How to Telecommute: Status Reports

Hold on, stay with me for a second.

I know what you’re thinking: the only thing more boring than status reports is reading a BLOG about status reports.

My Typical Blog Reader

My Typical Blog Reader

My weekly status reports are different.  They’re just a few short, simple lines in a Monday morning email like this:

Last week I:

  • Did task A
  • Did task B
  • Did task C

This week I plan to:

  • Do task D
  • Do task E
  • Do task F

The end.  Each task takes at least 4 hours, preferably a day or more.

Managers don’t expect to see 40 hours worth of work in three bullet points, but they do expect to see your highlight reel.  Every employee, not just telecommuters, has all kinds of small things that suck up productivity time.  Your status report needs to show successful forward momentum that proves you’re getting big things done every week.

How I Write It

When I sit down Monday morning, I pull my status email from last week and copy/paste it in to give me a jump start on what I’d planned to do.  I then go back through my calendar to see if anybody sucked me into a last-minute meeting, and I go back through my Sent Items folder in Outlook to see if I’d forgotten anything else I was working on.  As a telecommuter, hot projects tend to show up in your Sent Items because you interact so much over email.

I’ve worked with other people who started a new draft every Monday morning, and then entered their big tasks through the week in preparation for sending that email the following Monday.  That doesn’t work for me, but I applaud their dedication.

How to Handle Meetings and Recurring Tasks

In the section for the coming week, I don’t include recurring tasks or meetings.  When I was a DBA, I didn’t include lines for tasks like checking servers for failures or problems, making sure backups made it offsite, or taking support calls as they came in.  These things were assumed to be in my job every single week.

On the other hand, in the section for last week, I include anything that popped up out of the ordinary.  While I may have been expected to take any support calls that came in, I would note any calls that took more than 4 hours to resolve.  This kept my manager in the loop about support issues and surprises.

I did include recurring meetings, though, because I wanted my manager to understand how many meetings I got forced into.  It helped them realize when I was getting bottlenecked in terms of time.  I list all meetings in a single task.  Example: “Attend meetings on project A, project B.  Plan & host meeting on project C.”

When Managers Ask Questions

90% of the time, my manager never even replies.  Managers are overwhelmed just like the rest of us.

If they do reply and ask me why I’m doing something, or ask why something is more urgent than another task they want me to do, I take their feedback and start asking questions.  If they’re even the least bit nervous about my priorities or what I’m taking on, I want to make sure I make them completely comfortable.  I want to do what THEY want me to do, not what I think is important, so I talk to them about their concerns in a way that puts them in the driver’s seat.

As a DBA, sure, I wanted my servers to all match best practices.  I’d love to have spent weeks configuring my servers to be Just Right.  However, my manager might have wanted four new reporting queries, or to help me train the developers on how to write faster queries.  I can’t take that personally – I’m on their payroll to do the business tasks, not the Microsoft best-practices tasks.

One line I use over and over in discussions with my managers is, “I totally don’t care what I do next.  I’m going to be busy the rest of my career here.  You tell me what you want me to do next, and I’m on it.”  This complete comfort with an overwhelming to-do list, and a simultaneous complete control over that list, is a key part of David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy.  Tomorrow in the last post in the series, I’ll talk about why that book is central to my telecommuting work.

Next: Getting Things Done as a Telecommuter

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How to Telecommute: Getting Things Done

5 Comments. Leave new

  • As the economy gets more ‘interesting’ businesses will find ways to cut overhead costs. Having huge offices and making everyone come sit in cube farms is expensive. Allowing users to work from wherever they want and having a Results Oriented Work Environment is a way to reduce that expense.

    Your post is relevant to both employees and managers. Many managers don’t understand how to deal with a distributed work force and employees sometimes need a tight hand to stay on task. This helps the managers know what to ask for and the employees what to provide, even when not asked.

    Thanks for the post!
    Jonathan

  • This is exactly what I do on a weekly basis to keep my clients and consulting company up to date on what I’m doing. It’s a practice that a few clients have picked up over the years as well.

    Initially, it seemed like such an onerous task, but once I became used to doing status reports I found that they helped me to keep myself on track. Essentially, once a week, I’m telling my manager “You counted on me to do ABC and I did it. I’m now telling you that I plan on doing XYZ.” It helps me keep a good balance between what I want to do and what I need to be doing. I usually add a questions/comments/concerns section at the end. It’s almost always blank, but if something is in there it’s probably something that I’ve been bugging management about for a while.

  • Jonathan – yeah, managing telecommuters is something that’s beyond me too. I dunno how to pull that off.

    Jeremiah – same here. I used to think it sucked. When I first started doing it, I was working for a company that made us do Daily Promises: the equivalent of these status reports every single day. It was mind-numbing.

  • Really enjoying the series Brent. I’ve not been a great telecommuter when I’ve had the opprotunity, but the tips you are providing would help me do it better.

  • Having been a telecommuter now for almost 9 years I started doing the “status report” thing about 2 years ago after sitting in a session on Telecommuting by Michael Lato at PASS. He presented this as an idea to keep a Manager or Team Lead informed of what you do during the day(s) you work remote and I took it back to my company as my own. My Manager comments frequently that he knows more about what I do working remotely than the in-office staff he manages.

    My process is to keep bullet points of my day as I accomplish things that (and this is important) he needs to know. Managers don’t need to know about every phone call, meeting, DB restore, etc. you do during the day (unless they feel they need to be and we call those people MICRO-MANAGERS. We don’t like them.) Track the important things and send the status report at day’s end. If you need to involve the Manager in anything else of a higher importance send a different email as the need arises; or hit them up on OCS, Twitter, or the phone for Pete’s sake.

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