I’ve been working from home off and on since around 2000 for a few different companies. I’ve been lucky: it’s worked really well for me, but I’ve seen several cases where it didn’t work so well for others, and they lost their jobs. This week, I’m running a series of posts about the ups and downs of telecommuting.
I’m kicking the series off today by talking about how to get a telecommuting job in the first place.
Find Big Companies in Expensive Places
Companies like paying people less.
This can be a selling point for telecommuters, but only if you’re living somewhere cheap and you’re working for a company in an expensive location. Right now, I’m working for a company in Southern California, but I’m certainly not paying Southern California rates for housing. I bet they’re paying me less than people several years my junior, and it’s a win-win for both of us.
When you’re looking for telecommuting jobs, focus on companies in cities with a very high cost of living (California, Miami, New York City). Big companies offer better opportunities because you’re probably not their first telecommuter – they’ve already had to hire an offsite/offshore consultant in order to satisfy some niche skill requirement.
Have a Very Hard-to-Get Skill
The most important key to making telecommuting work is the good old law of supply and demand: if you want to work from home, you have to have a seriously desirable skill. If an employer has the choice between someone who’s willing to come into the office every day versus someone who wants to work from home, they’re going to take the cube rube almost every time.
Junior DBAs aren’t going to be able to telecommute. You can’t say, “Hire me, and I’ll pick up the skills you want.” It won’t fly. You have to be able to demonstrate a complete mastery of the skills that the company needs, and you have to be able to convince everybody in the shop – not just the manager – that your skills will save their bacon.
Build Trust with your Future Coworkers
The best telecommuters start as in-office workers, establish a trust with their coworkers, and then move offsite. That way, the in-office coworkers know that the telecommuter is really a valued resource, does good work, and doesn’t sit around all day drinking beer and watching Oprah. Or Nascar. Or whatever.
When someone starts as a remote worker without being in the office first, the onus is on the telecommuter to prove that they’re really working. This starts in the very first interview: you need to go out of your way to meet your coworkers, talk to them, and strike up a personal bond as fast as possible. You are selling yourself to them.
Why is this important? Because when you’re not in the office and they need a scapegoat for the code that doesn’t work, the database that wasn’t backed up, or the project that failed, they’re going to pick the telecommuting person by default. It’s easy to blame the guy who isn’t there to stand up for himself. The same thing happens when they’re picking who to lay off. It’s up to you to prevent that from the very beginning.
Be the Best Employee, Period
Being just as reachable and just as timely as the in-person employees isn’t enough: you have to go above and beyond them. When you start telecommuting, managers will be watching you like a hawk to see if you show up to work on time, put in enough hours, and are available as often as other employees.
You have to code faster, manage your time better, and help people more than everybody else. Furthermore, you have to do it in a way that’s easy to see. I’m a morning person, and I used to make it a point to do emails as soon as I started work in the morning. People would see the timestamps on my emails and say things like, “Wow, you started work at 3am this morning?” Bosses hear these things secondhand, and that gives them a chance to brag about their hard-working telecommuter.
Your ultimate goal is to get your coworkers (and especially managers) to say, “You respond faster to emails and instant messages than the people who work just down the hall from me in the office!”
This sounds like hard work, and it is. In the next post, I’ll talk about how to stay motivated despite the very hard work.