Please help me not have to dust off my resume!
February 26, 2007 6:21 AM   Subscribe

How do I convince my boss to let me telecommute?

I am moving halfway across the country (USA) in a little over a month. I would be leaving behind a job that I dearly love. I already approached my boss about possibly telecommuting in every day and he was very open about it--but he wants me to prove to him that it will work.

We are a small company with a similarly small budget. I work on a small art team and we do both production work for screen printing as well as creative work for marketing.

My questions are:

-What technical solutions can I bring to the table? I need to be able to access their network as if I was sitting there, and PC Anywhere is too slow. My fiance suggested a dedicated VPN line, but did not elaborate. I'm also looking into a Skype phone and a fax-to-email program. Any suggestions?

-What workflow solutions can I bring up? We have paper orders that float through the plant as part of the workflow. How can I make it easy to integrate myself into that process?

-What is reasonable to expect from an employer? I want to minimize the cost as much as possible for them, as I feel that otherwise, I won't be considered. Should I be able to take the computer I use now with me or be forced to buy my own? Can I expect my salary to stay the same? Benefits?

-What benefits of telecommuting (from a remote office, not home) can I put in my proposal? These would be benefits for the company, not me.

-What potential problems will there be?

I know that a lot of these questions are going to vary from company to company but if you have any insights, I would be most glad to hear them. I tried to Google, but it seems like most of the resources out there are from 2004 or earlier and I'd like something a little more up-to-date.

Thanks much!!!
posted by bristolcat to Work & Money (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you're moving to a different time zone, be sure to take that into account. If you're going west, for example, if you work a standard 9-5 day you'll be starting 2-3 hours earlier than the rest of the office. You can spin this in to a benefit by explaining that you'll be able to get a jump on an emerging crisis or issue with a client in an earlier time zone. If you're going east, the benefit would be that you'd be effectively extending the total work day coverage for the company into the evening.

You could also offer to work the typical office schedule regardless of your new time zone, which might mean starting at 6 am or working until into the evening.

I've done a four-month telecommuting gig for my dream job after I moved across the country for my husband's job. The good thing about it was that it helped me say goodbye to my old job and come to the conclusion that I needed to move on - it was very hard to be physically removed from my office friends and colleagues. My job was to last four months by design, to give them time to find and train a replacement.

I tried joining meetings using iChat (the Mac program) and found it pretty ineffective. They would have needed to invest in a much better audio set up for it to work, so it was hard to hear and I could only see one person at a time. IM is pretty handy, though - get everyone to set up an account and login automatically when the computer starts up.
posted by handful of rain at 6:51 AM on February 26, 2007

-What is reasonable to expect from an employer?
-What benefits of telecommuting can I put in my proposal?

What's always reasonable to expect from an employer is that they will act in their best interest, and you shouldn't underestimate the value of that. You're a proven member of the team who produces work that they like. If you stop being an employee then they have to live without you or replace you with someone else - someone who isn't a known factor, will have a rampup time and may or may not be as good as you.

My point is, stop feeling like you have to bend over backwards on this and don't sell yourself short on issues like them providing you with the hardware to do your job. Absolutely they should let you take that computer with you. If they're not providing material support then you should be looking into being an independent contractor paid on a 1099 basis so you can deduce the cost of buying things to do your job. I assure you, they are depreciating the cost of that computer.

Since you're moving so far away you should make sure that your benefits will be useful where you're going. Many insurance plans are regional and there's additional hurdles in seeing out-of-plan doctors, for example. Again, possibly an argument for independence and purchasing your own policy if you can.
posted by phearlez at 7:05 AM on February 26, 2007

I worked for four years for a company in DC, despite living in Harrisburg, PA (3 hours away); I telecommuted 2-3 days per week. My suggestions will be more logistical than technical, however, and fairly scattershot -- sorry they're not better organized.

I would suggest skipping Skype and fax-to-email, and just get yourself a dedicated phone line ($20/month) and a cheap fax machine.

You should expect your salary and benefits to stay the same, although health care may be an issue if they use a small, local insurance company. If that will in fact be a big issue, and your , you might be able to sell them on not offering you health insurance at all (which is a huge expense).

You need to be able to demonstrate to your employer that you will have a dedicated work area that you'll be in during regular working hours. If you're switching time zones, be open to the option of working on their time, not yours, although handful of rain's suggestion about expanding their hours of operation is a viable option as well.

One huge benefit to the company that you need to point out to them is the fact that they don't have to spend time and money training a replacement.

