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Is Teleworking Right for You?

Not everyone is cut out to work from home. Here are 6 questions to ask yourself before you think of making the switch

En español | The appeal of working from home, be it full time or part time, is easy to understand. Telecommuting employees are happier and more loyal, and they have fewer unscheduled absences, according to a recent survey by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Woman working on laptop at home. (Helena Wahlman/Alamy)

Working remotely full time may cause you to miss out on rich workplace relationships, brainstorming, maybe a promotion. — Helena Wahlman / Alamy

Employers have noticed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about a quarter of employed Americans work from home some hours each week. In a 2012 study by the Families and Work Institute, 63 percent of employers said they allowed employees to work remotely in 2012, up from 34 percent in 2005.

But there's no one-size-fits-all approach to teleworking. Successful teleworking depends on such factors as your personality, your work habits, your career goals, the type of job you do, and the corporate culture of your employer.

If you're thinking of asking your employer to change your working arrangement, ask yourself these questions:

1. Is my job right for working from home?

The best telecommuting jobs are often ones that require a quiet space to research, read and process information without distraction. Virtual work, for example, is a natural fit, if your job is Web-based. There are also remote jobs in accounting, sales, public relations, medical transcription and customer service.

Many of these jobs, of course, are performed by freelance and contract workers who work from a home office. By their very nature, these positions generally don't require the face time associated with hobnobbing around the office, supervising employees or sitting in meetings.

If you have to be on-site to perform your job, chances are slim you'll be able to transition to teleworking full time. The best you might be able to negotiate with your boss is an occasional work-from-home day.

2. Am I hardwired for telework?

To work from home on a regular basis, you'll need to be organized, disciplined, have first-rate time management skills and be a self-starter. You may find that you're working harder because it may be hard to ignore your bosses' or coworkers' phone calls and emails even when you should technically be off work, say late at night or on weekends. It can be really hard to push back from the computer and call it a day. You'll need to be able to set firm boundaries between work and home.

3. Can I technically make it work?

Your communication skills will need to be top-drawer. That means you'll need to be comfortable communicating via phone, email and videoconferencing. If you need to give presentations or do any training, you should get familiar with Web-based meeting programs like GoToMeeting, Cisco WebEx, Join.me, TeamViewer or Google+ Hangouts. Some are free, some aren't. See what platform your company or IT department prefers.

But it goes a little deeper than that. While you don't need to be an IT whiz, Luddites need not apply. Teleworkers need to navigate the inevitable technology snafus and troubleshoot. For the fritzes you can't solve, you will need to have a good relationship with someone in your employer's IT department who can lend a hand quickly. A boss isn't going to put up with recurring "technical difficulties." For freelancers, line up a tech buddy on speed dial.

Next page: Is teleworking really as good as being there? »

4. Is teleworking really as good as being there?

Working remotely full time may cause you to miss out on rich workplace relationships, extemporaneous thinking, brainstorming and the collaboration you get from simply being present at meetings or chatting in the lunchroom. As much as you might be in touch via phone, email or videoconferencing, will you be able to pick up on some of those nonverbal communication cues and know exactly what your boss and coworkers expect of you?

You also need to keep in mind that some of your coworkers might resent your new working arrangement, particularly if their job isn't suitable for telework.

If you are transitioning into a full-time telework schedule, try to attend important, on-site meetings when possible. This is key to not slipping into the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind syndrome" and staying on good terms with your coworkers. You might agree to be on-site when projects are being launched or for other company initiatives. But even if there is a nonbusiness event — like a coworker's retirement or promotion — show your support and your connection to your coworkers by attending.

5. How important is career advancement?

The Korn/Ferry Institute finds that 60 percent of 300 respondents in a recent survey say telecommuting inhibits career growth.

"There is a perception that if you are not in the office, you are more likely to miss important meetings, get passed over for promotion or get targeted for layoff in the event of a downsizing," says John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Ana Dutra, chief executive of Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting, agrees. "While working at home can be beneficial for both companies and workers, it can also lead to 'invisibility' that can limit opportunities for career advancement," Dutra says. "It is important for telecommuters to remain networked as closely as possible with peers and leaders in the office."

And remember: Whatever agreement you come to may not survive a new boss or job role. You may need to renegotiate a telework arrangement — full or part time — if things change at the office.

6. Now, how can I convince my boss?

Better efficiency should be at the top of your 'why you should let me telecommute' list. Increased productivity was, in fact, one of the leading reasons for allowing employees to work from home, according to both the Challenger and Korn/Ferry surveys.

Draft a proposal that describes what your work schedule would be, the number of hours you would work, how unplanned overtime would be handled, how often you would check in with an office visit. You might agree that when projects are being launched, or problems the company is trying to solve arise, you will work in the office.

To seal the deal, ask for a trial period of three to six months so both you and your boss can see how the arrangement works out and can fine-tune it if needed.

In the end, the best way to convince your boss is to show, not tell. A solid work ethic that delivers reliable results will be your ticket to telework gold stars and, ultimately, your job happiness.

Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her latest book is Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills.

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