Monday, December 24, 2007

How to Get Telecommuting

A nice reader at the Evil HR Lady asks a convoluted question about how to get telecommuting approved for a complex personal reason. I left a comment over there, but I was thinking a bit more about this. The most important thing to realize when you're pitching telecommuting is that the boss doesn't really care that much about your reasons for wanting to do it Don't waste your breath explaining about your blood pressure, the fact that your high school kid can't be trusted home alone with the cable TV, how you can't morally justify driving your car three hours a day in an era when the polar ice caps are dissolving.

These "facts" just cloud your proposal. And they don't help make your case.

Your boss only wants to know just how is it that you propose to actually get work done in your pajamas. Better yet, she wants your assurances that you won't ever work in your pajamas.

A good telecommuting proposal has to focus on the business at hand, and it should include:

1. An accurate, complete, specific list of the things you do and how you will do them remotely. When I say specific, I mean statements like "Using the existing VPN, I'll connect to my office desktop PC inside the firewall to complete the weekly server updates." If your boss isn't technical, include pictures. Be sure that you have tried these methods for getting your work done and that they really work.

2. A communication plan that describes how colleagues, clients, and managers will reach you on a daily basis. This should not involve you calling into voicemail several times a day, by the way, unless you're only telecommuting sporadically. People must be able to pick up the phone and reach you immediately in a consistent fashion no matter where you are working. Learn how to use the forwarding features of your office telephone. You should establish regular hours that correspond to what everyone else in the office is working. You should specify a variety of communication methods (IM, email, phone) and the time frame for responding to each of these.

3. A set of criteria by which your manager can evaluate your effectiveness. This ties back into the specific list of duties -- if you know exactly what you're supposed to be doing and how you'll be doing it, it should be relatively easy to tell when you're getting it done. You should also specify how you'll report on the things you do each week -- whether it's through an email that gives the low-down, a weekly onsite meeting, or something else.

4. An escape clause. If your manager really can't stand it, or you find that you don't like wearing slippers all day as much as you thought, either party should be able to kill the agreement with reasonable notice, say four weeks. That time frame gives the telecommuter a chance to weigh his or her options (going back into the office, finding a new job, or what have you).

That's it. No flowery language about caring for small children, work-life balance, saving the environment, or sparing shoe leather. Of course, the exception to this would be if your boss has a mandate to save the environment, for example. But generally speaking, focus on the facts and you might have a chance.


Evil HR Lady said...

Your answer is so much better than mine. As for the convoluted question, you should have seen it before I edited it.

Stella Commute said...

Thanks for your comment (not so) Evil HR Lady! It's always a mistake to pitch flexible work arrangements as an advantage for you personally, rather than as an advantage for your boss professionally. No matter how much they love you at work, they don't actually care enough to take steps that cost them more money than you make for them. If it would cost more to replace you than to keep you happy, you're in a position to negotiate. Otherwise, you may have to take what they give you.