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Monday, December 3, 2012
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Dear Miriam,

I just landed a new position where I have the freedom to work from home.  Being a new mom, this is great as I am able to spend a bit more time with my little one without a commute to and from work.

I still take my son to daycare, but I find myself feeling an obligation to be completely tied to my computer, worried that my employer will think I'm not actually working. In reality, my position requires me to be out and about in the community and on calls, etc. What is the expectation for telecommuters, and how do I stop feeling like I'm not doing enough?


Dear Teleconfusion,

The good news is that you're not alone in wondering how to navigate the virtual workplace. The bad news is that I'm not sure anyone's figured out the perfect model for working from home and not, say, getting sucked into doing laundry (especially as a new mom!). You seem to be having a less common issue, though, which is feeling like you have to do more in order to prove that you're working from home. Relax! Your employer gave you this freedom because she trusts you and thinks this arrangement makes the most sense for your job, so you should feel confident that this flexibility is a mandate for your work style.

The expectation for telecommuters is to get work done. Whenever your boss sees a message or any other online presence from you, she'll know you're doing your job. Even if that message comes through at 9 pm after the baby is asleep, it's still clear that you're fulfilling your obligations. If you use any type of gmail system for work, be sure that your g-chat status is visible and, if possible, work-related as appropriate. If you're going to be out and about for long stretches, put up an away message that shows responsibility and enthusiasm: "Thanks for your message. I'm currently in a meeting with a client about an exciting new project. Looking forward to getting back to you in a couple of hours."

Because you're tending toward working more rather than less as a telecommuter, consider setting hours each day and then sticking to them. That means that if you have a work obligation at night, take an extra hour off in the morning and get that laundry done or go to the gym while your son is at daycare. If you decide in the morning that you're going to be done for the day at 5:00, fight the urge to check your email on your phone while playing with your son in the evening. Resist the trap of "just getting to one more thing." The lure of constant online access is tough to avoid and the compulsion to multitask can overwhelm even the most loving parent. 

More than anything, both as a new parent and a new employee, your confidence is going to be your best tool in feeling good about all your obligations. Tell yourself that you're fulfilling both roles to the best of your ability and believe in that statement. Clear delineations will help you enjoy both aspects of your life more and will help you be better at both of them, too.

Be well,

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