Happy telecommuting

Having worked at home for 5 years and now beginning my third job as a telecommuter, I have acquired some opinions about how this is best arranged. My new boss asked for some tips and I thought I might as well share them with the world. Here is my guide to effective and enjoyable telecommuting…

Instant Messaging is absolutely essential. Think of it like sticking your head in someone’s office or running into someone in the hall. Have colleagues create specific ID’s using a common IM protocol so that they can appear “away” to the outside world but still be available to co-workers (or vice versa).

Hold regular staff meetings on a predictable schedule with a consistent call-in number. Put a good speaker phone in the meeting room so that telecommuters and traveling colleagues can join the meeting by phone. Be sure check in with phone participants periodically to ensure that everything is audible.

Hold periodic in-person meetings on a predictable schedule. These could be staff meetings, or special meetings such as longer-term strategy sessions and/or individual check-ins.

If possible, give telecommuters a phone extension consistent with on-site workers. This makes inter-office calling easier and presents a unified front to external contacts.

Use a shared calendaring system such as Outlook or iCal, that allows users to see others’ schedule and send meeting invitations. (Both are also able to sync with Palm calendars.)

Use an intranet where colleagues can systematically share files, notes, and contacts via the web. Also, consider shared project management tools that allow workers to assign tasks to each other and keep up with their own and others’ progress.

Web mail is essential to telecommuters and traveling workers, but a regular IMAP e-mail account is more effective for daily use.

Suggested equipment to be provided for an ideal telecommuting office set-up:

– Wireless-enabled laptop, including a “dock” and duplicate power cord to enable mobility.
– Headset for phone and/or computer.
– Cell phone (if traveling for work).
– Ergonomic keyboard and mouse.
– Monitor.
– Fast Internet connection.
– Multi-function fax/scanner/printer (unless you implement a “paperless office“).
– Web cam for meetings.

7 thoughts on “Happy telecommuting

  1. Using web-based screen sharing & collaboration tools for presentations and demos are also helpful for remote meetings. They enable everyone to be viewing the same thing. Netmeeting works, but usually not as well as web-based tools given firewall, vpn, and cross-platform issues.

  2. I have used WebEx a bunch for that kind of stuff, but I’m also intersted in this Firefox plug-in called Jybe that allows users to share their screens and talk over Skype.

  3. We’ve just started using ReadyTalk at work and everybody is very happy about it. Cool bonus feature is that you can record the entire call/demo/collaboration for download and replay later.

  4. What “shared project management tools that allow workers to assign tasks to each other and keep up with their own and others’ progress” have you used successfuly? I’ve tried basecamp and didn’t like it, tried Netoffice and liked it some.

  5. How funny that we met up over the internet while you were on your new job and I was being trained for mine! my job is at GotMercury.Org

    (come check out our mercury in fish calculator)

    Good luck in the new job. Let’s catch up more soon!

  6. Thanks for the reply — the lack of issue tracking is what made me give up on basecamp, and 37 have clearly said that they aren’t going to add it. I’m still looking for collaborative software beyond a bug tracker and a wiki.

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