by Erin Kinney, Assistant Editor, INALJ Alabama
One option for working is telecommuting, also known as telework. When my husband took a job across the state, we did the commuter marriage thing for a few years, but it wore on us. I was fortunate that I could telecommute in my former position, as it was all computer-based and could be done anywhere that had an internet connection. I was also extremely fortunate that I had a supervisor who trusted me, and a support system in place at work.
When I told people that I was a telecommuting librarian, they would look at me funny and ask how does one do that with books? I would explain that I was a digital initiatives librarian, one whose work is done completely online. The next misconception I came across is that I lounge around in my sweats, in front of the TV, with my laptop, and a box of bonbons. While I had to work from my living room for a few weeks after one of our dogs had knee surgery, I couldn’t wait to get back to my office. There I had everything set up like I had in my in library office—phone, bookcases with notebooks, filing cabinet with work files, an ergonomic chair and keyboard, and a few knitted knick knacks. Here are a few tips to make your life easier as a telecommuter.
Treat It Like a Real Job
Telecommuting is a real job with real expectations, so treat it like one. I never dressed in my work clothes to telecommute, but neither did I sit around in my pajamas. My former employer uses Google Apps, so I never knew when a coworker, or another librarian, would call on me via a video chat, so I had to look presentable at all times. Also, presenteeism from home is not recommended. Take sick days when needed. Sure, you can crawl out of bed with the flu and try to finish that assignment, but you will think clearer and do better work if you are healthy. Finally, do not forgo things like ergonomics when setting up your home office. You are going to sit at your desk for eight hours, make sure everything is comfortable and gives you no pain.
Separate Work Hours from Personal Time
Set your work hours, and breaks, stick with them, and communicate them with your supervisor. I set my work hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I regularly took my lunch break around the same time. Sure, there were times that I had to flex my hours, such as when I had to work on the server before my co-workers got into work, or if I had a lunch meeting, but I always tried to stick to an eight hour day. Also, while working from home, you might notice that pile of laundry, or the dirty dishes in the sink. Don’t let it distract you; they can be worked on before or after your normal work hours.
Avoid Being Isolated and Inactive
I started telecommuting because my husband had taken a job across the state, which meant I knew virtually no one when I moved to our new home town. Working from home, alone, five days a week got me a bit stir crazy, and I felt that I didn’t fit in my new town, and I didn’t know anyone. My husband became a Rotarian at his previous job, so he took me to the local Rotary Club meetings with him, and I quickly joined. I also volunteered for several local non-profits, which got me out of the house and meeting new people, and I did beneficial work which made me feel a part of the community. Join a book group or a take a class. Even us introverts need personal interaction.
I also found myself sitting for longer periods of time than at the library. At the library, it was a block long walk to the restroom, or to the copier room, and walking the stacks added up the steps, too. At home, it was too easy to go to the kitchen and snack, so I quickly gained weight. I started attending a water aerobics class that started at 6:30 a.m. which got me home in time for me to start work at 8 a.m. Not only did it get me out of the house, and meet new people, but I got much needed exercise.
Communication Is Crucial
The importance of good communication cannot be exaggerated. At the library, I could walk to a coworker’s office to discuss a project we were working on, but it isn’t easy when you are home and hundreds of miles away from everyone. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a problem that needs to be avoided. My former library uses Google Apps, and I used the whole suite of applications to communicate with my coworkers. We used things like Google Chat (now Hangouts), shared spreadsheets using Drive, and of course email. There is always the phone, too!
Be included on staff meetings. We used both phone conferencing and Google Hangouts so I could participate in the monthly update meetings. Make trips into the office on a regular basis, to touch base, meet new co-workers, and just to remind the staff that you are still an active member of the team.
Telecommuting Isn’t for Everyone, or for Every Situation
Working from home is a very rewarding experience. There is nothing better than accidentally sleeping in and still finishing my work on time and well. However, telecommuting isn’t easy, and it isn’t for everyone. Certain types of people may despise the concept of being alone for so long, while others may tolerate it for a bit. However, only a very specific group of workers will thrive as telecommuters.
In order to be a good teleworker, one needs to be self-motivated, self-disciplined, and self-controlled. If you are the type of worker that needs someone to nag at you in order to get anything done, it probably isn’t for you. However, if you are the type to blaze new trails, are very organized, keep yourself accountable, and meet deadlines with ease, then you will do well. Essentially, you need to be your own boss.
Erin Kinney is originally from San Diego, but has lived in six states, ranging from Alabama to Wyoming. In 1997 she graduated from Florida State University with her MLIS. She recently relocated to Mobile, Alabama, from Wyoming with her husband and their 3 dogs. Erin is a past president and webmaster of the Wyoming Library Association. Her professional interests include digitization and providing access to rare materials. Erin’s hobbies include photography, knitting, and gardening. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.