By Kim Delmar Cory
Telecommuting can be either a blissful experience or a nightmare, depending on your personality, your work habits and the relationship you have with your employer. Before taking the plunge, ask yourself these questions:
* Does your job lend itself to a home office environment? If you're a chemical engineer, you obviously can't set up a lab at home. On the other hand, if your is fairly self-contained and you do most of your work on a computer or via the phone, telecommuting might be an option.
* Does your employer support telecommuting? If you work for a large company that already has telecommuting employees, the switch may be pain-free. But if you're the one employee out of 100 who wants to work from home, it may be tough to delve into the layers of bureaucracy to make what many employers consider a dramatic change. Studies indicate that most telecommuters work for small companies (as do most employees, period), which may be more willing to adapt to telecommuting.
* What are your career goals? If you want to climb the corporate ladder, some experts suggest you may be better off sticking to an on-site job, where you'll be more visible and therefore more easily noticed at promotion time. But if you're satisfied with your position in the company, telecommuting won't hurt your career.
* Do you need more flexibility in your life? If you're a parent, telecommuting can mean you can see your children off to school in the morning, attend special school functions and be there when your kids get home from school. Kym, a desktop publisher from Los Angeles, was motivated to enter the telecommuting world after struggling with a home caregiver situation. She now acknowledges that she is an evening person who often starts her "workday" in the late afternoon, after fielding necessary phone calls during the daytime hours.
* Are you self-disciplined and self-motivated? Telecommuting is a double-edged sword. Some women can't get any work done at home, where dirty dishes beckon from the kitchen and they're distracted by the barking dogs that announce UPS trucks, letter carriers and squirrels in the vicinity. Other women, like Development Director Mercer Tyson, find they work more at home than when they worked at the office. "Already something of a workaholic, I actually find myself working even more now that I telecommute!" claims Tyson. "The line between home and personal time and office/work time is blurred," she adds.
* What's your social interaction quotient? If you're a social animal whose satisfaction from work comes largely from interactions with co-workers, full-time telecommuting isn't for you. But if you see uninterrupted work time as heavenly and don't mind giving up face-to-face conversations and meetings, you might love working from home.
* Do you have the space to set up an office? Kym says, "Since the computer is in my bedroom, it is always staring me in the face, so to speak." Many telecommuters suggest having a door that can close behind you in your home workspace, even if the need is more mental than physical. If you telecommute part-time, it's helpful to physically organize your home office as closely to the layout of your on-site office as possible. This will streamline the transition between offices, and help you with continuity between your main office and your home.
* Are you willing to pay for the convenience of working at home? Dr. Charlie Grantham of the Institute For the Study of Distributed Work, an organization that offers consulting services to Fortune 500 companies involved in telecommuting, claims that, although this innovative work style is on the rise, many companies do not pay for essential home office equipment. Mercer Tyson says she has learned to "work smarter" when it comes to telecommuting. "I make better use of the available technology (e-mail, fax, etc.) than I did previously," she claims. Sears and Roebuck employee Mary Beth Swibes bought a fax and phone and Sears paid for her laptop, an extra phone line and phone bills. Mercer Tyson spent $3000 of her own money to set up her home office knowing her small non-profit employer could not contribute to the effort.