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Telecommuting

Sarah Horrocks
by Sarah Horrocks Published on 16 June 2008

Earning money from the comfort of your own home is sometimes called telecommuting. It developed in the 70s in the US and is still rare in the UK, but people do earn their living this way. Here's our guide.

What is telecommuting?
Telecommuting cuts out the need to travel or commute by allowing people to work either from home or at a dedicated telecentre. It requires companies to set up particular systems to enable their employees to do their jobs outside their normal workplace. According to research carried out by various organisations, around 10% of employees in the UK work from home.

In what circumstances does telecommuting exist?
Different types of teleworkers exist, the best known being self-employed workers and freelancers who offer their services and carry out tasks from home. But teleworkers can also be employed by companies.
- Some companies, for example, sub-contract out some of their business to external telecentres (often customer service and aftersales service).
- Some managers may suggest that their employees work from home. This situation requires the manager setting up certain systems and means a big change in managerial methods.
- Finally, some teleworkers are ‘nomads’ as they only work partly outside the company. They stay in contact with their company while on business trips and have access to company databases.

Advantages and disadvantages
- For the employer. Telecommuting allows for a lot of flexibility when managing a team and means management don't have to let staff go if they relocate, for example. The company needs to put all the tools neccessary at their employees' disposal (PC, telephone, etc.) and arrange regular meetings between the worker and their colleagues, if required.
- For the teleworker. The advantages are plentiful. Telecommuting saves time travelling from home to work, so teleworkers can manage their time with greater flexibility and combine their work and home lives more easily. But freedom comes at a price: on top of their professional skills, they're often required to take care of clients, manage a budget and deal with accountants.

Working from home
It’s important to choose work that you enjoy doing, but for which you have a real skill. Although telecommuting can seem like a simple way to create a business, don’t underestimate the effort it takes to get it off the ground.

- Who can telecommute?
In principle, anyone. If you work for a company you may be able to suggest working from home to your employer. It’s a relationship based on trust between the two parties, but this situation is quite rare in the UK (which is why the large majority of teleworkers are self-employed). You can start your own company from home, of course, and this can be a good option if you're unemployed, retired or a housewife.

- Defining your business
The first step is defining what you want to sell. All immaterial services can be supplied via telecommuting: expertise, advice, prospecting etc. The fields of communication in general can also lend themselves well to distance working: marketing, graphic design, IT development, public relations, etc.

- Choose your status
When telecommuting is carried out within a company, the employee remains tied to the rules defined in their contract and is paid by an employer. However, when the business is your own, you are paid directly by your clients. To invoice clients, you need to set up your own business...which does not neccessarily mean taking huge risks: read up and find out what you need to do.

- Make a name for yourself
This is the final, and certainly the most complicated step. Selling yourself to clients means good communication, and this is often what discourages people from telecommuting. Selling and negociation doesn't come naturally to everyone, yet it's fundamental. Business is all about bringing in more than what it costs to produce, at the end of the day!

Advice for good organisation
- Set up a workspace that's quiet, comfortable, properly equipped and well-lit. Choose a place that’s set apart from your living room, living space or areas people pass through, or as much as possible.
- Make sure your children understand that you can't be disturbed continuously (employ a nanny for a few hours, for example). Close your door and ask them not to disturb you except for emergencies.
- Another essential is to set yourself a timetable and stick to it, organising your tasks for the week. This will allow you to organise your work and manage deadlines better. However, just because your office is at home doesn’t mean that you have to work 24/7. Establish fixed working hours (9-5:30 for example) and stick to them so that you don't get overwhelmed.

by Sarah Horrocks