5 Essential Tools for Telecommuting
This technology article is sponsored by Comcast Business Class, the nation's leading communication services provider.
If you’re one of the 2.9 million teleworkers cited in a recent workshifting.com report (PDF), you likely already understand how having the right tools for the job can increase productivity and make you appear like a rock star to your boss. These solutions — handpicked by actual workers in the teleshift trenches — are ideal for keeping your days productive and your spirits high.
Email-Enabled All-in-One Printer
Your home inkjet printer/copier/scanner is likely already one of your favorite tools, but can it handle impromptu printing jobs from the office 30 miles away? By upgrading to a printer that has ePrint technology, employees can access data from the cloud and save several steps in the process of printing a document that’s stuck at the home office. The HP OfficeJet 8600 e-All-in-One printer can receive print jobs from any smart-enabled device; it’s essentially as simple as your project manager sending an email. Since it’s connected to your wireless router, any PC, phone, or tablet can send it print jobs (no dusty cables required!). ePrint enabled HP devices start at under $80.
If you can convince your boss to let you work from home, it’s likely you can finesse your way into using an expense- and document-tracking service that actually caters to the telecommute crowd. Shoeboxed.com is just that tool, giving remote employees the ability to stuff a prepaid envelope with all their paper clutter and drop it in the mailbox. Documents are then scanned and sent to a secure location on the web (where Accounting can easily access them). For those who aren’t home to mess with the postal service, Shoeboxed also offers mobile scanning and email options. Basic service is free, and business plans max out at $49.95 a month.
Do you miss the chatter around the water cooler? Are you hungering for the occasional overheard convo in the cubicle next to you? Google+ Hangout is a work-around to not being around, and several telecommuters have used it to team up with other remote workers to create that “we’re in the same room” feel. Productive employees have also used the tool to get more work done; time wasted sending emails can be eliminated with a virtual “Pssst. What’s the number for our Dallas office?” Up to nine people can chat using Hangout; video imaging is optional. Google+ Hangout is free!
This type of tool has been around for years, but the offerings just keep expanding. Originally designed to replace the expensive face-to-face sales meeting, web-based meeting software solutions can easily be adapted to hold internal meetings between in-house workers and their home-based teammates. Popular companies that offer web-enabled meetings include Webex, GoToMeeting, and EasyMeeting.net. Ask your boss if they have a corporate account with a web-based host; chances are good that they do, and you can use it to keep connected to other workers in the company — and save time by not coming into the office for yet another meeting. Service plans start at less than $24 for teams of eight or more, with video compatibility.
When working from home, you may miss having access to the mailroom downstairs. If you send out lots of business proposals or are responsible for shipping physical reports to corporate, a mini shipping station can save you time and your company money. Most companies will have an account number for the major shippers that you can use to bill costs directly to your boss, but you’ll still need the following supplies in your mini mailing room: postage stamps, envelopes, bubble mailers, and a postal scale. If you print your own postage, don’t forget to stock up on sticky labels and ink, too! Services like Endicia.com start their plans at just $9.95 a month, plus the cost of postage.
Finally, to appear that you are in the office (even when you’re not “in” the office), clients and coworkers will need to transfer calls and contact you as easily as if you’re down the hall. If your company hasn’t set you up with a compatible phone system, there are several options you can use on your own. Companies like Skype do offer some impressive features for getting group calls together quickly, but if you want a seamless look to your communication process, a dedicated VOIP provider (which lets you make calls via the internet rather than phone lines) may fit the bill. Functionality will depend entirely on the speed and availability of a broadband internet connection; rural areas or those with spotty service may have to rely on a second “land line” to stay in the game when working from home. Prices vary for VOIP services; contact your preferred provider for price quotes.
Whether you have an actual choice in what tool you use will depend entirely on corporate policy; many telecommuters have found that, if they are among the first to take the leap, they will have more say in what products and services are available to them.