I would not suggest that you suggest that they supply you with a computer, but that may be the norm for telecommuting gigs.

The biggest problem you'll face will be a lack of day-to-day interaction with your coworkers. There's not a lot you can do outside of videoconferencing (which is pretty expensive to set up right) or periodic flights out to your original stomping grounds.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 7:15 AM on February 26, 2007

I would suggest you try to set up an agreement whereby the degree to which telecommuting is working for both of you is evaluated at regular intervals - this is a chance to work on ways of improving things. See how things are going after a few months - you may discover that teleworking does not suit you well or you may love it.
posted by rongorongo at 7:16 AM on February 26, 2007

My suggestion is to start with this simple question to your boss:

"What are your concerns about my telecommuting from Halfway, USA?"

You don't want to bring up issues that he isn't concerned with now. Focus on the issues that you need to 'prove', not all the possible issues.

If you get buy-in on the 'concerning' issues, all the rest will be simpler to resolve since you and he are in alignment that telecommuting is good.

On one practical note, my friends that have telecommuted full-time swear by the plan of going to 'the office' away from home. They find space at an existing business with net and phone access and a desk. They can focus on work without the distraction of home, and their employer gets confidence that their staff are in a professional mode, not their slippers.

Not that there's anything wrong with slippers...
posted by Argyle at 7:54 AM on February 26, 2007

What technical solutions can I bring to the table?
You need a dedicated VPN to access files behind your company's firewall. Ask techsupport what you should use.

By far the most important thing you should have is an instant message tool. It's important that it show your status. This will let you ask questions of your teammates quickly and vice versa. It also gives your boss the sense that you're there. Ideally, the IM tool will let you copy and paste screenshots in it, so you can share pieces of your work with others to casually review. Make sure everyone on your team is using the same tool.

It's also good to have some kind virtual meeting room tool. There are lots of freeware ones online, and one built into MS called "Netmeeting". Something that lets you share your screen in real time is needed.

A Skype phone or Vonage is needed. All your long distance calls will cost the same as local. You need to be able to host conference calls.

What workflow solutions can I bring up?
I don't know how you should deal with the paper orders. I would designate a good friend as a backup to send me emails about them, until something can be figured out.

What benefits of telecommuting (from a remote office, not home) can I put in my proposal?
Many of the employees at future oriented companies work virtually. If it works, your business can consider this in the future, and work out the kinks. Many, many employees at IBM work virtually, including their production team. Honestly, just about everyone will work virtually in the future.

You're more productive. There are less distractions, and you are more easily able to plan your time and work extra hours if needed. You are more easily accessible through IM than you are when in the office. Many virtual employees simply work harder and longer for unknown reasons. Find studies to corroborate this.

You are happier. Many studies show that employees who have virtual work benefits refuse pay increases and or promotions if they are tied to those benefits being taken away.

What is reasonable to expect from an employer?
Yes, your employer should give you a computer. This isn't a serious cost for them anyway. Assume it, unless they say otherwise.

I would consider insisting on a pay decrease, though not a substantial one. If you don't get a pay decrease, others on your team will complain. It also makes your boss feel like he is getting away with something. Just explain that you think it would be fair considering you will save money on commutes and lunch, etc. Btw, you will save a lot of money.

If you have friends you can stay with etc, offer to be in the office a few times a year if there is any work that needs to be done where they need you in person. This will never happen, but it's nice to offer.

What potential problems will there be?
When everyone is working virtually, there are no problems and everything goes faster. When you are the only person working virtually, you miss side conversations and much of what is said during the meetings you call into. Much of your information will be received second hand, or you'll miss pieces. Just keep the communication up.

You may find it difficult to track your hours as your personal life and work life become a bit intertwined. However, if you just focus on getting your work done, you should be fine.

Some employees will be jealous of you. Don't talk to others about how good you have it, or how much you like working virtually. Just say it has its ups and downs.

There will always be that manager or person who feels that all their work with you would be just so much better if you were really in the room. It's not true. Ignore them. Being the only person working virtually, people will resent you when there are technical problems like not being able to hear you right on the phone, etc.

