Are Telecommuters at risk for Overwork?
As a telecommuter, we often cite increased productivity as one of the biggest benefits for an employer to support teleworking or remote work. To that end, many a telecommuter can find it difficult to separate work time from personal time, especially when it comes to work hours.
Take quitting time, for example. For an office worker, quitting time may be defined by specified shift times, a mass exodus from the office, waiting for the boss to leave, and even traffic conditions or transit schedules.
For the telecommuter, some of these indicators aren’t present. Sure, you may have shift coverage to account for if you’re in customer service or similar positions, but what do you do when there isn’t any clear definition of work hours?
Scott Behson of Fathers, Work, and Family wrote a good piece on a book he read relating to the cult of Overwork here. Many a telecommuter could fall into these traps because it’s so easy to just keep on working.
For me, I work with a geographically diverse workgroup. We are spread throughout North America working for a Pacific Time Zone based company. This presents some unique challenges. What times am I supposed to be available? How do I guard against working 60 hour weeks just because there is no security guard shooing me out of the building, or that I can hear my phone ringing from the kitchen?
Here are some guidelines that I like to follow:
- Discuss your individual “working hours” with your supervisor. When does s/he expect you to be available?
- Decide what time you are going to stop work for the day, and honor it. Turn off the computer, the lights, etc.
- Close the door to your office (if you have one. If you don’t, read this). Resist the urge to go back in there! A quick check of email after dinner rarely is quick, and often causes more harm in your personal life than it helps in business. A coworker of mine told me last week that while he loves his new house, his office doesn’t have a door, and he needs a door to close off his work life from his home life.
- When it is after hours and you get an email or call, pretend that you would have to get in the car and go back to the office to handle this. Would your perception of its urgency change if it was really a hassle to drop everything and address it now, versus tomorrow morning?
- Establish your boundaries. If you are working through until 5:30, don’t take that phone call at 5:45 because you hear the phone ringing while you’re fixing dinner or working out. Taking that call tells the other party that you are still working. Set your boundaries and soon your colleagues will understand when you’re available, and more importantly, when you’re not!
A number of years ago my boss was located on the West Coast. (I was East Coast) Sometime just short of 8PM ET (5PM PT) my phone rang, and it was my boss. He said, “Hey, you got a few minutes?” I said that I didn’t because I was trying to help get my kids to bed. “Why did you answer the phone then?” Good question…