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Summary:

When you work with anyone, it’s important to keep good records. But documenting your work can be even more important when you’re telecommuting. With many employers, you’re required to document certain pieces of information, like how many hours you’ve worked. But keeping a few more records […]

When you work with anyone, it’s important to keep good records. But documenting your work can be even more important when you’re telecommuting. With many employers, you’re required to document certain pieces of information, like how many hours you’ve worked. But keeping a few more records can make a big difference in your ability to handle problems down the road.

Unclear Instructions

There are some managers who just don’t make a project’s specs as clear as you might hope. I’ve run into situations where a project was completely changed over the course of a single phone call, but even the manager didn’t seem to know what it had been changed to. What makes the problem worse is that if you aren’t in the office, it’s harder to clarify information: there’s no record when the discussion is handled over the phone and it’s easy for an email to be misinterpreted.

A good practice to combat these sorts of misunderstandings is to restate what you understand the instructions to be and send it back to your manager in another email. Not only do you make sure that you’re both on the same page, but you’ve got documentation of the exchange if there’s an issue down the road.

Your Progress

One of the biggest dilemmas about telecommuting is that your manager may not have a clear idea of exactly what you do during the day. There tends to be less communication about accomplishments, which in turn can delay bonuses or promotion. That means that you have to be keeping track of your own accomplishments in a way that allows you to demonstrate them to your employer. That may mean keeping a count of new clients you’ve brought in, or demonstrating improved efficiency — just what your accomplishments may be depends on your job, of course.

Once you have a record of what you’ve done, the next question is how to get it into your manager’s hands. It may seem forward, but simply telling him that you’ve prepared some materials for your annual review (whether one’s on the calendar or not) and you’d like to send them in is a good option. It’s best if you can time it for when you do have a review scheduled, but if you’re company doesn’t routinely schedule reviews, just the fact that you’ve taken the time to prepare some documentation and send it in can be a good way to get it reviewed by your manager.

Work-related Problems

There are potential employee-employer problems far beyond misunderstood that are harder to resolve from outside the office. It’s possible to have a poor working relationship with a co-worker even if you never see him in person, for instance. If there’s a problem and you’re not sure what’s going to be needed in the way of a resolution, it’s worth creating some clear documentation in the meanwhile. Keep a copy of any emails demonstrating the problem, make a note of any phone calls where there’s an issue and track the frequency of the situation you’re dealing with. Whether it’s a matter you need to take to your boss or to HR, having documentation will make most problems easier to resolve.

What kind of documentation do you keep?

Image by Flickr user Scholz

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  1. Re: Progress. It sounds a bit cumbersome, but I call in every telecommuting day and either speak directly or leave a message for my coach. Just an informal 5 minute update on what I’ve been up to during the day, around the time I intend to sign off. It has become analogous to that 5 minutes spent on your planner each morning to prep for the day. It helps me wind down and the process of keeping track of, summing up, and reporting on my day’s work has the benefits of keeping my coach informed, affirming my presence on the team, and is a reminder of what I’ve accomplished; generally leaving on a high note. I came up with the idea (so I feel like I own it) and suggested it to my coach. It has become such a satisfying part of my routine that I’ll call and leave a brief message on her voicemail even when she’s out on vacation.

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