When you work virtually, you are no longer on a promotion track. People will have a tendency to forget about you. Your managers will not want you handling what they consider to be the important day to day jobs. When you work virtually, you will be on the shortlist to be let go, because it's easier to let go of someone you don't meet face to face. In some cases, it is only a matter of time before you are let go. Just keep in my mind you need to be proactive when you work virtually.
posted by xammerboy at 7:59 AM on February 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

For all its worth, I did exactly the same thing four years ago now. I had been working for a particular company in Seattle for several years, and I needed to move to Florida (long story involving my autistic son). I loved my job, and from my point of view there was nothing I did in the office that I couldn't do remotely. I approached my direct supervisor, laid out the situation for him, told him that I loved my job and loved working for this company, and would he be willing to at least give a shot with me working remotely.

As phearlez pointed out above, there is already a strong incentive for your employer to keep you and at least try to make it work, rather than having to go to the expense of hiring someone new and ramping them up.

In the four years since I made the move, the job has worked out perfectly. My salary remained the same, my benefits covered my new location just fine, and I brought my work computer with me. In fact, since the move it has been upgraded twice at the company's expense. VPN access is critical, and I use IM constantly throughout the day. I also find that it is useful to travel back to the main office a couple times per year just to get in face time. Over time the staff turns over, and after a while you may find yourself working for managers and co-workers who only know you as a disembodied voice. Spending 2-3 weeks out of the year back in the main office goes a long way to keeping you visible.

My experience has been that I became much more productive once I started working remotely. That seems to be a common experience, and worth pointing out to your boss as a benefit. I also have the advantage of being three hours ahead of the home office, so I am able to get quite a bit of work done in the morning before anyone in Seattle shows up at work. That is particularly helpful with workflow, in that I can complete tasks to pass off to co-workers when they arrive.

Best of luck to you. Working remotely has been the best career decision I have ever made, and it has been equally beneficial to both me and my employer. I hope you have the same experience.
posted by Lokheed at 9:18 AM on February 26, 2007

Lots of good stuff. My work is all remote working, but I can attend meetings about once a week in the main office.
Most of this is covered above but I use the VPN provided by my employer as well as their computer. They paid for all the office equipment. I would imagine there could be legal issues in using your own computer. My employer insisted it was their property. I bring it into the techies for the upgrades they wish.

You should be paid exactly the same if you do the same job. Offer to evaluate your workload for a few months to show your boss that nothing has changed. Very often it is simple insecurity on the bosses side that you'll be skiving off not being very productive without his/her eagle eye on you. This is a left-over paternalistic response and one that can be debunked quite easily. When my team was formed our boss used to ring us at odd times just to make sure we were doing what we were meant to. We had to log workhours in advance on a calendar and she would typically send an e-mail for instant response about once a week. Once she saw our productivity she relaxed.

There is evidence that teleworkers are more productive and the greater flexibility keeps people in jobs longer.

I imagine the paper orders could be scanned and e-mailed to you, would this be very onerous for the main office?

The social side is a killer. I can't imagine how I'd manage this without the meetings and travel I do as part of the job. Being office bound without office mates to chat to for 5 days a week would kill me.

I have a dedicated room in my house and it is so convenient, I can close that door and I'm at work 30 seconds after finishing breakfast.
posted by Wilder at 9:28 AM on February 26, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, every single one of these posts have been incredibly helpful! Thank you so much, all of you! I will have to print this off and reread. And I may even have to print some of these off, particularly your comment, Lokheed, and show it to my boss.

What I'm looking at is working out of a vacant office in a wing of my dad's office suite. My dad's business is overkill for their small staff. They have a huge office, massive server space, powerful internet, tech support and so forth..for a staff of three. So luckily, I'd have a place to go to work to, some people to chat with on lunch breaks and a great deal of resources at my fingertips.

Based on what I've read here, I have lots of options to put in my proposal. And now I have loads of benefits, as well. I've also had a lot of gut feelings confirmed.

Thanks so much, everyone! If anyone else has any ideas, feel free to add.
posted by bristolcat at 10:42 AM on February 26, 2007

It doesn't sound like you need this pointed out, but just in case: the material resources at your dad's business are also unusual enough that you should document them in your proposal, since they'd probably be a massive selling point for your boss.
posted by allterrainbrain at 10:49 PM on February 26, 2007

It's a little bizarre, but one guy I know who telecommutes set up a webcam as a pre-emptive measure for a control-freak supervisor. He said it was worth it to nip in the bud any idea that he was slacking off.
posted by Mozzie at 11:08 PM on February 26, 2007

Response by poster: Just as an update to this post, my proposal to telecommute was accepted for a three-month trial period. I couldn't have done it without the people at AskMeFi. Thanks so much!
posted by bristolcat at 8:04 AM on March 23, 2007

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