At the February program of the New England Chapter of STC, a veteran telecommuter generously shared his experiences and best-practice tips.
The program, titled “Best Practices for Telecommuting/Working with Remote Project Teams” was held on Wednesday, February 22, at the Town Center Building in Bedford, Mass. Ed Marshall, the presenter, has spent nearly 30 years in the field, much of it as a remote team member, and he shared lessons learned from experiences good, bad, and ugly.
Ed stressed that it’s important to be honest with yourself about whether telecommuting is right for you. Can you be productive? Are you adept with your tools, not only publishing tools but collaboration tools such as wikis and Google Docs? And will your housemates, both human and animal, stand in your way? Telecommuting has advantages, including avoiding a daily commute and supporting your personal work/life situation. But it also poses communication challenges (for example, being restricted to asking questions in email) and limits opportunities for social interaction. As part of a global team, you might find your working hours shifted “outside your time zone.”
Ed shared his telecommuting tips:
- Stick to a regular schedule
- Block out your appointments (including lunch) so your team know when you’re available—and when you’re not
- Visit the team periodically so they can get a sense of you as a person
- Attend meetings when it’s necessary, or politically correct (Agile keeps you on your toes)
- Use good phone etiquette
- Be sensitive to cultural issues
- Organize your emails carefully, using folders and filters
As a self-employed writer, Ed expects to bring his own tools, both a laptop and publishing software, to the job. To be most productive, he has invested in a big monitor and a separate keyboard. (In fact, reminiscing about a past presentation when his laptop slid off the lectern, he recommends considering keeping a backup computer in reserve.) As best practices, Ed recommends backing up files diligently, making daily snapshot copies (he favors thumb drives), remaining vigilant with PC security, and compiling a file of contact information.
Ed listed the collaboration tools he most commonly needs to use:
- For secure access, Virtual private network (VPN) software and RSA tokens
- For web conferencing, WebEx and GoToMeeting
- For one-on-one conversation, Skype and FaceTime (he recommended getting a headset and mentioned Plantronics and Logitech)
- For document sharing, Google Docs and Dropbox
- For instant messaging, Jabber (he finds teams using email less and less)
In the lively Q&A session that followed, Ed commented that you can find telecommuting jobs on job website by searching for “remote,” “offsite,” and “telecommute.” Even when working with a team in another time zone, he recommended keeping your personal computer on your home time zone to keep email threads intact. In his opinion, recent crackdowns on telecommuting at Yahoo and IBM don’t represent a reactionary trend; instead, telecommuting will become the new normal.