“You work from home? Wow! I wish I could do that!” Rarely have I met someone who has not envied the work from home roles I have had in the course of my career. My virtual positions enabled me to manage my breast cancer treatments while participating in all the activities of my job from the comfort of my home office, and sometimes even from the easy chair in my bedroom. While in recovery, the roles I had in firms with large virtual workforces, enabled me to work when I felt able and take breaks when needed, as long as I met deadlines and completed the tasks at hand.
Working from home does have many advantages. It usually allows one to set a reasonable schedule without the added hours of a commute. It may provide you with the option of working for a firm at a considerable distance from your home without having to relocate to obtain the job. It may offer you the option of landing a job utilizing your unique skills that may not be in demand in your current location but in great demand in a distant city. It provides an opportunity for potential tax deductions for the equipment and supplies one uses on the job, as long as the employer does not pick up the tab for those items. And, it may even allow for a home office deduction on your taxes if you are itemizing deductions and meet the government’s criteria. (Of course, to understand your tax benefits you should consult with your accountant.) Most importantly, however, it usually allows for the flexibility one may need while in treatment and recovery from a serious illness like cancer.
The circumstances of my own situation were quite unique in that I held my virtual consultant and program director roles for a career services firm long before my cancer diagnosis. My home office was fully equipped with high speed Internet, laptop and printer/fax and a separate telephone line with a headset on my phone. I was used to managing conference calls between picking up my sons from school. I often planned sales meetings with colleagues or taught classes for clients using web conferencing software that allowed us to collaborate across the country and the world. So when my cancer was diagnosed, I was able to continue this style of work without missing too many beats.
What other types of work may be suited for telecommuting or working from home? In the US economy today, knowledge workers, those who rely on thinking and producing a product using their intellectual skills rather than a product that requires hands on involvement, are particularly suited for the telecommuting option. Recent studies show that 30% of knowledge workers spend at least a portion of their work week telecommuting. The federal government is even getting into the act, encouraging telecommuting for established workers as a retention tool for their current workforce and as a recruiting benefit for new employees. Telecommuting is used by many employers to boost productivity and to help employees save commute time and cut down on the emission of greenhouse gases caused by commuter traffic. Even traditional face-to-face jobs have expanded to the virtual world. On one telecommuting website I visited for this article, I spotted two high school teaching positions, one in St. Louis, MO and the other in Cincinnati, OH, both requiring a teacher to facilitate virtual classes from home for high school students in alternative programs.
While managing my virtual positions, I did learn a few things that you may find helpful in making a decision on whether or not working from home is right for you When considering virtual options as good solutions to juggling treatment and work, you may want to keep the following principles in mind:
- Working from home is still work. It requires discipline, motivation and the right equipment and most importantly, a flexible and committed employer to sustain a work from home situation.
- Your current employer may be your first and best option when seeking a work from home situation. If you have already proven yourself to be a valuable member of the team, your current employer is more apt to allow and support your telecommuting. If you plan to broach the subject with your current employer, create a proposal or plan for how you will continue to make your contribution to the work of the organization without face time every day. Approach this proposal from the perspective of the benefits it offers to your employer such as continuity of work, more productivity by eliminative commuting time etc. Be ready to compromise by committing to attend on-site meetings or visit customer sites as needed in order to more easily persuade your current employer to embrace the concept.
- Finding a new work from home opportunity may require you to apply your skills in new ways in order to obtain the desired job. Examine your skills and capabilities then carefully match them to work from home opportunities you find. It may mean that you have to rework your resume and search materials such as cover letters to highlight those skills in most demand from firms seeking virtual or telecommuting workers.
- Beware of work from home Internet scams! Horror stories about these work from home scams abound. I won’t get into the specifics here. Just remember, a legitimate employer will never charge you a fee to work for them, or ask you to do something that is shady or is legally questionable. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Get the right equipment for the job and set up your workplace in a professional manner. Ideally an office or spare room with a door is best if you plan to establish a boundary between your work life and home life. Use a high speed Internet connection, a telephone headset and arrange for a separate telephone line dedicated to your work. Be sure to record a professional voice mail message on this line, so that you warmly greet customers and co-workers who call while you are on the line. You may want to check out free conference call lines and web based meeting tools to support the collaborative efforts your job may require. (freeconferencecall.com and gotomeeting.com and the collaborative software, SharePoint, are tools that I have used successfully.) Establish a workspace that does not co-mingle your personal and professional papers and you’ll find you are much more successful and less stressed during your work day.
- Establish ground rules and boundaries with your family, friends and even pets regarding your work. Pre-determine your work hours if possible and let people know when you are not to be disturbed. If you are working with young children in the home, think ahead and schedule conference calls and virtual meetings when there is someone else there to watch the children, or while they are sleeping or occupied with a favorite TV show or game. Dog owners will also have to arrange for phone call options so that they are not interrupted by barking. And, as a cat lover, I have to warn you that e-mail and typed proposals can easily be erased by little cat paws strolling across the computer keys.
- Set limits on your work time. Many of the consultants who worked with me in our virtual career services firm had great difficulty separating their home life from their work life. They found themselves checking e-mail at 11 PM or logging on the network and composing e-mails and proposals when they could not sleep in the middle of the night. Guard against this “work time creep” at all cost. There is nothing healing about working from home if you are working 24/7.
- Plan social time away from work. Working from home is an exciting option, but it can be more isolating than you imagine. Maintaining your social connections is vital to your recovery, so don’t neglect your friends, regardless of how seductive that computer can be.
If working virtually seems like the best option for you, you may want to check out one or two of the following websites to learn more. These sites contain articles, suggestions, products for home workers and best of all, job listings for the telecommuting/home based worker.
Telcoa.org: This is the home site of the International Telework Organization and Council. It offers warnings about telework scams, networking links, whitepapers on trends and a rich database of home based job opportunities. The job board contains a broad range of positions from virtual assistants to proofreaders, regional sales managers to nurse case managers, and is well worth the time to check it out.
Sites for virtual call centers: If you would like to try your hand at customer service, call center work or virtual concierge work, log on to one of the following sites:
Approach your search for a work from home position with the same dedication and commitment you would use in a traditional job search and soon you will find yourself working virtually in an entirely new way.