My First Year as a Telecommuter: 7 Observations, Lessons and Mistakes I’ll Never Make Again

julie zellman

Julie Steele, Corporate Communications Manager

This week marks my one-year anniversary of being a full-time telecommuter for LifeSize. After getting engaged to my now-husband, I had to relocate about 200 miles away from the company headquarters in Austin. Thankfully, working for an HD video collaboration company made this task an easy one. So, I packed up my office and headed to my new home in Houston with my LifeSize video conferencing unit in tow.

Friends and family couldn’t believe the news: You can sit on the couch and watch The Real Housewives all day! You can work in your pajamas! You can wake up five minutes before work! What they didn’t understand was that telecommuting means doing your full-time job from home; it’s not a daily “staycation.” In order to make this work, I knew I had to maintain my professionalism and let my coworkers know that even though I was working at home, I was still just as responsible, dependable and engaged as when I was in the office.

Though I was thrilled for the opportunity to work from home full-time, there were a few occurrences that I had not anticipated (and a few lessons I picked up along the way).

1. You will memorize the mailman’s schedule. With my home office next to my front door, I am greeted with all kinds of sounds from the outside world – the mailman, UPS/FedEx delivery guys, trash pick-up, the ice cream truck, etc. Without even trying, I have managed to memorize all of the delivery schedules for my neighborhood. You know you WFH when you think to yourself, “hmmm…the mailman is running late today.”

Julie and Beau

2. You realize that your pet is just like any other officemate. Sometimes, it’s great to have them around for a smile or for some company, and other times you can’t WAIT for them to leave your office so you can get back to work. My dog has unfortunately interrupted a few video calls here and there with his barking at … well, any of the above (see #1), but luckily I’ve developed lightning-fast reflexes on my mute button.

3. Working in your pajamas is a no-go. Having HD video conferencing is not exactly conducive to working in your pajamas or sporting a bed-head hairdo, especially when you have a public-facing role like I do. I have to admit that black yoga pants are a great alternative to dress slacks, but when you are working full-time via video, professionalism is the name of the game and a ratty old college T-shirt simply won’t work.

4. The Real Housewives can wait. When my friends and family first heard the news that I would be working from home, they thought I would just plop on the couch with my laptop and have the TV on in the background. That is NOT, I repeat NOT, how any telecommuter should work. I have a dedicated office that I rarely leave, and there is no television anywhere close to me – it is a work-zone exclusively.

(Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia)

5. Setting boundaries and sticking to them. When you WFH, work/life boundaries become even more blurred, and it is sometimes hard to unplug. A lot of my colleagues told me this piece of advice when I started my journey a year ago, and they were absolutely right. At the end of my work day, I leave my home office, close the door and focus on family time. The same idea goes for my lunch break. It would be easy for me to walk to the fridge, grab a sandwich and eat at my desk. But since I do not have any coworkers to eat and chit-chat with, my lunch break would often turn into work time – with no mental break. Now, even if I eat at the table in my breakfast nook with a magazine or my Kindle, I am giving myself a much-needed break and helping myself stay energized for the rest of the day.

6. The importance of a COMFORTABLE chair. When I first started working from home, I grabbed one of our plastic IKEA dining room table chairs from the kitchen, scooted up to my little “built-in desk/cubby hole” and started working. It didn’t take long to realize that this was NOT a sustainable model, and after weeks of back pain and eye strain, I realized that it was necessary to invest in a comfortable office chair, a bright lamp and a full-size desk. When you are sitting at a desk for 8+ hours a day, even if you are at home, you still need the right office equipment or you’re setting yourself up for failure.

7. There’s no way I could do this without video. I think the single most important factor in my WFH success has been my HD video conferencing unit. Not only am I able to join every single meeting from 200 miles away, I can laugh at jokes, nod my head, add my ideas, and truly feel like I am a part of the meeting. I’ve even used video for non-work related calls just to catch up with my coworkers, ask about their weekend plans and laugh about a funny YouTube clip. With video, I never miss a beat. I am sure there are folks who can telework using audio or web conferencing, but video adds another layer of interaction that is invaluable.

Emily at LifeSize HQ on Left, Julie WFH in Houston on Right

I am so lucky to work for a company that values its employees and offers flexible work programs, but I am even luckier that we use a technology that allows me to be the best I can be – no matter how far away I am.

Are you a full-time telecommuter? Share your best WFH lessons with us in the comment box below.

Find Julie on Google+

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13 Responses to My First Year as a Telecommuter: 7 Observations, Lessons and Mistakes I’ll Never Make Again

  1. Johnny Chang says:

    Cool – Good tip about the chair! Will definitely invest in one for times I need to work from home!

  2. Ken says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience Julia. I recently set-up an office in my home. I have found using a USB head-set when videoconferencing necessary although I’d rather not use one to keep things more natural. Do you have any tips in that regard?

    • jsteele says:

      Ken, I’ve found that I haven’t needed a headset when video conferencing (LifeSize technology seems to take care of the echo cancellation for me), but I think they can really be useful. The most important thing to focus on is the quality of conversation, meaning can you be seen/heard well while on video? If the headset helps with audio quality, it will make your meeting a more productive one. I know it can look a little silly, but if it’s necessary to ensure good quality audio, I think it is worth it.

  3. Julie – Congratz for you comments about WFH. This is absolutely true!

  4. Emily says:

    I’ve learned if you have a misbehaved dog (like I do) it’s necessary to always have a bone to give your dog while you’re on a conference call. It’s hard for people to take you seriously when you’re talking if all they can hear is a dog barking!

  5. Aaron says:

    Congrats on one year!

    Solid advice, I started with a kitchen table chair and awful only begins to describe the torture inflicted by the wood, Amia by SteelCase now.

    I have been at home for 5 years using LifeSize technology and love that pop when connecting with another person. A smile or possibly another expression sets the mood and gets things moving. Its nice to be seen.

  6. Pip says:

    Well done on your anniversary in the WFH club Julie – I’ve just passed my 5 year mark and all you say if very true. I live near a school so when it’s hot weather and I have to open the windows, I’m often asked if I’m running a daycare in my house!
    To add to your observations, as a relatively new mum people say I’m lucky to be working from home as I’ll save on childcare costs – this is simply not the case. You need total concentration when you WFH and having a little one running around is just not a viable option. I treat working in my office at home no different than if I was in a traditional “office” – there’s just a much shorter commute!

    • jsteele says:

      Absolutely – I can’t even imagine trying to take care of your daughter and work at the same time. Impossible! It’s so funny how many people misunderstand what it really means to “work from home”.

  7. Julie,

    Great insights and congratulations on your marriage. My wife and I both telecommuted for HP from a home in the Sierra Nevada mountains of CA for seven years. Because we were both in marketing positions, we ended up driving more to Las Vegas for trade shows and conventions than to the airport for a plane trip to HP facilities in the Bay Area or Houston. We never got going on Video Conferencing although we both ran important webinars remotely with customers and partners. With the advent of WebRTC, early adopters will show us all the way. I’d like to be one of them.

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