In the past year or so, I’ve noticed that flexibility is beginning to be as important as compensation when it comes to finding a job that’s a good fit for you. The traditional 9-5 begins to seem very silly when people are working multiple jobs to get by, trying to get things done like an adult human needs to do, and communicating mostly via technology anyway. So, the work-from-home job that lets you throw in a load of laundry, call your insurance company, and do a mid-afternoon workout while you’re waiting to hear back from a contact looks very appealing. Today, work-at-home all star Katrina is sharing her wisdom on how to get your boss to go for this. — RW
My name is Katrina, and I didn’t wear shoes to work this week. My daily commute involves rolling out of bed, walking down the hall, and switching on my laptop. While showering is encouraged, it’s certainly not mandatory. And my assistant? Sure, she may not make any Starbucks runs, but she does love to sit on my lap during conference calls.
(Don’t worry…it’s not sexual harassment if your assistant is a Chihuahua.)
(Yes…I Googled it to make sure.)
You’ve probably figured out that I work from home. Full time. For a legitimate organization as opposed to some sketchy scam I got suckered into online. I’ve spent four years working remotely for two different employers and truly wouldn’t have it any other way.
So how can you make “works from home” a part of your LinkedIn profile? Advances in technology and corporate culture mean more and more people are transitioning into full-time telecommuting. Still, many employers can be hesitant to adopt the concept of a home office. Here are a few tips on how to find a work-at-home job, or turn your current position into one.
1. Start as a freelancer
Companies that are ready and willing to hire remote workers right off the bat can be few and far between. Potential employers might feel skeptical about your productivity or ability to meet deadlines without a micromanaging supervisor breathing down your neck. Let’s face it…nobody wants to pay someone to sit on the couch and watch The Price Is Right all day.
As is often the case, my first “real” job out of graduate school was a total bust. In an attempt to break free from the lameness of my nine to five, I started doing freelance design work for a well-known magazine on the side. I made it abundantly clear that I would be interested in a full-time position, but that relocating within commuting distance simply wasn’t an option. After two months of steady freelance projects, I had proved I was capable of producing quality work autonomously and was offered a full-time position from home. Just like that, I was able to kiss my mediocre job goodbye, and begin a wonderful 3-year career at the magazine.
Freelancing is a fantastic way to prove your self-management ability, as well as your skill and value to the organization on a trial-basis. Not only is there minimal risk to the company, you don’t have to leave your current job while searching for a new one. Sure, it may mean skipping happy hour with friends in order to meet project deadlines, but the networking opportunities (not to mention the extra cash) can be well worth the sacrifice.
2. Prove yourself in the office setting.
Perhaps freelancing isn’t a viable option for you, or you’re not interested in leaving your current role. Fortunately, you still have the opportunity to demonstrate your ability to work successfully from home without ever leaving cubicle-land.
I currently work from home for an organization that traditionally has no telecommuting policy. I was designing in their U.S. headquarters when I learned my husband and I would be moving to the middle of nowhere for a new job he had accepted. Against all odds, I decided to ask if they would be willing to make an exception and let me keep working from 1,500 miles away. Because I had proved to be a diligent and responsible employee over the course of two years, they agreed to let me to set up shop at home.
So, how do you go about proving yourself? Meeting deadlines, staying on task, producing quality work and building trust are all important factors. Remember that time you finished your boss’ huge presentation from home despite a raging case of Shingles? Now’s the time to bring that up.
Impeccable communication skills are also a must, as being away from the office means you’ll need to convey information effectively without actually being there. Translation? Step up your email game. Written communication is a huge part of the WFH lifestyle.
A trial run can also be a smart way to convince a supervisor you’re prepared to work effectively from home. Try proposing a work schedule that includes telecommuting one day week for a couple of months. This allows your employer to ease into the transition, while also helping you determine if working remotely is actually something you’re interested in.
3. Explain the value.
It’s important to express the reasons why you want to work from home in a clear and objective manner. (So long as those reasons aren’t working in the nude and taking three-hour “Real Housewives of Atlanta” breaks.) Maybe you’ll gain an extra two hours of availability once you ditch your lengthy commute. Perhaps your productivity level will skyrocket once you’re no longer surrounded by gossipy co-workers. Whatever the case may be, it’s crucial to make that case to your supervisor or hiring manager. You may even want to anticipate some of their concerns and address them in your proposal. (Think phone, Internet, and email guidelines, or a suggested work schedule.) Most important, don’t forget to illustrate how a home office will not only benefit you but also your company.
Finally, be prepared to present your ideas in a thorough and professional manner. Consider taking the time to craft a polished presentation packet that outlines your argument. You may even want to include specific examples of times when you’ve demonstrated the capability to work unsupervised. (Again…bring up that Shingles example!) If a presentation packet feels too formal, try jotting down detailed notes so you can have a comprehensive conversation without forgetting anything.
4. Be willing to compromise.
While you may no longer want to come into the office on a daily basis, volunteering to maintain some sort of physical presence can go a long way. I currently fly back to my office one week each quarter in order to stay connected with my team. At my previous position, I drove to headquarters for a couple of “in office” days each month. Typically, your employer will cover this expense, but it may be worth offering to pay for travel out-of-pocket if it’s a deal breaker.
Speaking of money, a company may be more apt to consider a remote office if you’re flexible in regards to salary or benefits. When I began working from home, I didn’t receive any health insurance or a retirement package. This certainly made my situation more complex (who knew dental work could be so expensive?), yet it ended up being well worth the compromise.
While this is a difficult choice that should be made on a case-by-case basis, know that being open to a smaller benefits package, or even a pay cut, could be a powerful negotiating tool in securing an at-home career. Plus…think of all the money you’ll no longer be spending on gas and Starbucks runs!
Convincing an employer to support a home office agreement is a lot like asking for a raise — you’ll need to prove your value, have a positive track record, and demonstrate a strong sense of discipline. Giving up the constant supervision offered by a traditional office setting can be terrifying for some managers, and you’ll need to ease them into the idea.
Obviously, this no easy task. But as I sit here, snuggling with my Chihuahua assistant in a brightly wallpapered office where I’ll never be scolded for lighting candles, I can truly say it’s worth the effort.
No one’s the wiser when I host a Gaga-inspired dance party after an extremely successful conference call.
Katrina Taylor is a web-designing, cupcake-eating, fitness-instructing Seattleite who recently found herself moving to rural Minnesota and working from home. She recounts her adventures with her husband and chihuahua on the ridiculous and irreverent blog, ‘Sota Is Sexy.
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