Asking the right questions
“How can I get work as a teleworker?” is an impossible question for anyone to answer sensibly, short of writing an essay or even a book, because:
- “Teleworker” isn’t a trade or a profession or a job, its just a way of doing work. So “How can I get work as a teleworker?” can only be answered with another question; “Tell me what kinds of work you do?”, which in turn might be answered with another question “What kinds of work get done in telework mode”, answered by “Almost any kind of work, tell me what kinds of work you’d like to do” and so on and so on . . . .
- “Telework” can also itself take many forms. Do you mean “I’m employed, how can I get my employer to allow me to telework?”, or do you mean “I’m being made redundant and want to be self employed, what kind of work can I get if I work from home?”
So the first thing to do is to ask yourself some questions, then build the answers into the questions you ask other people.
Questions to Ask Yourself if You are Employed
These are some of the questions to ask yourself if you are in employment in a conventional job:
- Do I want to keep my present job?
- Is it more important to telework or more important to keep your present job? This will greatly influence how you approach all other questions.
- How well established am I in my present company/job?
- If you are the chief executive or the chairman and you are delivering increased dividends and share prices to the stockholders year after year, that’s one thing. But if you just joined last week and the initial answer to your tentative question about telework was Shock! Horror! then that’s quite another thing . . .
- How ready is the company for teleworking?
- Does the company have email installed and working (not necessarily the same thing) and connected to the outside networks (not everyone does connect) and accepted as a primary communications mechanism? This is usually a sign that telework is something to consider next. On the other hand if the company has archaic IT systems, is very paper-filing and paper-communications based, it might be better to start communicating before starting to telework.
- How ready is my manager?
- Does he manager according to your results or according to how hard you appear to be working or according to what time you come in and go home? Unless managers are already managing on the basis of delivered results they tend to be frightened by the idea of “managing at a distance”
- How ready are the people with whom I need to network?
- How will the rest of your teams react? Note the teams, not team – most of us work in multiple teams. If there’s an existing high level of trust and synergy then not being in the same office may work well. If trust and synergy are still building then being in the same location a lot may still be important unless the culture is very strong on electronic communications. If the atmosphere is bitching and backbiting then absenting yourself to telework will make you everyone’s ideal bitch and backbite target!
- How ready am I and my family/household?
- This is a general question, see below.
Questions to ask if you are self-employed
These are some of the questions to ask yourself if you are self employed:
- What are my skills?
- What are the things you are best at, what are the things you have most difficulty in a work context – little point in going after work opportunities for which you are ill-suited.
- What is the market looking for?
- What are the capabilities that are in short supply, and can I skill myself up to be good at them? For example in 1996, a detailed knowledge and practical experience of Internet-related activities and practices may be in short supply.
- How can I market myself and my skills?
- This really calls for an essay on “marketing”, which is not the same as “selling”, or “advertising” of “promotion”. Suffice it to say that marketing is about understanding potential customers and making good connections with them, developing products and services that will appeal to them and creating an environment in which they will readily come to buy them. It isn’t easy!
- What networks should I join?
- Whether or not you have excellent marketing skills (which are very rare indeed) one of the best ways to make contact with potential customers is through “networking”. Networks can be informal or formal – a self employed person who does contract work through a contract services organisation is in a “formal” network. Professional institutions, political parties, chambers of commerce, trade unions – all these are the basis for “personal networks”. Networking takes time and effort – the rewards often come in unexpected ways.
- Should I be “actively online”?
- If you are reading this you are likely to be “online”, that is, connected to the Internet, but there’s a world of difference between merely “being online” and being “actively online”. People who are actively online do a lot of their personal networking on the Internet and make their “business connections” there – or in CompuServe forums. A separate Telework FAQ will address “how to be active online”, when time permits!
- Do I want to build a business – or just “earn some money”?
- This is perhaps the central question for the self employed teleworker. There’s a very big difference indeed between the entrepreneur who seeks to build a business and the person who is happiest just doing “a day’s work for a day’s pay”. You really do need to decide which of these is really you. If you just want to work, but not to take the risky, bumpy ride of being an entrepreneur, then one good approach is to seek out and ally yourself with one or more entrepreneurs – riding their coat-tails in effect. But don’t try to build a business unless you can cope with that bumpy ride!
Some general questions
These are questions anyone contemplating telework should ask themselves:
- How ready am I and my family/household?
- How will you and the rest of your household react to being based at home and, depending on the nature of the work, possibly being actually “at home” most of the time?
- How ready is my market?
- Once you have decided what are your skills and how they map to a market, consider whether that market is ready to “buy” in telework mode. This applies whether you are an employee (don’t be the only teleworker unless its a planned escape route!) or self-employed (don’t try to sell a telework solution in a sector or industry that is still strongly wedded to “face to face” and on-site working).
- How ready is my workspace?
- Research by Management Technology Associates suggests that “defended space” is critical to success as a home-based teleworker. Defended space means (a) you can control interruptions (no young children ankle biting or screaming during that oh-so-sensitive phone call) and (b) you can shut the door on your work and enjoy your private life without business calls intervening and without having to see the work waiting for you all the time.