When Aetna U.S. Healthcare executives realized that they needed to make a number of cuts this year, they didn't choose to let staff go. Instead, they chose to shutter a Delaware office and move the office's staff into telecommuting positions. While this might be an atypical move for any company, moving workers into telecommuting positions is not -- and is expected to become more and more common with today's relentless focus on the bottom line.
Making the Transition
If you are used to working onsite, the switch to working from home can be a bit of a shock. "How you see this job and prepare for it will determine if it works for you and your employer," says career counselor and executive coach Clay Parsons of Alternative Futures. "Working from home is a job, not a vacation from responsibility." As part of the transition, Parsons recommends creating a "real office" at home, especially if sensitive financial documents are part of what you'll be using and storing there. "Do not use [your office] for something else," he says. "When you go to work in your home office, go to work. Don't hang out there if you are not working."
Take Yourself -- and Your Job -- Seriously
You'll need to create a work structure for yourself along with a schedule that you follow. Organize your projects as if you were in the main office, and make sure you are prepared for whatever might come your way.
Schedule weekly conference calls with your direct supervisor, suggests Marcia Rhodes, spokesperson for WorldatWork, a global association for HR directors.
Imagine that you are simply moving offices. "Pretend that you're going to be working in the next office or in the conference room," says telecommuting expert and consultant Gil Gordon.
Make it "Seamless" for the Client
North Carolina-based Market Street Advisors' President and CEO Mark Hall supports his financial advisors' need to telecommute -- but not at the cost of clients' comfort.
"It needs to be seamless from the start," he says. To make that happen, the details must be right. These include installing a second line in your home and making sure the Caller ID reads the company name or the particular advisor's name. "Not Mr. and Mrs. Smith," says Hall.
You'll want to meet with frontline office staff and let them know how you want your absence to be addressed. If phone lines are connected correctly, there's no reason to have anyone even mention that you are not in the office. Instead, the call can simply be put through, which, in turn, reassures the client. "The little things can overcome any objection a client can have," says Hall. "You want to make them feel comfortable and at ease."
Avoid Becoming Isolated
As a telecommuter, it's easy to feel like you're on a deserted island, especially if you are an extrovert or "people person." You'll still want to meet with clients like you did before.
And just because you work from home doesn't mean you don't need to consult with your coworkers. Devise a method, whether it's via phone, e-mail, instant messaging, or video chats, to speak with others during the day. Pretend that coworkers -- and your boss -- are just down the hall. If it's geographically feasible, try to have lunch with a colleague at least monthly and keep abreast of events at work.
"You need to remain part of the social fabric of the office," says Gordon. If you have the opportunity to stop by the office, talk with people and catch up on things, he says. "Make sure that when you go to the office, you're not just sitting in a cubicle doing the same work you do at home."
When Rhodes' coworker moved from an in-house position to a telecommuting one, she asked one of her associates to place a life-size cardboard cutout of her on a chair at all of the staff meetings she would now attend via the phone. "That way, she could assert her visibility," says Rhodes. "Otherwise, people would overlook her."
Less of a statement but more appropriate for a finance executive would be insisting on videoconferencing for meetings, suggests Rhodes.
Acknowledge Your Successes
At the office, when something goes really well, everyone goes out to lunch or out for a drink after work. It's great for morale and it helps motivate people for the down times that sometimes come later. Reward yourself when you deserve it. If you land a new account or beat your numbers, throw a party (at a location other than your office), take a friend out for a drink to celebrate or treat yourself to something special -- just as you would if you were in the office.
Keep Your Options Open
In a lot of ways, telecommuting makes it easier to keep in touch with friends and colleagues at other companies and to maintain a network of finance professionals. "During a period of economic uncertainty, this is essential," says Parsons.
Telecommuting can work in the finance industry. It just needs to be done right and with the appropriate attitude and tools in mind, say experts. "You have to have the right discipline to work outside the office," says Hall, adding that the client's needs should always be kept in mind. "Keep it as seamless to the client as possible." The more comfortable clients are about the new arrangement, the more secure they will feel and the easier your job will be.
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