How to Land a Job Working From Home (or Telecommuting)

April 2, 2014

work-from-home-jobs

I often get asked how a job seeker can find a job working from home or at least telecommuting part-time. The truth is, there is no magic formula. Job seekers should be leery of advertisements on the internet offering you 100% flexibility and the ability to work from home fulltime. Most of those ads are scams and will not lead you anywhere. So how do you do it? Here are my tips:

  1. Understand your own needs and objectives. What is it you really want? I have friends that say they want to work from home but they really just want better work-life balance or more flexibility. Do you want a more flexible work schedule to balance family commitments? Do you live in the exoburbs and want to reduce your commute? Do you just hate the office environment and feel more productive working from home? Would you be willing to commute to the office part-time? If so, how many days a week is acceptable? What about business travel? Asking yourself these question can help you better understand what you are really looking for and what you would be willing to accept.
  2. Search jobs that interest you or that you are well suited for. There’s an old adage about never taking a job solely based on the salary offered. The same goes for flexible work options. If the only reason you are accepting a job is because the employer lets you work from home, you may be disappointed in the long run. If you don’t like the job, working remotely is not going to make it any better. In your initial job search, forget about the working arrangements and look for something that you really want to do.
  3. Don’t get discouraged if the job doesn’t list WFH or telecommuting as options. Many employers don’t advertise their flexible work arrangements. You may not find out about their specific policies until you are well into the interview process. Alternatively, companies may be flexible on their location requirements if they find the right candidate. Once you find an attractive job opening (see #2 above) do a little research on the company to see if the company has flexible work options. It’s even better if you can network with people that work or have worked at the company and find out directly what’s offered internally.
  4. Don’t ask about work arrangements in the initial interview. The first interview with a company is like a first date. Both parties are really looking for compatibility but not necessarily diving into specifics. I used to know several recruiters that would always tell me, “The first person that brings up money, loses.” They basically meant that you didn’t want to ask how much money you were going to make during the first interview because you could scare off the employer. The same can be said for all benefits, including telework. Let the employer get to know and want you before you get into specifics around working arrangements. However, if the employer brings it up during the initial interview then it’s usually fair game to talk about it.
  5. Be able to demonstrate how you have effectively worked remotely in the past. Although many employers are still old school in their management practices and are just starting to implement telework or flexible work options, other innovative companies do this naturally as part of everyday business. In some cases, employers are specifically looking for individuals to work from satellite offices or work from home at least part time to conserve on office space. These employers will look for you to provide examples of how well you worked in a virtual environment in the past. If you’ve never worked remotely, you can use your experiences from participating in a virtual team or at least be able to explain how you’ve been able to be effective without needing to sit in front of your manager or peers.

There are some trustworthy websites and online resources for virtual job seekers. Check out the websites below in addition to the popular sites like Monster, CareerBuilder, or Indeed:

www.ratracerebellion.com

www.flexjobs.com

www.homeworkers.org

 

Happy job hunting,

Jason

 

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Home Office Safety

September 3, 2013

safety first

(Note: Special thanks this month goes to my friend Chuck Wilsker, President of the Telework Coalition.  Chuck provided the good info below about home office safety.  You can learn more about the TelCoa at www.telcoa.org

Last month I wrote about how you could use the 5S methodology to organize your home office.  It’s a good idea to add an extra “S” and think about safety.  Home office safety is often overlooked but is important for obvious reasons.  Many of the employers I’ve spoken with leave it up to their teleworkers to ensure home offices are safe places to work.  Only a few offer advice, tips, or checklists to ensure employees can work in a productive and safe environment while working from home.

As you set up or review you home office, think about the items below.  To help you remember this, think of the acronym SELF to keep yourSELF safe (get it?  Oh, whatever…).

