17 Ways to Appear to be in the Office While Actually Working from Home

I borrowed part of the title of this post from Wired’s Wiki How-to but I thought their list was kinda crappy so I decided to make my own. I created the list below based off of what I’ve been told by my friend Trevor, an out-of-office ninja.

Trevor is always calling me from the beach or the lobby of a hotel (breaking rule 8 but it works for him), to show off his ninja skills and tempt me into joining him. Even though I’ve always been impressed by how successful Trevor is in evading the attendance police, I always pass. But, in the event that you are willing to take the risk, I’ve made a comprehensive list of his techniques.

I’d like to stress that creating the opportunity to work remotely without being noticed requires that you change your in-office habits and possibly even your office location. Think of it not as something you do every now and then, but as a lifestyle that many of your behaviors and decisions cater to.

Some things will likely be impossible for most people but I’ve included them as they are the optimal settings for being an out-of-office ninja. While some of these points mention getting caught and failing servers, these are just worst case scenarios that unfortunately must be addressed. The bottom line is, be prepared.

Requirements: VPN access, broadband, laissez-faire management

Culture Changes

1. Be a star worker and kick ass at everything you do. This helps in two ways: first, if you get caught, you likely won’t be fired. Second, being a star makes your schedule less likely to be scrutinized.
2. Send your boss progress reports to let him or her know how awesome and busy you are. Do this when you are in the office. It will make you feel accomplished and give you the confidence to work from home without permission.
3. Try to work at a branch office if possible. Branch office managers tend to be more lenient and aloof. Also, If you can physically separate yourself from your immediate boss, that is beneficial.
4. If given the freedom to decide where you would like your office to be, always select the area with the least foot traffic. This way, fewer people will notice when you aren’t around. It’s also better all around because there are fewer distractions when you are in the office.
5. Find ways to encourage your colleagues and boss to call you on your cell phone rather than your direct line, even if your office phone has an Out of Office feature. That way, they won’t be suspicious if you need to call them from your cell phone.
6. Live near work. In the event that you must return to the office, being an hour away makes it harder to quickly reappear.
7. Embrace events where you must work from home and let key people know that you have done so. For instance, say a server or service goes down at 8:00AM and, while you don’t have to report to work until 9:00AM, you are paged and must bring the server back up remotely. Bring the server back up, take a shower and e-mail the receptionist to let him or her know that you will be late because you were working from home, responding to an emergency. CC your boss and address him or her directly in the e-mail so that the receptionist will see you are legitimately allowed work from home.

