When Working Remotely Doesn’t Work Anymore

September 9, 2011
By Michelle Lowery in Online Marketing

You may have seen the recent announcement that I have been promoted to Operations Manager with Outspoken Media and am moving to Troy, NY to join the rest of the team. It’s a great opportunity for which I’m very grateful, and about which I’m very excited, but it doesn’t come without a little trepidation, and a lot of change.

I stumbled into Web writing in September 2008, and have been working from home ever since. I’ve had the dream setup for many writers, and, for the most part, it’s been fantastic! I could sleep late, my dog could spend most of the day lying at my feet, I had a lot of control over my work environment, and my interaction with people was limited to IM, e-mail, and the occasional Skype meeting.

But now I’m giving it all up.

Why would I give up working from home and move nearly a thousand miles to do it? Because working remotely just wasn’t working anymore.

This scenario is one many Web workers will face at some point in their career. When does it makes sense to work remotely and how do you know when working at home just isn’t working anymore?

Let’s take a look.

Why Working Remotely Works

I’m not here to bash the practice of working from home, and tell all you pajama-wearing slackers to get dressed and go back to the office. Telecommuting works just fine for a lot of people and offers a lot of advantages, not just to the remote worker, but to the employer as well.

Employee Benefits

Other than the ones I’ve already mentioned…

  • Tax Deductions – Some companies may cover part of the expenses you incur when telecommuting such as electricity and Internet service. But if they don’t, you can deduct a portion of those costs from your taxes. I’m not an accountant, so check the IRS rules before you start going deduction-happy, and saying I told you it was okay.
  • Saved Money – If you work outside the home, you may grab breakfast or at least coffee on the way to work, and then maybe grab a sandwich for lunch. Add it up. How much are you spending on meals every week? You could save a lot of money working from home and eating at least two meals a day there. I do.
  • Less Spending on Gas – With gas prices being what they are, any opportunity to avoid driving means money saved.
  • More Free Time – I work at least eight hours a day, every weekday, sometimes more. But I still take breaks, and it only takes a few minutes to throw a load of clothes into the washer, clear the sink of dishes, or even vacuum one room. Every task I get done during the week is one less chore that has to be done over the weekend, which means more free time!

Employer Benefits

  • Less Overhead – Every employee in the office contributes to your overhead costs, whether it’s the electricity for their computer, the space for their desk, or the water they use throughout the day. Having an employee work from home reduces those costs for your business, especially if the employee covers the expenses, and then takes tax deductions.
  • More Space – If office space is at a premium, and you’re not ready or able to move into a larger space just yet, having even one employee working from home means the office is less crowded. When people work in too-close quarters, it can wear on their nerves—and their morale. People need space to work and feel comfortable. Whether it’s a full-time remote employee, or everyone takes turns working from home, having enough space for your employees will increase their comfort, thereby increasing their productivity.
  • Access to a Wider Talent Pool – Whether you’re not having any luck hiring locally, or there’s just someone you really want on your team who lives in another city or state, being open to having a telecommuter on staff will allow you to bring a talented person on board without the cost of relocation.

Working as a remote employee of Outspoken Media, I was able to take advantage of many of these benefits. And it worked great while I was managing content creation. It’s easy to write a blog post or an article, and e-mail it in on deadline, or sit in on a meeting via Skype to help create link development strategies for clients.

But the company’s needs changed.

When Working Remotely Stopped Working For Me

Up to now, Rhea and Lisa have been managing both the business and the employees. While they’ve done a fantastic job, it’s difficult to put out fires when you’re trying to speak at a conference, or deal with client budget issues while trying to put together proposals. They wanted to add a middle manager to the team to help streamline communications, improve time management, and let them focus more of their energy on the continued momentum of the business. To create the most seamless transition possible, they decided to promote from within.

They promoted me.

And that’s when working remotely stopped working. I knew to fully accept this new position I needed to be in the office and to work more closely with my team. The thing is, it’s difficult to manage projects, and even more difficult to manage people when you’re not in the office every day. I needed to be there.

This is why I’m giving up the cushy home office, packing up my belongings, and moving my family from South Carolina to New York—to help the company I love working for continue on its path to success, and to put myself in a position where I can continue to grow.

So, what about you? What should you do when working remotely doesn’t feel like it’s working anymore?

Employees

  • Think long-term – If your company offers you a chance to move up and take on more responsibility, you need to think about the long-term. Moving itself is never fun, let’s be honest, but if it puts you in a better position now, and will possibly present even more opportunities later, think hard before you turn it down. Also remember that just like office expenses, some relocation expenses may be deductible, if they’re not covered by your company.
  • Consider salary caps – If you’re content with working remotely, and don’t want to uproot yourself or your family, there’s nothing wrong with that, either. Just know that you may reach a point where you can go no further in your current job, which may also mean your salary will reach a cap.
  • Demonstrate value – If you’re not being valued, or you’re not given the chance to grow in your job—whether remotely or in-office—you may need to consider a change. Working remotely does present challenges, but if your current employer is content to let you stay right where you are, and gain a lot of benefit without giving much back, you’re with the wrong company. Telecommuting doesn’t work without respect and consideration on both sides.

Employers

  • Consider all staff – Once you’ve identified the need for a middle manager to help grow your business, don’t discount your remote employees. It may take a little time to work out the details, as well as some creative logistics—and yes, possibly some expense—but if you already have someone with the experience and knowledge on your team, use that resource before you try to create a new one from scratch.
  • Consider helping with relocation – If you offer a new position to a telecommuting employee that will require them to relocate, be ready to assist them. Relocation assistance is wonderful, if you’re able to offer it. But helping with house hunting, or being on the lookout for jobs for your employee’s spouse can also go a long way to letting your employee know how much you value them, and making them feel welcome in their new city and workplace. (I can speak from experience and say that this kind of above-and-beyond assistance also reduces the stress of moving quite a bit, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.)
  • Be prepared to hire new, if necessary – Bear in mind that it may not work out. Your remote employee may not completely fit the bill for the position you’re trying to fill, or they may not be willing or able to move. It’s still the first place to look when it comes time to expand your staff. If it turns out your remote employee(s) need to stay where they are for whatever reason, start interviewing locally.

The main thing is, both employer and employee have to decide what works best for them. If you’re not comfortable hiring someone to telecommute, don’t. If you have trouble turning the TV off and motivating yourself while working at home, stick with the office job. Working remotely doesn’t always work for everyone. But if you do get involved in telecommuting, either as an employee or an employer, it will work best if both parties remain flexible, become champions at communicating, and most of all, recognize when it’s not working anymore so you can fix it and not lose a great employee, or give up a great job in the process.

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