ARTICLE: “A Time to Telecommute: Is It Right For You?”

No surprise here. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, many employers are fielding increased inquiries from employees about working from home. Telecommuting might seem attractive to you in these times, but many an employee has tried and failed with this arrangement. Do you have what it takes to succeed?

After working from a home office for 10 years now, I have determined what I believe to be twelve characteristics that indicate a successful telecommuting personality. This list is completely subjective, not based on empirical research. To select these traits, I’ve combined my knowledge of:
1. Productivity,
2. Human behavior,
3. Self-employment, and
4. Working from a home office.

I welcome your feedback if you disagree with any of these or have some to add. Here are the personality traits I believe predict your ability to work at home:

1. Self-Motivated—Do you tend to get things going on your own, or do you prefer to be directed by others? Are you the type that when someone says, “Here’s this project, go figure out how to do it, the deadline’s this,” you get it done.

2. Disciplined—Do you have to push yourself to work your hours? Do you procrastinate? Do you stay strapped to your seat long enough to get your work done? Can you stay focused despite distractions? When you start a task, do you see it through to completion?

3. Likes Working Alone—Do you require social contact to be happy? Do you like your private time and space? Do you feel comfortable working alone, or do you thrive on having frequent contact with others? If you can’t be alone, you may have excessive telephone talking or run menial errands just to get out of the house.

4. A Good Time Manager—Do you handle interruptions, visitors, phone calls, and email well? Can you schedule realistically, prioritize correctly, and delegate appropriately?

5. Likes to Control Own Schedule—Do you resent micromanagement? Do you like having the flexibility to set your own hours? Can you make quick decisions under pressure without consulting others? You’ll be good at telecommuting if you can roll with the punches confidently.

6. Organized—Do you like to start your workday with a clean, organized desk? Being organized isn’t everything, but it’s very important when you work at home. Unless you have an overabundance of space, having a place for everything will go a long way toward helping you maintain sanity in your work and personal lives. Efficiency and organization will allow you to be more productive.

7. Comfortable with job requirements—Do you know how to do your work? Are you off the learning curve? Can you handle your tasks without a lot of direction? Are you committed? Do you thrive on a sense of accomplishment from having done a good job?

8. Can balance work with rest of life—Do you have workaholic tendencies? You must be able to know when to close the office door and when to get down to business. Can you draw good boundaries with family and friends but resist the urge to wander into your office every evening until 10:00 p.m., ignoring your kids and family?

9. Self-confident—Do you feel you could do anything you set your mind to? Do you believe in your abilities to make things happen? Since your coworkers and manager won’t be there to praise you, can you be your own best cheerleader and support yourself? Are you generally an optimist? Can you laugh at stressful situations to cope, or do you typically give up?

10. Thrives on risk and uncertainty—Do you feel okay about stepping out of your comfort zone to take risks? Are you a go-getter? An adventurer? Willing to put your all into your passion? Working at home involves risk with relationships…can family members respect your efforts to work at home? Will there be turf wars? Will your image suffer at work? Will you be looked upon as a slacker? These are all big question marks when first starting out.

11. Seeks support and advice from others—Do you know when to ask for help or support? Are you a perfectionist and try to do everything yourself? Successful telecommuters know their limits, and they know when to ask for help. Being at home can wear you down. It’s easy to take on too much if you’re not careful. It’s tempting to work 12 hour days because you’re getting so much done.

12. Good communicator—Telecommuters need to develop good working relationships with a variety of people: their customers, co-workers, boss, and family members. To make this arrangement work, you’ve got to keep everyone in the loop and constantly informed.

If you’re considering approaching your employer to discuss a telecommuting arrangement, use this list to do a bit of introspection before proceeding. HR professionals can use this list as a conversation document to assess the viability of this arrangement with interested employees. 

The more solidly you feel you demonstrate each one of these characteristics, the better your chances to do well telecommuting. If you said a resounding, “That’s me!” after each one, you’re probably a natural. If you can identify with some but not all of the traits, you may have some challenges, and you’ll have to make some adjustments. If you just shook your head, you may want to reconsider altogether and be grateful every time you look at your paycheck.

© 2002 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. You are free to use portions of this publication in your company newsletter, provided the following credit is listed at the bottom:

Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,”® helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or visit her website at