Security – Ensuring your home office is secure is important because theft of financial or confidential business information can be devastating to your business.  Replacing lost equipment is expensive and time consuming; and invasion of personal safety can leave physical and psychological scars.  Consider the following tips:

  • Don’t meet clients or vendors, or conduct  meetings with co-workers, in your home
  • Ensure you inventory any expensive home office equipment (it’s a good idea to make a video inventory) and make sure its insured if it belongs to you and not your employer
  • Buy a shredder or see if your employer will provide one
  • If possible, don’t store hard copies of sensitive documents in your home office
  • Don’t leave portable data storage devices in plain sight
  • Leverage cloud technologies for data storage versus leaving it on your hard drive
  • If you have to store confidential or sensitive documents in your home office, make sure you have a desk drawer or file cabinet that can be locked

Electrical Hazards – According to the U.S. Fire Administration, electrical wiring/equipment is the leading cause of home office fires.  Think about the following:

  • Consider having a qualified electrician inspect your home office, especially if you have added a substantial new electrical load to your home or you have an older home
  • Don’t overload electrical outlets – avoid using power strips plugged into other power strips or creating an outlet “octopus” by plugging in too many adapters into a single outlet
  • Use correct size and current rating for breakers and fuses
  • Do not unplug an appliance by pulling on the cord as you can damage the outlet and the cord
  • Be sure plugs fit securely into outlets – if a
    plug is loose, either the cord or the outlet needs to be replaced
  • Don’t run cords under rugs, carpets, or furniture
  • Never staple cords or hang them over nails or sharp objects
  • Never coil or band cords tightly – coiling or banding cords can damage the cord, as well as cause overheating
  • Be careful of appliances you may use in your home office, i.e. space heaters or coffee makers
Looks like I'm growing an electrical octopus in my home office.

Looks like I’m growing an electrical octopus in my home office.

Lighting –  Poorly designed lighting in the home office is also a hazard.  Lighting problems can result from too much light, which can cause glare, or from insufficient light.  According to the Center for Disease Control, poor lighting in the workplace is associated with an increase in accidents.  As people age, they require more light to see properly. For example, someone in their 50’s will require about three times more light for reading than someone in their 20’s.  A couple of tips:

  • Make sure you have enough lighting to clearly see stairs or areas around your home office to avoid tripping or falling
  • If you experience headaches or eyestrain, check your lighting
  • Position your monitor so no glare reflects from windows or other light sources (glare can lead to eye strain)
  • Adjust your lighting if you experience neck or back pain resulting from straining to see small or detailed items

Fall and Trip Hazards – Probably the most common injuries in the home office result from trips or falls.  (Did you know that each year approximately 2,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains after tripping over extension cords?)  To prevent a fall, beware of:

  • Clutter on the floor
  • Loose cords under your desk or across the floor
  • Unstable office furniture
  • Lack of a handrail on stairs
  • Items placed on stairs
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Open drawers, which can cause you to trip
  • Unbalanced filing cabinets that can tip over on you
  • Substituting a chair for a stepstool
My makeshift dog barrier and left over trash may lead to my demise...

My makeshift dog barrier and left over trash may lead to my demise…

This is not intended to be an al encompassing list, but should help you as you look over your home office.  Do you have a tip or even a home office horror story?  Drop me a line and let me know.

Work safe,

Jason


Use 5S to Keep Your Home Office Efficient and Effective

July 9, 2013

messy office

Last week I wrote about lean methodology which was originally developed by Japanese engineers at Toyota.  When lean methodology started to become known among Western companies in the 1990s, an associated concept called 5S, already used by Toyota and many other Japanese companies, also became popular.  The 5 S’s stand for the Japanese words that start with the letter ‘s’ when translated into English: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.  5S is used by many manufacturing organizations to help keep the workplace organized.  You can use it too to help keep your home office efficient and effective.  And don’t worry, you don’t need to remember the Japanese terns.  Over time, Western managers have found similar ‘s’ words to take their place.

Sort: This is the type of sorting you do during spring cleaning.  Eliminate all unnecessary items in your home office.  Keep only what’s essential to doing your job on a daily basis.  If you don’t use it regularly, consider storing it someplace.  I moved my home office to a smaller room in my house and it forced me to take a hard look at all the stuff I had accumulated – a docking station for my laptop that I never used, old headsets, spare storage drives, etc.  Most of it was just taking up space.

