If you choose to take a telecommuting job, especially if it’s full-time telecommuting, you also take upon yourself some communication responsibilities you may not be aware of. If you don’t, you risk isolating yourself which doesn’t bode well for you or the company over the long-term.
When you work in the office with everyone else, you become aware of many things because there is always “water cooler talk” to keep everyone in the loop on what’s informally going on around the office. As well, there are always chances for physical interaction, such as your boss or co-worker walks by your office and suddenly remembers to inform you of something. It happens because you are physically around. You are not out of sight, thus you are not out of mind.
When you telecommute, you are out of sight and thus can be out of mind. To what extent you are out of mind depends upon your boss and co-workers, but for most people we’re human and there’s always going to be a degree of interaction lost because we’re just not physically around. Consequently you as the telecommuter must go out of your way to seek information and ensure you are not out of sight nor out of mind of your officemates.
You must seek out what the office gossip is. Not in any harmful way (gossip can be dangerous), but just the informal scuttlebutt going around the office. You have to create your own “virtual water cooler” and go to folks in the office to find out what’s going on. This means you must befriend people in the office as your tap into the central nerve center. It doesn’t hurt to befriend other telecommuters from your company so you can have a network for information sharing.
Furthermore, you must force yourself to overcommunicate. Compared to how you normally communicate with people, what you’re doing here may feel forced and contrived, but you must do it. Sure you don’t have to let your boss and co-workers know the minutia of your day (unless you’re really fond of Twitter), but it’s good to ensure they know what’s going on with you. They can’t just drop in and check on things, so the more you can do to keep them in on your own loop the better. This could be sending a daily or weekly status email highlighting any critical issues, what you did the past week, and what you’ll be doing next week. This can involve having Instant Messaging accounts and obtaining the IM address of the people you work with. With IM it isn’t just IM’ing with these people during the day, but also having your status message updated to reflect what’s going on with you. The status doesn’t have to be perpetually changing (what’s playing on iTunes) nor covering all details of your day (don’t need to know when you’re going to the bathroom). But just like in the office if someone wants to come by your cube to talk to you but sees you’re busy or in a meeting, on the phone, or not there, let them see that via your IM status. Furthermore, IM provides the same information and interaction back to you with your co-workers. Furthermore, if you have the ability to do video chats, consider doing that now and again as the added richness of video and audio greatly improve communication and “that human touch” you can’t get over plain text. The way I look at it is my in-office co-workers and boss should never have to seek me out to ask me what I’m doing and what’s going on with me. I should be providing that information by multiple channels throughout the work day.
There are many advantages to telecommuting, but because it creates a different work environment you must compensate for the weaknesses that telecommuting brings about. You must seek out information, you must provide information — a lot of it. You cannot allow yourself to become isolated and invisible to the company. You cannot be out of sight and out of mind, you must force yourself into their sight and mind through constant and detailed communication. It may seem awkward and contrived to communicate like this, but it’s something that must be done. In time, you’ll find a happy medium of how much communication needs to be given to your co-workers and boss and you’ll find how much information you need to pull in order to keep you adequately informed. The bottom line is for everyone to keep up and be in the loop with each other, and it may require you to go above and beyond to ensure that happens. The more you know, the better you can work together.