Telecommuting visibility

IT World has a pretty good article addressing the question “Does telecommuting make you invisible?”

My answer? It can, but you can do something about it.

Some background on me. I’ve been at my day job for over 11 years and have worked it as a telecommuter the entire time. I’ve had different bosses, different projects, different teams, but it was always me that was out of the office. At my prior job, while I worked at the company HQ, the project I worked on was hosted out of Toronto, Ontario; that ended up being an interesting hybrid of “in the office” but yet I was still a “remote” that was for all intents and purposes, telecommuting. At the job prior to that, I worked in the office but most of the people I worked directly with were all full-time telecommuters located elsewhere in the world. I got to see and deal with a lot from “that side’ of the fence. So for quite a number of years throughout my entire career I’ve dealt with telecommuting, so I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about it.

On the whole, I’d say the IT World article was spot on.

  • Your company’s culture and norms regarding telecommuting
  • The percentage of people at your company that work remotely
  • How visible you can be on a day-to-day basis to your boss and others
  • How effectively you can perform your job remotely

Those are things that will matter and affect how well it works. I’ll add a few things.

Regarding company culture, true that culture around telecommuting matters. If you look at what the article lists on this point, it talks about the company being set up for conference calls, remote access, and other “outside the office” work. Consider this. Is your company large enough that it has more than one physical office? If so, then it’s effectively dealing with telecommuting and other issues of being “virtual” or “remote”. It doesn’t even have to be a true office, maybe it’s a contract shop out in India or Russia. Either way, once the company is forced to go outside its 4 walls, it’s effectively dealing with the very same issues. If your company can be successful with multiple offices, it can be successful with telecommuting. I say this because often companies have multiple offices but are down on telecommuting because they view them differently. Sure they aren’t 100% the same, but for the most part in terms of day-to-day operations, they are. But of course, it can vary and depend on numerous factors, including if it’s a job that can be done outside of the office without incurring much problem and expensive.

Percentage of people can matter, especially because I know some people who may not get to work remotely may come to resent you and your ability to work remotely while they’re stuck in the office, dreaming of working from home. But if you have a larger number of people, or if it’s an option available to everyone, it’s not as much of an issue. This issue then blends into the next issue….

… visibility. This matters, and this is where YOU can make the most direct impact. Sure, if the whole team is geographically spread, that will affect process. If not, or even if still, you can and SHOULD make effort to make yourself visible. Call your boss every day or two just to chat. Call co-workers. You don’t have hallways, a photocopy machine, vending machine, water cooler, etc. around which to just congregate and talk, so you have to find ways to have social chatter as well as business chatter. Don’t be annoying, don’t cross norms or cause a problem, but just work to keep yourself in on the loop with things. Don’t be afraid to CC people on emails because you do have to force the communication. Every Friday send a “weekly progress report” to your boss and maybe even the boss’s boss (and the whole team, if appropriate) so people can be aware of what you’ve been doing all week long. Can you use Instant Messaging? If so, get the whole team on IM and use it as another means of chatter and communication during the day. Plus, IM provides a sort of visibility because, so long as you properly manage your IM, they can see if you’re online or not, at your desk, or not, in a meeting, on the phone, do not disturb, or whatever other status that may come along. It’s useful for visibility.

But be aware to not violate company policies or, most of all, lie. Don’t make things up because you will get flushed out sooner or later if you do. So much of telecommuting is based on trust, so everything you can do to foster and build trust in you, that you are responsible, that you can get the job done? That’s key.

And that brings us to the last point about how effective you are at doing your job. You do have to prove yourself. Well first, you do have to see if it is a job that can be worked remotely: someone on an assembly line just has to be there on the line, no avoiding it. As a software developer, so long as I have electricity and an Internet connection, I’m pretty good to go from anywhere in the world. Or you may find that your job can be done sometimes from home, but from time to time you have to go into the office. Whatever you do, you have to do it and find the balance to make that possible. You have to prove that you can do it, that you can have the discipline required to get the job done. A lot of people tell me they could never work from home — perhaps that is good because they know themselves and what they need to be properly motivated. I would also say, don’t sell yourself short. When you know you HAVE to get a job done else you won’t have that job and the income it provides, it tends to be a good motivator. 🙂  Yes it’s hard at first to get into the swing, find your discipline, find your groove, but you can get there. Heck, these days if I went back into an office I’m not sure I could be as productive — too many distractions!

Telecommuting isn’t for everyone, but I’m happy to see more of it. There’s many good things about it, if it can be done. The lack of commute has multiple benefits from less time wasted in a day to less impacts on our roads, our environment, vehicle wear and tear. All good things. Less costs. And ultimately, a higher quality of life.

4 thoughts on “Telecommuting visibility

  1. I too have telecommuted nearly 100% for the last 10ish years. In my current team (all infosec) we have an IRC channel (on our own server) that we are all on. This makes a HUGE difference and we can chat, make fun of each other, post links, have debates, discuss current cases and help each other out. I cannot recommend a group chat server highly enough. My current team extends from Texas, to Hawaii, NC, California, Brussels, Shanghai, Bangalore and Halifax. It works very well.

    • In the past my teams were rather small, so we all just used IM and everyone had everyone else’s IM so it worked out.

      On my current team, which has a lot more people and a lot more geographic disparity (tho not as much as yours!), I have floated the idea of our own IRC channel… but others were lukewarm to the idea so it hasn’t happened.

      Nevertheless, your experience reinforces that there are ways to use technology to our advantage to allow teams to communicate and be successful… which even includes things like being silly and just chatting, because that informal stuff is important for teams too.

  2. We too use IM, although mostly for people outside of my group in the larger company (a very large multinational). This is nice because sometimes I just won’t log into IM and be hassled by others outside my group, yet can still talk to my team effectively. We spin up adhoc channels all the time too– for instance if we are meeting with a vendor evaluating a product we will create another channel just for that and talk there during the meeting, formulating questions, etc.

    • Yes, that’s one downside with IM — more than just my co-workers are on it. Tho of course, I could always create multiple accounts and instances, but… that gets to be a pain.

      That’s cool tho that IRC is working so well for y’all. I’ll have to relay this to the rest of my team and see if they want to try.

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