Anyone that has read The Four Hour Workweek has probably fantasized about working from home in exotic locations, and generally living the dream. I recently converted my job to work-at-home after a five-year stint behind a desk onsite, so take heart, it can be done. If you’ve been considering a similar move, here’s a path that worked for me.
Will It Fly?
Not every job lends itself to the work-at-home paradigm, so the first thing you need to determine is whether or not you could even make the switch. If I were still in IT, this may have been a tougher sell. However, most of what I do in my current role is butt-in-seat, so whether I’m six feet away from my team members, or 6,000 miles, it’s really no difference.
Make Yourself Invaluable
This is pretty good advice in general because you build up goodwill, respect, favor banks, and it makes the thought of having to replace you a wince-inducing mental exercise for your supervisors. Become an expert on stuff that really matters, the go-to-guy/gal when people need institutional memory on core functions. Through time management and organization, get stuff done. Lots of stuff. Important stuff. If you’re a couple of deviations outside of the average employee, you stick out. The right people will notice, trust me, I’ve seen it from many different levels.
Lean on the Tools
Never lose sight of your ultimate work-at-home goal. Don’t be antisocial, but use email, chat, GoToMeeting/WebEx whenever you can. Be VERY clear in all of your communication. Remember, ultimately you won’t be able to stand over someone’s shoulder to clarify what you meant once you’re out of the office. Be precise and work on becoming a good and clear writer.
Get That Foot in the Door
After a year or so under your belt, ask your boss if you can work from home every now and then. If you’ve made yourself sufficiently invaluable, you’ll have enough trust and goodwill that it will fly. Make sure you have a solid home office set up before you do this. For me, it was fairly easy since I work from a laptop. I had a room set aside in the house that My Fair Lady and I shared as office space, and had a spare secondary monitor. I also had a Skype call-in number that I could forward my office phone to. Essentially, I lost nothing by working out of my home office. If you work from a workstation, it’s a bit harder, but you can still pull it off by leveraging GoToMeeting/WebEx/Etc.
While working at home on these initial exploratory excursions, you have to be focused and productive. Once you have your foot in the door, keep prying it open a little more. String two days together, make them more frequent, have meetings while you’re out of the office
Make the Pitch
Now that you have a good base and strong track record of being effective and reliable away from the office, it’s time to make your move. It’s really just as simple as asking your boss if you can work from home permanently. I think it certainly helps if you’re going to be relocating, as was my case. In that context, the parenthetical is that you’re happy and would love to continue working for the company, OR you might have to part ways. If you’ve made yourself invaluable, this is a no-brainer for your company.
Once you make the switch, it opens up a literal world of possibilities. As long as you can hack the time-zone issues, you could literally work anywhere you want. Paris in the spring, winter in South America, you name it. Get started today, and let me know when you’re ready to meet for coffee in Versailles… or Spokane… whatever.