Straighten: Arrange your home office equipment so it minimizes wasted movement (remember the category of waste from last week’s post called Motion).  For example, I initially had my modem and router located in another room.  Since I was having consistent problems with my local service provider and was manually rebooting the devices regularly, it made more sense to have it within arm’s reach.

Shine:  Keep it clean and organized.  At the end of a shift, it’s normal for workers to clean the shop floor and ensure all equipment and tools are put in their place.  You should do the same.  At the end of the workday, spend a few minutes to clean up your home office and prepare for the next day.  It will keep you focused and help organize your thoughts, not just your office.

Standardize.  This step usually refers to maintaining uniform policies and procedures.  In regards to working from home, think about your routine.  Getting into a routine will keep you focused and productive.  It will also help fight some of the distractions that creep up from the household.

Sustain.  Ensure you are following through on the previous steps.  If necessary, schedule time every now and then to review your home office, do the necessary cleaning, or review your work habits.

Over time, engineers and managers have expended on the 5S concept and created 6, 7, and even 8S.  The additional step that I think is most relevant to those that work from home is Safety.  Many organizations provide a home office safety checklist to help employees, but others leave it to their teleworkers to figure it out on their own.  Don’t overlook this step.  Ensure that your home office is not only clean and organized, but safe as well.

Good luck,

Jason


What Tech Support Do You Provide For Your Teleworkers?

August 21, 2012

I finally did it.  During my early morning routine of reading emails, I dumped an entire cup of coffee on my laptop keyboard.  Sure, I knew the dangers of beverages and computers, but hey, I’ve been doing this for years without incident.  Well, a few weeks ago my coffee mug inexplicably became airborne as I got up from my chair.  By the way, I don’t drink a small cup of coffee.  I usually prefer a ceramic jug that could double as the coffee pot. 

I watched in slow motion as all the contents poured on top of the keyboard and slid between the keys.  What followed was a string of profanity at a volume level that was sure to wake the neighbors.  I watched the green power light fade slowly as if waving one final goodbye. 

Since the laptop belongs to my company and isn’t mine, I immediately called my IT help desk and sheepishly admitted what I had done.  Within seconds I had an email to my mobile phone that would let me track the status of my “T01 Spill Incident.”  Apparently, there are enough beverage fumbling employees to cause the help desk to designate an actual nomenclature for these types of accidents. 

Within a day I had a new laptop courtesy of FedEx.  As I opened the box, I saw a sheet with instructions.  “Step 1: Use your screwdriver to remove the hard drive from your old PC.”  Great, I thought.   There’s a reason why my wife keeps the handyman’s phone number on speed dial and I am no longer allowed to hang ceiling fans, put holes in the dry wall, or do much more than change the light bulbs in our house.  Again, I called the help desk and begged for help.  A few minutes later I had replaced the hard drive (and learned that solid state drives really are coffee-proof) and was up and running, all files thankfully intact.  In short, I got lucky. 

The whole experience made me start thinking about the type of support organizations provide for their teleworkers.  Leaders provide support and resources for their workers to succeed. As a leader, make sure you budget and invest in quality service and support. Knowing that service and support is there provides comfort and reduces anxiety for those thinking about teleworking. Leaders should also consider the type of support that will be offered. For example, if teleworkers will be working from a home office, will the company help desk be able to assist teleworkers or will they be responsible for troubleshooting their equipment in the home office?

In today’s world, teleworkers are obtaining a wide variety of consumer technologies from iPhones to flash drives to digital cameras – all of which may serve a legitimate business purpose.  Home-based workers may use their own routers and modems.  To complicate matters, teleworkers may rely on a number of software applications downloaded straight from the Web which may or may not be supported within the existing IT infrastructure.  Without providing support, or at least understanding what can or cannot be supported, teleworkers may become less effective.  Also, if you are responsible for hiring people for your help desk, make sure they’ve got strong interpersonal skills, not just technical skills.  Nobody wants to call for IT support if the support isn’t friendly and customer focused.      

