Modern Etiquette: Rules of the road for telecommuters

June 30 Mon Jun 30, 2014 4:00am EDT

June 30 (Reuters) - According to a 2013 Society of Human Resources Management article, telecommuting rose 73 percent between 2005 and 2012. It's now estimated that 64 million U.S. employees - almost 50 percent of the workforce - have jobs compatible with telecommuting.

While telecommuting provides a convenient way of conducting business, it's important to appreciate that the rules of proper business behavior don't disappear as your commute does.

In fact, in some ways they become even more important as employers want to be assured that off-site employees are approaching their work with the same professionalism and presence as on-site employees.

Here are a few tips for making the most of the opportunities that telecommuting provides:

- If you're one of the 300 million people that Skype, use a business Skype name and location. When using Skype, look at the webcam NOT the screen image. Don't slouch or make noise (even light tapping is audible). Be sure to dress professionally and wear a top that contrasts with your background to avoid the "floating head" effect.

- Always get up and get dressed for work. It's nearly impossible to be fully engaged if you're wearing bunny slippers. Dressing the part gives you focus and sets the tone for a productive work day. I like to advise people to dress as if the smoke alarm might go off at any second and you need to run into the street with your colleagues and boss.

- Keep a full business wardrobe on-hand at all times. You never know when you may need to sit-in for a colleague or "meet" with a client or vendor.

- Have a designated business phone line and email address. Record a professional voicemail message clearly stating your name, company or business, phone number and the name and number of a colleague to reach in your absence.

- Stay in touch with the office on a weekly basis by Skype or Video Conferencing. Treat these meetings with the same attention and respect you would if you were in a face-to-face meeting with your colleagues (i.e. no filing your nails or snacking while others speak).

- If you're working with others on a project, consider instant messaging to keep a steady line of communication open. If you're collaborating on documents or spreadsheets, use file-sharing tools to ensure that you're not duplicating efforts or inadvertently creating more work for others (or yourself).

- When working with an international team, be sensitive to the time in the region you're working with as well as the level of formality used in the workplace. The United States is a more casual culture whereas the Japanese are more formal when conducting business.

- Be present when it matters. Make it a point to attend important meetings and after-work office events. This will enhance your sense of connectivity and will remind others that you're still a contributing part of the organization.

- Set up regular meetings with your boss. Regular communication will keep you on the same page in terms of your focus and direction. Plus, it's a great way to ensure you're recognized and rewarded for your "unseen" efforts.

- Without a doubt, telecommuting can be a great alternative to traditional work arrangements. However, it's up to you to manage the opportunity to the fullest. Treat your home office like a corner office. Paying due respect to your responsibilities, colleagues, and clients.

(Pamela Eyring is the owner and president of The Protocol School of Washington (PSOW), which provides professional business etiquette and international protocol training. Founded in 1988, PSOW is the only school of its kind in the U.S. to become accredited. Any opinions expressed are her own. PSOW's website is: www.psow.edu.) (Editing by Michael Roddy)