Although many studies have shown that telecommuters report less stress and higher morale compared to on-site employees, working remotely can also pose unique challenges and introduce new causes of stress. Here are some of the issues mobile professionals and telecommuters face, and ways to manage or reduce your stress while working away from the office.
Traditional on-site workers may occasionally or even often bring work home with them. For remote workers, however, the work is always at home with them, and this can make the potential for overwork or burnout much higher for telecommuters (especially Type A workaholics). Working from home or on the road also takes you away from the formal structure provided by the workplace, requiring you to manage your own time -- something that's challenging for many of us.
• Set and stick to a working schedule and routine, and make sure your routine includes taking regular breaks. If it's hard for you to stop working at the end of the day, set up appointments or join activities that will force you to stop at a certain time.
• Limit yourself to only a couple of reasonably-attainable tasks to accomplish each week (or whatever is appropriate for your job). For each task, differentiate between what is truly urgent and merely important.
• Set up some physical boundaries between your work and home lives. If you're a teleworker, set up your office space in a separate room (and close the door at the end of the day); if you work on the road a lot, put away your laptop and paperwork at the end of the day.
• Consider productivity systems like Getting Things Done or Franklin Covey's planning system to work more efficiently and reduce stress.
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Sometimes the "always-on" issue is an internal one: When working remotely, you may feel guilty or anxious if you miss a call from the office or a customer, even if you do so for legitimate reasons (even on-site staff take bathroom breaks). Also, because you're a mobile worker with 24/7 BlackBerry access or a telecommuter working from home, there may be (unreasonable) expectations for you to always be reachable.
• Stop putting the pressure on yourself -- acknowledge that you may not always be able to take every call and that you have a right to the same courtesies as other employees (even if you do get to work remotely). At the same time, of course, you should be reasonably available during your scheduled hours.
• Set up your voicemail to let callers know your available times and that you will call them back as soon as possible - and do so.
• Although you probably want to go "above and beyond" for your work anyway, when on vacation or during off-hours, screen your calls and respond to those that are true emergencies that only you can handle.
One of the benefits of working remotely is independence, but for some, this may eventually feel like isolation. Regular business travelers and mobile workers may also spend more time away from the office than in it. Besides separating you from co-workers, this situation can also distance you from your manager, sometimes leaving you with less support and direction than on-site workers may get.
• Being physically distant doesn't have to mean seclusion. Use IM and web conferencing tools to keep in touch with co-workers and your manager, even if only to say hello or for some virtual water cooler chat.
• Plan to touch base (via phone or Web-based tools) at least once a week with your manager or boss.
• Maintain relationships outside of the office by joining professional associations or community memberships and also investing more time with friends and family.
By working from home, you can avoid typical office distractions like co-workers invading your cubicle. However, you may also find these interruptions replaced with more personal ones (like your child invading your home office or delivery/service calls breaking your concentration). Business travelers may have even more distractions, depending on where they try to get work done.
• Establish some ground rules for family members when you're working from home, so they know not to interrupt you unless it's a true emergency. Shutting the door to the office is a good sign to help them know when you cannot be reached.
• Figure out when the most distractions are likely to happen in your area (On Wednesday mornings, it seems like all of my neighbors have gardeners using the loudest equipment ever made). Schedule phone meetings or web conferences outside of those times.
• When traveling, try to arrange for a hotel in a quiet neighborhood (away from loud bars and fire stations) and, within that hotel, a quiet room (typically, away from the elevators and public spaces and on an upper floor).
A lot of the stress telecommuters feel about interruptions is due to this still-standing stigma that we're not every bit as professional as other workers simply because we're not at the office. You may even hear it intimated that off-site employees don't work as hard as their commuting co-workers. Or you may have career advancement concerns, afraid that you'll be passed over when it comes to promotions (off-site/out of sight, out of mind).
• Unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do about those who just don't understand telecommuting, except to direct them to lucid essays about the myths of telecommuting or how being a mobile worker can sometimes be a nightmare.
• Most importantly, just prove them wrong and stay productive while working remotely(without breaking your back). Remind yourself that the value of your work isn't measured by where you do it or how you're dressed while performing your job, it's how well you do it.
• For accountability, try to respond to emails or calls - during your working hours - within 15 minutes, meet your deadlines or hit them early, and stay in touch with the office regularly and let them know your progress on projects. You can use also use several tech tools to prove you're working when you are working from home or while traveling.
It's easy to get distracted or lose sight of your professional goals when you work remotely, especially if you've been doing it for some time. Telecommuters need to be particularly self-motivated because no one's directly looking over their shoulders and there are so many obstacles to working from home. Here are some tips and tricks to keep you on track and at your best, no matter where you do your work:
You don't have to put on a suit, but wearing something a little more polished than pajamas should put you in the right frame of mind and may make you more productive.
Even if it's just a desk in a corner of the dining room, keep that one area just for your work. Sure, your commute may be all of ten seconds, but you are still on your way to your "office."
There's nothing like eyestrain from poor lighting or a backache from sitting in the wrong kind of chair to decrease working stamina. Make sure you're set up to work ergonomically.
Don't place your desk near the widescreen TV, for example, or next to the fridge if these are your biggest temptations or distractions. Also, try to keep your work area neat so it will be a pleasure to be there (or at least as much of one as possible).
If you have the luxury of deciding your work hours, carve out--and stick to--a schedule that works best for you; some people are larks, others owls.
Being close to loved ones is one of the benefits of telecommuting. However, it's just not possible to be 100% productive while also being 100% focused on your child. Consider child care (in-home or out), if only for limited hours, or work when your child is sleeping (nap time or at night), if your schedule allows.
For more general, yet comprehensive, stress reduction for all types of work situations, I highly recommend the book Calm at Work, by Paul Wilson. It's a great resource for life-planning as well.
Erica R. Gibson is a tech writer at the service where everyone can ask to write my essay. She is highly interested in keeping up with advancing technologies. In this case, she spends her spare time reading various blogs to obtain new knowledge and improve her professional skills.
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