The Bare Essentials For Effective Telecommuting
Telecommuting or Working At Home
More than 20 million Americans perform some work at home as part of their primary job according to a 2005 whitepaper released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The whitepaper, based on a May, 2004 survey, reported that 20.7 million Americans work from home at least once per week as part of their job. This means that fully 15% of US non-agricultural workers work from home regularly whether as tele-commuters or self-employed.
Telecommuting: A Growing Trend
Most industry experts anticipate an upward trend in telecommuting and work-at-home jobs in the coming months and years. Decreasing national unemployment is creating high demand for skilled knowledge workers. This trend makes it increasingly difficult for smaller companies to compete in terms of salary and benefits packages. Many employers are beginning to turn to creative alternatives like telecommuting or work-at-home options to attract and retain employees. Employers are discovering that telecommuters can be just as productive as, if not more productive than, traditional office-based workers. Additionally, it is often cheaper for the employer to have personnel work offsite than to maintain increasingly expensive office space and equipment onsite.Many workers are beginning to consider telecommuting an attractive option as well. As fuel prices continue to hit record highs many workers are finding that daily commuting costs cut too deeply into already tight budgets. Telecommuting also works to reduce an individual's carbon footprint - a consideration that is also gaining increasing attention. Telecommuting reduces carbon fuel consumption, air pollution and traffic congestion by significantly reducing automobile usage.
Telecommuting: The Bare Essentials
What are the bare essentials you will need to effectively telecommute? The actual equipment you need to telecommute will depend on the type of work you are doing and your exact situation. However, the basic needs for effective telecommuting can be broken down into several categories :
- office space and furniture
- communications equipment
- computers and electronics
Office Space and Furniture
People who have never worked at home or telecommuted often think you can just set your laptop on the kitchen table and be ready to work. Unfortunately this idea rarely works out well. Most people who work from home find a dedicated office space to be absolutely essential. Usually this office space is a separate room with a door that can be closed.
Setting up a dedicated office has several advantages for telecommuters and home workers. A separate home office makes it easier for housemates or family members to distinguish when you are working, makes it easier for you to close the door at the end of the day and leave the office behind, and also facilitates working when the kids are home from school or your partner is home sick for the day.
How you furnish and decorate your home office is largely a matter of personal taste and needs. There are no absolute rules to follow. Make sure you have a comfortable desk and chair that are appropriate for the type of work you will be doing though. An uncomfortable chair can make you miserable very fast! The rest of your home office furniture will be largely a matter of personal choice coupled with the type of work you will be doing in your office. My office is fairly simple since I am a writer and almost all I need is a laptop and laser printer.
One piece of office equipment many people find particularly useful is a whiteboard. A simple whiteboard (Dry Erase Board) can serve a variety of purposes. Whiteboards are handy for making flowcharts, storyboards, to do lists and more. Colored markers add to the creative options for how you can use your whiteboard.
You will probably need some type of communications equipment for telecommuting or working from home. The exact tools you need will vary with your work and some jobs may require specialized equipment.
Fax Machine or Fax Service - A fax number is just about expected in most industries. Fax machines are inexpensive but maintaining a separate phone line may be cost-prohibitive if you only use the fax occasionally. Another option is to use a web-based fax service. There are several available to choose from with varying options. The web-based fax service may be less expensive than maintaining a fax machine and fax number in your home office. Additionally, you will be able to retrieve your incoming faxes while you are away from your office (like when you are hard at work on the beach).
Phone - Nearly all telecommuting or work-at-home jobs will require the use of a telephone. You have several options for phone service depending on your situtaion: a traditional landline telephone, mobile phone, VoIP or Instant Messenging. You may want to use a dedicated phone number for your home office or telecommuting. Using a dedicated phone number makes it easier to distinguish incoming calls and also prevents your business line being busy when another household member is using the phone.A dedicated, landline phone can be installed by your local phone service provider. Many people now choose to use mobile telephones for business use as you can make and receive calls wherever you happen to be (particularly handy when you need to make a run to the coffee shop). An increasing number of people are turning to VoIP options like Skype for their business phone needs. VoIP providers usually offer steeply discounted rates along with extensive features like call timers and multiple phone numbers in different area codes. One caveat with VoIP though is that you need a good, high speed Internet connection. If your Internet connection is less than wonderful you may end up with poor call quality and dropped calls. One final option is Instant Messenger programs. Many people are finding IM to be a great supplement to e-mail for keeping up with co-workers and for dealing with quick questions.Computers and ElectronicsThe US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 80% of telecommuters and those working at home use a computer to accomplish their work. 70% use e-mail and the Internet. What you need to accomplish will, of course, dictate your computer needs.
Computer - Discussing what type of computer to use in your home office is beyond the scope of this artice. You will need to consider any specialized software needed for your work as well as your budget. Another consideration is between desktop computers and laptop computers. I prefer the portability of my laptop though desktop computers would be a better choice in certain work situations.Printer - More than likely you will want a printer for your computer. Laser printers generally cost more to purchase than ink jet printers but the laser printers usually cost less to operate over the life of the printer.Scanner - You may find a scanner to be useful in your home office. Scanners are fairly inexpensive now and are quite useful for scanning documents (especially if you are using a web-based fax program), receipts and other records you want to store. Scanning documents allows you to organize and store copies on your computer or a disc for archiving.Storage Device or Media - Since you are working on your computer you will need a system to back up data and files. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways like web-based storage, CD or DVD, ZIP drives, flash drives and portable hard drives.Internet Connection - A broadband Internet connection is a must if you are working from home. Cable, DSL and Satellite systems are available and the overall cost is probably less than a dedicated phone line and a dial-up plan. Further, you can count on people sending you large files that you cannot download over dial-up and an increasing number of websites are simply not usable with a dial-up Internet connection.Software - The computer software you use will, again, depend on your particular work situation but will probably include the following:
- Office Suite (Microsoft Office, OpenOffice)
- Internet Browser (Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer)
- Security (Firewall, Anti-Virus)
- Backup System
- Business-specific software
- Accounting software if you are self-employed