, in my case, I lobbied, and was successful in getting my employer to pay for the second license for a backup. (This second license was before I worked from home “full time,” for the typical “after-hours” needs. I did the overtime, and they agreed that I needed access to matching software at home.)
Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions, or want to chime in and share anything I may have left out! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.