With modern technology and increasing demands on our time, flexible work arrangements like telecommuting provide employees with more freedom to manage their professional and personal commitments. According to latest statistics from Global Workplace Analytics, 50% of the US workforce has a job that’s compatible with partial telework, and approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency. While it can be tricky to stick to a schedule or know how to balance all of our engagements, proper planning and communication are key to a successful telecommute.

As a student pursuing my master’s degree internationally, I developed an international arrangement with my boss so that I could continue to work for her even as I pursued my degree and conducted fieldwork in several countries. The opportunity offered by this transatlantic telecommute opened doors I’d never imagined, and allowed me to balance my educational goals with earning an income. For those whose commitments don’t allow working a traditional 9 to 5, here are five tips for mastering the telecommute and being present from a distance.

  1. Set a Schedule: This may sound obvious, but it’s hard to stick to a schedule when your office offers all the comforts – and distractions – of home. Create a designated space for work, and stay there during designated work hours. If attending to personal matters during office hours, return to work as soon as possible. Communicate your schedule with your boss and co-workers, so that they know when you’re available to collaborate or answer questions.
  2. Project List: Develop and maintain a list of projects to be accomplished. Assign each item a concrete deadline. Sharing the list with your colleagues and boss provides additional accountability, and helps facilitate communication between company members. Having a definite list and a due date will keep you on track, even when you’re out of the office.
  3. Divvy Up your Day: Can’t sit still for hours at a time? There’s no need to chain yourself to your chair for eight hours until everything is done. When productivity wanes, schedule breaks to take a walk, enjoy lunch, or tend to personal matters such as childcare. Breaking up the day into work hours and personal time provides a balance between professional and personal life.
  4. Establish boundaries: For many telecommuters, it’s hard to tear yourself away from your job when your home office is just a few feet away. Those who telecommute often have difficulty separating work from home life, because the two become so intertwined. Wrap up projects on a deadline, then step away from the desk for some recharge time.
  5. Communicate Clearly: The crux of telecommuting is communication. Keep channels open with coworkers and supervisors via email, phone, text, or video chat. Doing so keeps you grounded in the company and office developments. Schedule daily or weekly times to talk about what colleagues need from you and vice versa. Be available to answer questions during your office hours.

Whether you’re a new mother working from home, a frequent flyer who conducts business on an airplane, or a graduate student writing on the go, telecommuting can help you achieve and succeed wherever you are in the world.

Sharon Schweitzer and Amanda Alden co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

Amanda Alden is a cross-cultural communications intern with Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She graduated with honors from St. Edward’s University with a major in Global Studies and a minor in French, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Intercultural Mediations at l’Université de Lille III. Feel free to connect with Amanda at on LinkedIn.

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