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How to play by the work rules of telecommuting

How to play by the work rules of telecommutingImage Credit: Supplied

Working in a virtual office environment can bring with it a number of advantages... when done properly. But many confuse workplaces optimised for virtual collaboration with any place where work can be done remotely or which allows some to telecommute. The later, unfortunately, can alienate some workers if they end up less involved with daily office life.

In places where workflow is optimised for telecommuters, software is provided to facilitate meetings, and individual workstations — whether on-site or off-site — may be equipped with webcams, microphones, etc. In general, communication isn't disrupted by the lack of physical presence. The entire workflow is built around technology that almost provides an equivalent to face-to-face communication.

Conversely, when exception is made for someone to work from home, the person may find it difficult to keep pace with the rest of the office simply because others won't change their ways to accommodate the missing individual. Slowly, losing touch with ongoing work issues can spell trouble through miscommunication or concerns about performance.

That is not to say that telecommuting is always a bad option. In fact, the flexibility commuting provides often makes for a good situation for employees and employers. What really matters is to ensure your set up is defined with the boss and understood by coworkers. Here are a few points to keep in mind.


Companies are different, and from a company that provides a flexible work schedule to another that closely tracks employees signing in and out, there is a range of options. That is why you must first see where your company falls on this scale. Check with others who currently telecommute or tried it in the past. Listen to their experiences to get a good sense of the pros and cons.

If there are not many experiences to review, the best option probably is to have a clear expectations. In many cases, the telecommuting option is so attractive that the person doesn't want to rock the boat. But that can turn into a big mistake once you realise that the deal isn't working out for you or your supervisor.

Even if you think that you have got a deal, discuss the details. You need to know how you will be able to keep in touch with coworkers, receive feedback from supervisors and communicate effectively with other parties across the company. The more this is laid out at the beginning, easier it will be to fulfil expectations.


Work schedules can be tough to track when you are not in the office. If working from home or a coffee shop, how could the supervisor know you are doing what you're supposed to do? In reality, the supervisor can't be sure even if you are right there in the office.

What you can do, however, to pre-empt any sort of blame is to agree on certain procedures. For example, agree that you will be checking in by email or sending updates or confirmations through the day to keep everyone abreast of the work progress.

As a rule of thumb, if working outside the office, make sure to always communicate whatever issues you may be having. Supervisors won't like to hear that your internet is down just five minutes before a major teleconference, for example. Again, if you have a clear schedule, you will be able to provide a sense of availability and more likely to get sympathy when problems happen.

Similarly, having a clear schedule will make it easier for coworkers to reach out to you, knowing that they are calling or emailing during work hours even if you are at home. That will help keep communication channels open and stay on top of any issues that may be brewing in the office.

Professional advancement

If your company doesn't widely adopt telecommuting, your absence from daily office life can be a roadblock in the way of any sort of professional advancement. Those who are in the office, actively promoting themselves and taking initiatives may be more valued than you, although you may be doing just the same but from a distance.

This drawback must be considered while making the decision on telecommuting. Although employers may provide some reassurance, reality may be different. With all the benefits that come from telecommuting, this may be an acceptable compromise by many.

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Source: Rania Oteify, Special to

The writer, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is a Seattle-based editor