Tips for Telecommuters: Stay in the Loop while Working from Anywhere
Whether it’s a new gig, or your job is newly flexible to the idea of people working from home, making a transition to telecommuting is like contending with a new skill set. Even if it’s only a partial telecommute, and you work in the office some days, there is much to learn. Luckily, there are many that have come before you, and there are loads of tools to help you pull it off.
There are all different sorts of people telecommuting these days, and many of them don’t necessarily need to keep track of time spent working as long as they’re getting everything done. But even if you’re not a freelancer who bills by the hour, you may want to keep track of how much time you’re spending on certain tasks - email, web browsing, etc. Once installed, RescueTime observes and categories your top activities into categories like business (like visiting Entrepreneur.com), news & opinion, design & composition (for instance, working in Google Docs), utilities (e.g. System Preferences), entertainment, etc. The dashboard also lets you track goals, and gives you tips on how to change your behavior to meet them. There are also milestones, productivity tips, and a few other features that incentivize you to keep on track.
If you are a freelancer, and want a specific software package, there is TopTracker and Due’s Time Tracker. TopTracker was designed specifically for freelancers, and is completely free. The app takes timed screenshots to send to clients, performs activity level tracking, and also offers privacy settings to customize what you share and how. It also tracks activity across devices to include research or communication time on mobile devices. The Time Tracker from Due integrates with their other payment solutions apps, gives time spend analytics, and has integrated invoicing.
If you’re away from the office, you’re going to miss some things. While communication has gotten more text-based with email threads and the like, you’ll want to adopt as many methods as is practical for staying in the loop with your colleagues. LinkedIn groups and Skype are great, but of course a lot will depend on your needs, and the needs of your team.
For casual conversation within easily customizable groups and topics, Slack is perfect. The chat interface is simple, and you can keep conversation focused with one for each project or subject that you might need to talk about. App integration also means you can access Google Drive or other apps from directly within the conversation.
If you’re looking for a visualization of workflow, Trello is great. While it does include a messaging component, the main dashboard of Trello shows processes in each step, and you can attach the profile of who’s working on what, assign due dates, and attach files. It also integrates with apps - including Slack!
While these apps might facilitate information flow, you’ll still need to hone those telecommuting communication skills. Discussions you’re not accustomed to needing to have may come up - like hourly expectations for availability. If you’re in a different time zone, you may need to adjust your 9-5, or you may have to underline which hours are no-work times for you.
One well-known benefit of working from home is more control over your environment. At home, you’re more likely to keep momentum going on projects rather than be continually interrupted by co-workers. That being said, some people work better with ambient noise, or a change of scenery. Perhaps you have a coffee shop nearby you can take your laptop to, get something foamy, and get a little work done there.
In any case, you can create a virtual experience with hipstersound.com, an ambient noise machine with very specific sound loops. While there are multiple “Premium” choices, the free offerings are “Buzz of a busy Texas cafe,” “Les charmants cafés de Paris,” and “Gentle hum of a quiet restaurant.” That’ll keep most people pretty satisfied, despite the temptation to know what “Lively library ambiance” actually involves. At the moment, the home office sounds like a French café with rain and a fireplace - pretty cozy.
Telecommuting is becoming more of a familiar concept to companies and workers, and also quite a popular idea. According to figures from Inc.com, “80 to 90 percent of the U.S. work force would like to work remotely at least part-time.” It’s also become a fairly common practice - over one-third of US employers have remote workers, whether it’s on a part-time or full-time basis, and 3 percent of US workers work remotely at least partially. That statistic has doubled since 2005.
While the comfort and convenience of working away from the office is a boon for some and a necessity for others, don’t get into the habit of thinking online is always better - some things can only be done in person. While these apps will help you get your work done and keep you on track with your team, face-to-face conversations actually can be more effective in some cases.