The Rise of the Remote Worker, or How to Work from Home Without Getting Fired

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Is heading to the office necessary anymore? According to a Cisco study, 70% of college students and young professionals say no. Increasingly, and perhaps surprisingly, employers seem to agree. Studies show that 45% of the U.S. workforce now has a job that’s suitable for full-time or part-time telecommuting. But even as working from home becomes more acceptable and the rigid command and control office model seems outdated, remote workers remain worried that they may be viewed as slackers, and that the lack of “face time” with the boss can hurt their careers.

Advances in video conferencing, social media and other technologies, the increased need in the modern-day business world to be on the job 24/7 and forward-thinking workplace-flexibility programs have given rise to a new era of the remote worker.

Telecommuting, working from home, working remotely: they all essentially mean the same thing (working somewhere other than in an office). And this form of work is growing. The Atlantic reported that there are now more than 34 million people who work from home occasionally. A new study by the software company Wrike, meanwhile, shows that 83% of employees work remotely at least part of the day. Presumably, reading and answering e-mails while commuting, or perhaps just before bedtime, counts, as it should.

(MORE: How to Work at Home: 4 Ways to Convince Your Boss)

Businesses are embracing remote workers because the absence of a traditional office environment and hours can increase efficiency and make employees more productive than ever. Workplace flexibility also makes for happier employees. In the Wrike study mentioned above, 78% of those surveyed said they would forgo free food in order to be allowed to work remotely. According to the Cisco survey, 6 in 10 college students and young professionals said they feel like they have the right to work remotely on a flexible schedule.

Yet pitfalls for remote workers are undeniable. Some telecommuters do, in fact, turn into slackers, take advantage of their situations and wind up getting fired. Remote workers also don’t form strong emotional bonds with co-workers (no chance for afterwork cocktails, obviously), and they don’t get the all-necessary “face time” with senior management. Even so, there are ways to win over your boss and be a successful, wonderfully productive remote worker — one whom it would be foolish to lay off.

Here are some tips:

1. Get Organized
If you can’t handle the basics — meeting every little deadline, being on time, producing professional-quality work — then it’s unlikely that your manager will trust you to handle your workload remotely. To make the case for being allowed to work from home, demonstrate outstanding organization and attention to detail, as well as an overall sense of professionalism with everything you do. Each time you follow through on one of your projects, you will gain more trust and be included in higher-level ones. I recommend Real Simple To-Do Lists iPhone application, a Google Calendar and/or Microsoft Outlook as organization aids.

(MORE: Work from Home? You Must Be a Slacker)

2. Check In with Your Manager Frequently
In the corporate world, if you aren’t seen or heard, you aren’t thought of for new opportunities. Make sure that your manager sees your name, views your face or hears your voice every day. This way, you can stay top of mind and at least appear like you’re making an effort to keep in touch. Use Skype video conferencing (or Google Talk), instant messaging and text messaging, and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. Be mindful of your manager’s preferred method of communication. Often, age-based stereotypes hold up: if they are much older, you should probably call, whereas with younger managers, newer technologies may work better.

3. Push Yourself to Network
Just doing your job isn’t enough to be successful as a remote worker. You need to build your soft skills by networking in person and via social media with co-workers and other people in your industry. If possible, go to your company’s off-site training programs and holiday parties, and participate in as many networking events and conferences as you can. Building strong relationships can be a challenge for a telecommuter, but it is often just as important as being a good worker.

4. Take Breaks and Get Fresh Air
Without formal meetings and lunch breaks, you need to manage your own schedule. For every hour you work, take a 10-minute break. By doing this, you are mimicking the natural pace of office life. Don’t feel guilty about this: breaks will help you think more clearly and be more productive.

5. Work in a Productive Space
Experiment with different work spaces to find one (or several) that work for you. Your dining-room table, the living room, your neighborhood Starbucks or a co-working office space may do the trick. Just be sure that you’re actually getting work done. You may also want to use a variety of work settings to avoid boredom, mix things up and get the creative juices flowing.

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6. Use Collaboration Tools
One of the remote worker’s biggest challenges is to prove to managers and co-workers that you’re actually working instead of just wasting time. By using collaboration tools such as Google Docs, Zoho and Approver, colleagues can see your real-time edits, comments and projects while you’re working on them. You could also create a hosted wiki using or PBworks.

7. Respond to E-Mails Quickly
This is a simple tip — and an important one. Make replying to your managers’ e-mails a high priority. Get back to them promptly so that they trust you’re working, not sleeping or playing video games. And when you respond, be clear and concise. Cover all of your bases to avoid unnecessary back and forth. If six e-mails are required to take care of an issue that would have been covered in a 30-second in-person conversation, your boss may start reassessing whether this whole “remote worker” thing is a good idea.

Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research-and-management-consulting firm. He speaks on the topic of personal branding, social media and Gen Y workforce management for companies such as Google, Time Warner, Symantec, CitiGroup and IBM. Subscribe to his updates at
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