creatively_connected_inside.jpgOnline interactions, either via web applications, blogs, or social networks, are no longer just limited to friends and family. These days, even the workforce is embracing the perks afforded by telecommuting.

“Virtual meetings have the unique opportunity of bringing together like-minded or even dissimilar people who would never normally meet in the ‘offline’ world and so open up endless possibilities for collaboration, learning, and creativity,” says Piet Kommers of the University of Twente, a specialist in advanced learning tools such as concept mapping, virtual reality, and mobile learning.

But there are some ground rules to be followed if you have a home-based job or business or your office allows you the opportunity to work from home. Here’s how you can avail of the perks of telecommuting and still be productive:


1. ESTABLISH YOUR WORK HOURS.

True, IM-ing your boss from your laptop while sipping coffee at your favorite cafe is a luxury, but it doesn’t give you the right to slack off, either. Just because you’re working outside the office doesn’t mean you can work only when you feel like it. Talk to your boss and colleagues beforehand about what hours work best for everyone, and schedule your virtual meetings accordingly. Setting limits also lets your co-workers know that just because you’re online during your off hours, it doesn’t mean that they can contact you about work-related matters that could otherwise have waited.


2. SET REGULAR FACE-TO-FACE MEETINGS.

You are still part of a team, and getting together once or twice a week—whether it’s for a regular meeting or even just a working lunch—will help develop relationships and just generally boost interpersonal goodwill. It also helps your coworkers get a better sense of your personality and the way you speak or think. This can help clear up unnecessary work drama that could stem from misunderstandings (like the use of sarcasm or abruptness in IM conversations).


3. BE PROFESSIONAL.

Even if you are video-conferencing from home, you should still dress appropriately before facing the screen. You should also use the language conventions of your workplace for your instant messaging or voice calls—even if these are not done face to face, they are still meetings. Abbreviations like “LOL” and “BRB,” for example, are best left out when making a presentation to a client.


4. IF YOU LEAD A TEAM, SET RULES AND GOALS FOR YOUR STAFF.

People who are allowed to work outside of the office are expected to make independent decisions, but doing this can also tempt some to just wing it. Be sure to establish deadlines and work objectives early on, so that everyone is held accountable for their actions. Also, be available for questions and encourage your staff to ask if there's anything they aren't sure of. This will help them trust you and will also help you make mistakes that could have been avoided with regular check ins.


5. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ADEQUATE TECH SUPPORT.

Downloading that multi-megabyte presentation on a choppy broadband signal will be difficult, if not impossible, and video-conferencing won’t be as impressive if your computer can’t support the application. So if you are serious about using technological solutions like web conferencing, instant messaging, online collaborations, and so forth as viable replacements for more traditional meetings, conferences, and more, it pays to invest in the latest hardware and software—not to mention protective measures like antivirus applications, password protection, virtual private networks (VPN), and more.


Read these articles and find out how you can strike the happy balance between your professional and personal lives:

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(Photo by somegeekintn via Flickr Creative Commons)

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