A Day in the Life: The Enlightened Telecommuter

Archana Verma of IABC shares what she's learned in four years of full-time telecommuting.

Name: Archana Verma

Position: Director of marketing and communication

Organization: International Association of Business Communicators

Location: Seattle

Organization size: 16,000 members, 30 staff

Role: Verma directs internal and external communication for IABC, which today includes a healthy amount of social media activity. "We're an association of business communicators, and we need to be in the forefront of all the new communication channels that are out there to really be leading edge," she says.

History: Verma began her career working in the nonprofit and agency sector in her native India, where she worked as manager of public relations and human resources at the Akanksha Foundation, as senior account executive at Good Relations India, and then as a senior account executive for Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. She then came to San Jose State in California to take part in the master's program in mass communication and business.

At San Jose State, she worked closely on her master's thesis with Bill Briggs, director of the Journalism and Mass Communication School and an IABC member. Briggs suggested that her thesis topic (corporate social responsibility practices among Silicon Valley businesses) could also lend itself to an article for IABC's magazine. Verma pitched the article to IABC, and as she was writing it, a marketing and communication specialist position opened up at IABC headquarters in San Francisco.

Verma has worked for IABC for five years, and in that time has been promoted twice, to manager of marketing and communication and then to her current director position. She moved to Seattle in her second year with IABC, becoming the association's first and only full-time telecommuter.

7:30 a.m.: This morning, I'm taking part in a breakfast event called Social Media Breakfast hosted by our local IABC chapter and another group. These events take place once a month, so I see quite a few people I know, both IABC members and nonmembers. It's a great way to start my day.

After about a half hour of networking, we have a speaker, Kristin Graham, Expedia's vice president of global recruiting and engagement, who shares some lessons learned based on her company's experience with social media.

9:00 a.m.: The breakfast winds down, but I stay behind to catch up with the incoming president of our Seattle chapter. Since I'm both local to Seattle and part of the IABC staff, I try to develop good, close ties with the board members and members of the chapter here and identify ways in which I can help them.

Once she and I are done talking, I'm on my iPhone, checking the latest tweets about IABC internationally and about this specific event. I tweet back to a couple of people. I also check my email for urgent messages; being on the West Coast, when I open my inbox in the morning there are usually loads of emails that came in before 6:00 a.m. our time from people in New York or Toronto. Today there's nothing that needs immediate response, so I head home.

10:00 a.m.: I call my boss, the vice president of marketing and communication, for our weekly meeting. We have these calls every Thursday to catch up and stay connected. As a telecommuter, I've learned that we need to have these regular, scheduled events to make sure we're not working in isolation.

I've been telecommuting for four years now, and initially, the most difficult part was clarifying the division between the personal and professional parts of my life. If I'm sitting with my laptop on the couch and there's a television in front of me and a kitchen next to me, the thoughts coming into my head aren't only work-related ones. In the first six months of telecommuting, I learned that I needed to make the division clearer. I cornered off a little space in the apartment I lived in as my study, where I could put all of my papers and whiteboards and work to-do lists. Today, I've converted a room in my house into my study, where I can focus on work and shut out all else during working hours. And at the end of the day, I can literally shut the door on work.

Of course, just when I thought I'd mastered the art of telecommuting, along came social media and the iPhone with all its apps. Twitter in particular dramatically blurred the lines for me, because the need for instant information and answers to questions from members and nonmembers is huge. I think also as a communications or PR professional, it's essential to keep your finger on the pulse of online conversations that are happening, to stay informed, engage with your audiences, address issues, and identify potential crises before they have a chance to blow up.

10:30 a.m.: I make some updates to the content on the IABC homepage to make sure it's new and refreshed. Then it's time to start working on an article I'm writing for Communication World, our membership magazine for which I'm a contributing editor.

When I'm writing, I feel the need to switch off all communication, to close the windows, browsers, and dashboards, so I can focus. Otherwise each little popup reminder or email alert takes away from the flow and creativity of the writing process; it's too tempting to stop and read messages as they come in.

2:00 p.m.: I check my Radian6 dashboard and TweetDeck, both of which I keep open and check periodically throughout the day. I maintain two Twitter accounts—my personal account and the official IABC account—and the tweets I respond to from one or the other vary.

As an example, recently, one of our long-time members was speaking at a chapter event in Minnesota, and he mentioned to an attendee that he had lost his membership pin. The attendee went online and made a comment about it on Twitter. I noticed the tweet, offered a replacement pin to the IABC member, and coordinated with staff at headquarters to send the pin to him.

This was a great opportunity to let members know that we're on social media not just to promote IABC but also to listen and help. IABC has more than 15,000 members in 90 countries; yet, it is essential to make each of them feel connected with the organization and know that we care about their individual well being.

3:30 p.m.: I work on another article, this time for Steal Sheet, a monthly newsletter I edit for IABC chapter board members and chapter VPs of communication. Steal Sheet is an opportunity for us to make sure all of our chapters are united in how they represent the IABC brand and our key messages. As the name suggests, people can steal any of the articles from Steal Sheet—just copy and paste them into their own chapter newsletters and websites.

5:30 p.m.: It's time to go pick up my daughter. It's actually a beautiful, sunny day here in Seattle, and those are rare enough that we never want to waste them, so I grab my comfortable running shoes so we can go to the playground. I'll probably be back in the "office" for a little while after she goes to bed, but for now I close my office door behind me.