Friday, March 28, 2008

Negotiating Telecommuting from the Start

In my experience, it's much easier to negotiate a telecommuting arrangement when you're already a valued employee, when you provide a unique and hard-to-duplicate service for your employer, or once you've proven yourself otherwise. At least, that's how it worked for me. But what about starting out a new job as a telecommuter, right from day one? I think it can work well, but it seems to me that there are some key factors that you may want to consider with your new manager before quitting your Real Office job and starting to dance around your home office in your slippers and underpants.

First, are there any other telecommuters in the organization now, or are you the guinea pig in a bold adventure that may not be a favorite of the powers that be? If there are other telecommuters, you should make one of your first courses of action to connect with those folks online and during on-site visits. If not, it's probably okay -- but you must be vigilant and visible to show all and sundry that your little experiment is a big success. And start recruiting other telecommuters, especially from the ranks of the long-standing Real Office workers.

Next, you'll want to have a specific agreement governing the telecommuting relationship, above and beyond any standard commitment letter that the employer may have for you to sign. I'd lay out all the things I've mentioned in the past -- communication expectations, reporting, weekly meeting stuff. But I'd also want to work out a pretty specific roadmap of my first six months with my manager so that we're both very clear as to what the heck I should be doing. Of course, that can and will change as business conditions and projects evolve, but I think it's pretty important that everyone understands what the day-to-day work is going to involve. That way, everyone can tell that you're accomplishing the things that they needed a person in your position to do in the first place.

I'd also want that roadmap shared up and down the food chain, so that my manager has buy in from his or her overlords, and my colleagues know what the heck I'm doing in wherever I am all day. Not only will they feel a little less like I'm just watching HGTV all day whilst they work, but they will also know why I'm pestering them for whatever inputs and outputs I'm hassling them about.

Another part of the roadmap: an onsite visit schedule for six months to a year out. Planning this stuff in advance will result in cheaper plane tickets and more time to develop a full visit agenda for your visits. But don't plan every bit of your telecommuter travel plan up front -- you should keep a couple of trips set aside for "emergencies" like division-wide strategy meetings and suchlike that may crop up as you go along.

Next on the list of things to spec out is hardware and software support: what will they provide, is there anything that you'll need training on, do you need to find a source of local tech support, are there tricks or trip-ups awaiting you? Hammer it all out before you all jump into a relationship that is going to be hard to deal with.

These are just off the top of my head. I'm sure there's a ton of stuff that I'm missing. Any suggestions, dear readers?

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