Telecommuting, working from home, working remotely — whatever you call it, working without having to be tethered to your office desk is becoming more common. Fifty percent of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework, and approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency, according to 2016 data from GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com.
While there are definite perks to a home office: no traffic and the ability to roll out of bed 10 minutes before starting time, not being in the office can be a detriment to your career if you’re not careful. People who work from home can miss out on important water cooler talk that can give you an insight to what’s really going on, and sometimes people who work from home still can be viewed as slackers. Here are five tips to balancing the home/office divide.
Know how to communicate
Just as you might not hover over coworkers’ desks when they’re busy, home-office workers need to figure out how different coworkers communicate best.
Christy Hopkins, HR staff writer for FitSmallBusiness.com, who also telecommutes, said she is willing to use every type of communication tool available to get on the same wavelength with her coworkers — whether it’s the phone, email, Zoom, Slack or other ways to connect.
“For me, I always Skype or Zoom with my manager. He and I are similar in age; we value that face-to-face. With my younger team members, they’re all about the chat. So I’ve figured out different ways to communicate as well,” she said.
Don’t be afraid to be a little social
Hopkins said it’s OK to mix a little personal stuff with work, as long as the work gets done first. She calls that being “relevantly social.”
Hopkins, who’s based in Chicago, she said she often works with her New York office, and everyone there knows she has a dog. It’s helped her establish personal relationships with the staff there.
“I know everyone who is a dog owner there and they know it’s important to me. We only start to talk about social things after the work is done as well. It’s why I call it relevantly social,” she said.
W. Wayne Turmel, co-founder and product leader at The Remote Leadership Institute, said virtual workers can sometimes be too focused on their own assignments, rather than the overall work product — which may result in being left out of larger work responsibilities, and in a worst-case scenario, not thought of as an active team member. Instead, be proactive.
“Ask how you can be of service to others. When we’re remote, we often are ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ The boss sometimes delegates to the first person they think of — or see…. When talking to your manager, make sure to explicitly ask about the rest of the team, and is there something you can do for the good of the team. Even if the answer is no, you get the good karma of asking, as well as sending the message that even though you’re far away you are still a team player.”
You may also have to toot your own horn when going above and beyond in an assignment, Hopkins said. Even non-virtual workers can be overlooked while operating inside the main office, but it’s especially an issue when telecommuting. Being vocal about your contributions can also help quash concerns about telecommuters being slackers, which is a complex some home-office workers have, she said.
“Your manager is going to know if you miss a deadline, but they may not know if you turn in something two days early. They might not even gauge that,” she said.
Send your manager a quick note or bring it up during weekly meetings, Hopkins added.
“It’s important to be confident enough to celebrate those achievements,” she said.
Feeling lonely? Speak up
Kim Shepherd, chairwoman at Decision Toolbox, a 100 percent virtual recruitment firm, said one of the biggest challenges for a virtual workforce is operating in isolation.
“Lots of people — good people — think they can do it. But when push comes to shove, it’s easy for them to feel they’re doing the pushing and shoving all alone. As CEO one of my main concerns is combatting isolation and loneliness,” she said.
To prevent that, they organized their colleagues into small groups that schedule a call on a regular basis to let members share issues, ideas and insights.
Hopkins said talking to your manager can also help.
“He or she probably has no idea you feel out of the loop and would most likely welcome to a way integrate you further and not feel like your work isn’t being valued.
Whether it’s family, friends or other colleagues, working from home can mean challenges to work/life boundaries. Family members think you’re available as their errand-runner, and work colleagues think you’re always online.
Turmel said of all work issues, teaching others how best to work with you is the hardest.
He said be diligent in using status updates on email and messenger systems. It lets people know if you’re offline or are tied up. Share calendars with teammates and block out busy times and adhere to it.
“If you respond like Pavlov’s dog every time you have an incoming request, you’ll be expected to respond like that all the time,” Turmel said.