I think I’ve learned my lesson for now (I mainline coffee in another room before coming near my PC).  At least I can take comfort in knowing who to call and what type of support I can expect if something does goes wrong.

-Jason

 


Spring Cleaning for Your Home Office

April 10, 2012

This past week I decided to clean out my home office.  Actually, it wasn’t my decision.  My wife decided that my nice office furniture would look better in her office and I was quickly robbed of most of the home office fixtures I had grown accustomed to.  However, I am looking at this with a positive spin and using it as an opportunity to reevaluate my home office setup.  I have seen many elaborate home office spaces but have opted for a minimalist design (translation: I’m really a cheapskate that rarely buys any furniture I can’t find on Craigslist and then I agonize afterwards, wondering if I could’ve haggled the seller down another $5).  With this in mind, I have learned there are only a couple of essential concepts when setting up your home office.

Avoid the high traffic areas.  I have yet to figure out why most homebuilders in the US design a den or home office space right next to the front door.  It’s in the direct line of fire of a multitude of distractions, i.e. solicitors repeatedly ringing the doorbell, your dog trying to chase squirrels through the front windowpane, or your kids stress testing the door hinges with how many times it can open and close.   In the homes that I have lived in, I always end up migrating to the back of the house, usually taking over a spare bedroom.  Do yourself a favor and find a quiet spot away from most of the household activity.

Lighting.  I have a personal attachment to my man-cave.  I used to like the manly, dungeon-esque qualities of it.  A personal retreat from a Pottery Barn and IKEA infested house.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t good for videoconferencing and was hard on my eyes.  I have now found a place with good natural lighting and bright lamps throughout the room.

Remember the 5 S’s.  The 5S methodology was originally created by Japanese manufacturing engineers to keep their facilities organized but it applies to any place, even the home office.  It stands for Sort, Simplify, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.  Go through your home office, keep only the essential items and toss the rest (sort).  Ensure that everything has its proper place (simplify).  Now, go ahead and clean it up (shine).  Make it a regular habit at the end or beginning of each day (standardize).  Block off time on your calendar and review your work practices and perform the first 4 S’s again (sustain).

Stay safe.  Although OSHA won’t pay your home office a visit anytime in the future, that doesn’t mean you should ignore some basic common sense and safety practices at home.  Beware of the octopus of electrical cords keeping your home network alive.  If you’re like me and buying second furniture, make sure those top heavy file cabinets won’t flatten you.  Check the basics ergonomics of your setup to ensure you can move around freely and comfortably. 

Got a tip?  Drop me a line and let me know.

-Jason


3 Simple Things My Home Office Can’t Live Without

December 8, 2011

They say the best things in life are often the simplest.  In my home office, where I spend the majority of my time, you’ll find simple tools and technology.  Not much cutting edge equipment here.  In fact, for years I got by with just my laptop and a cell phone.  Yes, technology enhances the teleworking experience and makes you more effective, but truth be told, I’m cheap.  I don’t like to spend money.  However, there are a couple of simple things I can’t live without.

 

1.  A second monitor.  Plugging an old, yet large, monitor into my laptop gives me dual screen capability so I can multitask or manage online training sessions easily.  For example, notes or slides to myself on one screen while sharing the other screen with online participants. 

  

2.  A good headset.  Since I’m on the phone a good portion of the day a headset is a necessity.  I use a Plantronics headset wired directly into my IP phone.  (The sound quality is better than my old Bluetooth headset).  I find the headset is also better than a speaker phone because it cuts out a lot of background noise (barking dogs, screaming kids, or my wife yelling at the barking dogs or screaming kids).  If you do a lot of online presenting then a good quality headset is a must.

  

3.  Powerline adapter.  If you have multiple computers at home and have trouble with your wireless network and need to be wired in, there’s no need to string Ethernet cable throughout your house.   Powerline adapters plug into your wall outlet and use the wiring in your home as if it were a Ethernet cable.  I have used a Linksys Powerline AV Bridge Kit PLK300 (about $100) for the past couple of years with no issues, the speed is great, and it took about 2 minutes to set up out of the box.

 What are the things in your home office you can’t live without?

 -Jason