Execution

8. First thing is first, WORK from HOME. Work – don’t watch TV or take a 2 hour nap. And don’t go to an environment that you can’t control. In the event that you are remotely working to bring up a failing app or database, it would be a nightmare if you were forced to relocate from the hotel lobby/restaurant/coffee shop for whatever reason mid-way through. It would also be unfortunate if your boss’ forwarded call (see #9) to your cell phone and a baby were to start yelling in the background.
9. Explore all the Call Mode features on your office phone and forward all calls to your cell phone if possible. Out of Office features are generally more robust than simple Forward/External Assignment features. If your office phones suck for forwarding, get your colleagues in the habit of calling your cell phone. If forwarding is impossible, you may be in trouble. Perhaps you can ask your coworkers to contact you first via e-mail before trying to call. That way, you can call them back.
10. Try to route your office calls so that whoever you are calling can’t tell that you are dialing from your cell phone. Calling the front desk and getting transferred instead of dialing directly sometimes helps the system “lose” your number.
11. Check your e-mail often and reply promptly. This helps to prove you were working in the event you get caught.
12. Never lie. Ever. But think on your feet when answering questions such as “Where are you?” The answer “Working.” followed by some distracting conversation will often suffice. For instance: “Working. I tried to contact Roger about the TPS reports but I’m still waiting for his response. Meanwhile, I decided I’m going to call the printer company to see if the warranty covers complete destruction by bat. Do you have their number by chance?”
13. Never lie. This is worth repeating. Lying is dumb and gets people fired. If your company requires you to check in with a receptionist, let the receptionist know that you are not at your desk but are working and can be contacted via phone and e-mail. While vague, it’s truthy.
14. Buy a Jawbone bluetooth headset to make your cell phone conversation sound like you are at the office. In the event that you must hop on a bus or in your car to rush down to the office (because you live nearby..right?), the Jawbone can make it sound as though you are sitting quietly at your desk. The Jawbone is incredible in non-emergencies as well — it uses military technology and the vibrations of your jaw to distinguish between your voice and background noise. I use it daily during my loud bus/walk commute. The Jawbone’s only downfall is its extreme inability to block the wind.
15. Buy a Sprint EVDO card and subscribe to their Mobile Broadband Network. The service is $60/mo and while my employer pays for mine, I would absolutely pay out of pocket for this gem. Srsly, I use it all the time. I went without it for 8 or 9 months while I suffered with a Rev A Macbook and life was not as fun. So how does it benefit you, as a disappearing telemagician? Well, wherever you are, you can access your employer’s network remotely. Granted, this breaks a prior rule but sometimes it’s necessary to not be at home.
16. Use Remote Desktop and VPN to connect to your office workstation and work directly from there. Answering e-mails from mobile devices or even corporate web-based clients (such as Outlook Web Access) can change your fonts/overall presentation and even give away your remote IP. Automatically attaching signatures such as “Sent from my Blackberry” can also be avoided by answering e-mail directly from your workstation. If you work with Unix, your remote IP can be exposed and your habit can be tracked. But you knew already that ‘cuz you work with Unix.
17. Set limits. If you find that your strategies are wildly successful, you may be tempted to start abusing them. Avoid the temptation — don’t work from home more than twice a week. People will start to notice your absence and may even start to ask if you work part-time.

While the above have helped Trevor successfully avoid detection, you may find yourself not as lucky. If you get caught, immediately own up to what you’ve done. Have some reasons prepared and focus on your positive performances executed both in and out of the office.

If ever you tire of the stress induced by illegitimately working from home, pick up the book Secrets of Power Negotiating by Roger Dawson and use it create a memo asking for permission to work from home, starting on a temporary basis. As Dawson’s book will teach you, focus on how the company will benefit from your telecommuting and how successful other companies have been with their implementations. If you live in California, or another progressive state, feel free to mention how beneficial teleworking is to the environment. Unless you work at a 100+ year old law firm, this may just work for you.

Chrissy is a PowerShell MVP who has worked in IT for nearly 20 years, and currently serves as a Sr. Database Engineer in Belgium. Always an avid scripter, she attended the Monad session at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles back in 2005 and has worked and played with PowerShell ever since. Chrissy is currently pursuing an MS in Systems Engineering at Regis University and helps maintain RealCajunRecipes.com in her spare time. She holds a number of certifications, including those relating to SQL Server, SuSE Linux, SharePoint and network security. She recently became co-lead of the SQL PASS PowerShell Virtual Chapter. You can follow her on Twitter at @cl.

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5 comments on “17 Ways to Appear to be in the Office While Actually Working from Home
  1. Derwood says:

    Quite funny.. I’ve telecommuted for almost 8 years now..
    I’ve done it for so long that I’m now considering a return to campus. I miss the banter in the cubicles. But, I must say that I’ve saved a fortune in mileage on my Saturn since I started :)

  2. Chrissy says:

    HEy Derwood.. I hear that. I work in San Francisco but most of my IT buds are in San Diego (the HQ). No banter for me.. even though I go into the office.

    I’ve saved a fortune moving to a city with great public transport ;D (~$15,000/year) so I guess I can no longer play that “Green” card in my invisi-memo.

  3. bryan says:

    love it. it took me a while to get good at this in a previous position and now, i cannot do it as now i am the whole IT shop for a much smaller org. it’s nice to see that you have posted this – good times!!!

  4. kevin says:

    #1 is the biggest, i think … that and #3, being someplace else other then your immediate, that’s huge. a lot of the others, if your being that scrutinized, then you might want to look for another place to work.

  5. hannacabana says:

    I need to re-update this for 2011….

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