Working from Home (Without Looking Like It)

IDC Research predicts that by 2013, 1.2 billion people (one-third of the existing global working population) will be part of the mobile workforce, and it’s easy to see why. Being a web worker has a lot of benefits – little or no commuting time, the ability to time shift when needed, keeping a job when you have to move away, and so on.

Yet with this increase in acceptance comes a corresponding increase in expectations for these workers. Web workers are required to display the same level of professionalism as their office-bound colleagues, particularly in their interactions with co-workers, business partners and customers. However, if they are not using effective technology, displaying that professionalism can be a difficult task.

Below are some ideas on how you can be sure you’re presenting a top-notch, professional image by replacing inadequate consumer technologies with affordable tools designed specifically for those working in small or home offices.

Use a Virtual Phone Service

Whether you’re using your home phone, a second landline or a mobile phone, having calls come directly to your phone makes you appear small and casual. The better choice is a virtual phone service for small business. This type of service, which you can usually find for around $10 per month, offers a number of corporate phone-like features, such as a virtual receptionist that answers calls with a professional greeting, enhanced voicemail, smart call forwarding that allows you to forward calls to any phone you choose (such as your mobile phone) when you’re away from the office, even the ability to establish regular “office hours” by switching to an after-hours greeting when it’s time to shut down.

If you’re running a business that has its own employees or uses contractors on a regular basis, the virtual phone system lets you give customers and prospects one toll-free or local phone number to call, then use extensions to reach anyone in the company, whether they’re inside the building or across the country. Either way, you’ll give the appearance of working in a downtown high rise rather than remotely.

Use an Internet Fax Service

Faxes are still a fact of life in many industries. But it’s not efficient for web workers to have important faxes tied to a single fax machine. Sending and receiving faxes today is as simple as using a smartphone application. For roughly $10 per month, an Internet fax service sends and receives faxes online anywhere you have an Internet connection. There’s never a busy signal, and instant notifications allow web workers to know exactly when a fax arrives. If you’re working on a team, faxes can be delivered to multiple email addresses at the same time, or forwarded to multiple recipients.

Documents sent by fax are usually urgent and important. An Internet fax service can help enhance your professional image by staying on top of faxes.

Be Present Via Video

The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is one many web workers know. Sure, you can call in to a meeting, but when a lot is happening, or a whiteboard is being used, it can be tough to keep up. A better way to go is to “call in” via video. With the right video conferencing application, and a coworker willing to point a laptop in the right direction, you can establish more of a presence at the meeting, read facial reactions and body language, and participate more fully in conferences. If you need to share information from your computer, many of these applications can help you do that too.

These applications may not have all the video/audio quality or features of the large corporate systems. But they’re available free or for very little cost. And just the effort makes you look more professional.

Move Applications and Services Online

One of the most frustrating parts of being a web worker is the need to become an IT expert. Losing time and having technology crash while you try to troubleshoot hardware or software problems doesn’t do much for your image. Today you can solve that by using web services that are managed by someone else. Your office suite, storage, security, phone system, faxes, accounting software and just about anything else are available these days, either free or for a low monthly subscription.

The nice thing about this model is that your entire office can go with you when you’re on the road, eliminating cost and maintenance headaches. As long as you can get an Internet connection you can access files, work on documents, share information and more from any PC or smart phone – just as though you are in the office.

The expectations for the professionalism of web workers have been raised. Make sure you’re ready to meet them by using communications tools that provide the level of quality of a large corporation, without all the downsides of corporate life.

Steve Adams is the vice president of marketing for Protus, a provider of communications tools for small-to-medium-businesses and enterprise organizations, including the MyFax internet fax service; my1voice, a virtual phone service; and Campaigner, an e-mail marketing solution. He can be reached at [email protected]