Telecommuting is increasingly popular, but it has a downside. One November 2014 study of travel agency employees who worked from home, found they were less likely to be promoted. Visibility matters.
A study from a few years ago found managers are more likely to use words such as “dependable” and “responsible” to describe employees who put in the expected face time. Those who come in early or stay late are described as “committed” and “dedicated.”
If you’re aiming for a promotion, then those are words you want on your annual reviews. If you do work from home, how can you get your boss to think them? Here’s some advice from people who weren’t out of sight and out of mind.
It goes without saying that if you want to advance, you then need to deliver an over-the-top performance. “You really have to make yourself valuable to the company,” says Vickie Bertini, who works remotely as a web developer for Roosevelt University. “I have to prove my worthiness not only by my response time–like how long it takes to finish a project, or respond to an email inquiry, or be available when the phone rings–but also by the quality of work produced.”
That involves every bit as much discipline as it would at the office, she explains. “I don’t work in my pajamas or all of the other clichés,” Bertini says. “Although I may run a load of laundry on my lunch hour, I don’t generally do home-related things during work hours. My office is my dedicated office where the kids are not allowed.” This is the case even when she’s not working, she adds.
Christina Turner works in software and technology, and has been promoted several times while working from home. She relies heavily on all the usual communications tools, such as Google Hangouts. But if you’re relying on these tools, you also need a plan for when they’re not functional.
“It’s my equivalent of an office worker making sure their car is reliable enough to get them to the office on time,” she says. “I go to my friend’s house nearby if my Internet goes out, and I have a backup PC that I go to if my everyday laptop has issues.”
She says she’s also careful to stay away from her cell phone as the main tool for phone calls. “It can sound like you’re on a cell, which doesn’t sound great on a conference call. I want it to be as easy for someone to communicate with me as if I were standing next to them.”
Speaking of the phone–do you use it? Email is nice, but sometimes when colleagues can hear your voice, they think of you as present. Bertini says she stays visible “by responding to emails with a phone call,” which she describes as “a lost art.”
The upside, she adds: “I can have that human interaction, and not become one of the forgotten.”
“I’ve found it extremely beneficial to keep an open mind when opportunities come up,” says Turner. For example, when her company’s sales department started to slip a bit with loss of employees and lack of direction, she offered to help with the sales aspect of the business, even though she admitted sales was not her thing.
Her company took her up on the offer. “I think this kept me on my bosses’ radar for other opportunities,” she adds. “That led them to bring more opportunities to me, even when I wasn’t right there in front of them every day.”
Remote work doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Given how humans react to seeing someone in person, it probably shouldn’t be. If you live less than 90 minutes away, you could come into the office once a week. If you live farther away, then consider coming in for a few days once a month. Aim for crunch time so you come across as helpful.
As a bonus, if you’re traveling and away from your family, you’ll be free to come in early, stay late, and go out to dinner with colleagues. Since these are activities that inspire the “committed” and “dedicated” words on reviews, that’s a big win.
Not everyone is obsessed with face time. Blaine Kideckel is a manager at a large telecom, and has promoted many work-from-home-types. He notes the big upsides to this arrangement. These team members “end up working longer hours since they have no commute time, and provide more flexibility to the business,” says Kideckel.
If you’d like to get promoted while telecommuting, then you’re best off working for a manager with that view.
Here’s something that can help a manager get over the visibility issue: the prospect of having to replace you. Joshua Wold is a web designer who works from home two days a week, and three days at the office. A month ago, he got an offer from another company.
“I told my boss about it, and got an 18% raise,” he says. Especially if a competitor is offering you a better job title, you can use such an offer to negotiate a promotion at your own company–whether you work at headquarters or not.