Monday, July 28, 2008

Tackling the telecommute

Ouch! That’s all I can say after filling up my sister’s gas tank last night at more than $1.44 per liter in Canadian dollars. That’s like more than $4 a gallon to you Americans. Ouch! And every time we think we’ve hit the limit of how high it can go, the oil companies prove us wrong. I’m personally amazed that the villagers have not been storming their corporate headquarters with torches and pitchforks (like in the old Frankenstein movies), but so far not a whisper. Maybe everyone’s afraid they’ll raise it another couple of dollars if we make too much of a stink.

As I’ve mentioned before I ride my bike to work and don’t own a car so you may be wondering why I even care. Two reasons really, first I do have to pony up my share of gas money when I’m travelling farther than my bike will take me, and two, because most of my friends drive I am forced to listen to conversations on this topic whenever we get together.

The solution seems to be looking for other ways to cope. One of course is riding your bike to work but I realize this isn’t practical for everyone.

Another way is telecommuting. If you can believe what you’re seeing in the media, telecommuting is on the rise.

Back in the good old days, when gas was a “mere” 77 cents per Canadian liter/$2.25 per American gallon, telecommuting was used primarily by people who worked for a company but lived hundreds of miles away, working moms who didn’t want to see their entire paychecks swallowed up by the cost of day care, and freelance writers. Today, though, things are changing.

Some companies are actually encouraging employees who live within a few miles of the office to log in from home one or more days a week to help them offset rising fuel costs. That’s a huge change from the days when people assumed their telecommuting co-workers were actually sitting in the sun on the patio sipping Margaritas while the office-bound workers slaved away under the cold glow of the fluorescent lights (and the cold gaze of the Boss).

For some of us, the challenge of telecommuting is self-discipline. There are a lot of distractions at home not present in the office. For example, it’s very tempting to get a head start on the week’s laundry rather than looking at a month’s worth of sales figures. And let’s not forget the Oprah factor…

But one of the biggest challenges is being able to operate out of your home they way you operate out of the office. There are a lot of little conveniences there we take for granted. A well-stocked supply cabinet is certainly one. At the office, if your stapler runs out of staples, you just go to the cabinet and get more. At home, you probably don’t even have a stapler let alone staples. So if you’re planning to telecommute regularly, carve out a little space to store the essentials – pens, pencils, paper, rubber bands, binder clips, paper clips, etc.

Another good tip is to make sure you have a comfortable chair and desk. Sitting on the couch with your laptop perched on your lap is not going to cut it.

Sending and receiving faxes is another consideration. We take the technology for granted until we suddenly find we need a client to send over a 10-page document and there’s no fax machine in sight. Fortunately, there’s a solution for that one – a MyFax account.

For just $10 per month (or the approximate cost of 2.5 gallons of gas) MyFax lets you send 100 pages and receive 200 pages anywhere you can get an Internet connection – including the sunny patio. That’s a pretty good deal – especially when you figure what it would cost in time and gas to drive 10 miles each way just to pick up that same document.

Of course, I’m sure some of you veteran telecommuters have some good tips of your own. Tell you what. If you’ll share them in the comments section below, we’ll pick out two or three favorites and give you a free month’s worth of MyFax service. That may not quite be the “free gas for a year” promotion some of the desperate car dealers are running. But it will certainly help make your telecommuting a little easier.

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