Can you build influence while telecommuting?

by Kristi on August 23

456799827 a139d46758 Can you build influence while telecommuting?A manager that I know holds a high-level post in a boutique professional services firm. He insists that he sit as close to his staff as possible. For years he avoided having an office, preferring to sit in the cubes with his staff so that he could be in the mix day to day, aware when challenges arise and accessible to dole out praise, proffer feedback and tackle challenges as they arise.

Another manager prefers to be the first in the office in the morning and the last to leave, believing that it helps his staff to see that the entire team shares the workload and accountability in their section.

And many of the managers that I’ve respected most have held tightly to the idea that they won’t ask their staff to do something that they won’t do themselves.

Our presence in the office sends not-so-subtle signals about the way that our work fits into our lives. If you’re opening the office at 7 am and closing it at 6 pm, you’re generally thought of as dedicated and hardworking (although questions about life outside the office may arise…).

It may seem archaic in an increasingly mobile, virtual workplace but the amount of time your butt spends in your office chair still impacts your perceived dedication. And it can directly affect how much you know about the undercurrents of office politics, the nuances of a developing client relationship or the level of engagement your team maintains.

But as more and more professionals seek “work-life balance” many management-level pros are yearning for flex time, telecommuting and other mobile work arrangements that make it easier to juggle their professional and personal commitments.

The question is… at what cost?

Can you continue to progress within an organization with a primarily telecommuting position?

What kinds of organizations support this kind of career path?

How can smart professionals stay engaged and informed with what’s going on in the office without needing to be there all the time?

Have you been a successful telecommuter? Let us know what has worked for you.

cc Can you build influence while telecommuting? photo credit: DDFic

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott August 25, 2010 at 2:13 am

Hi Kristi

I would think someone who was in charge of more than just a few people would be at a disadvantage if they telecommuted much, at least in a traditional office setting. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” would probably ring true for a person who spent most of their time off site. It would also depend on the companies structure, as more and more places are decentralizing and using technology to connect.

Scott

PS I like the updated layout :)

Kristi August 25, 2010 at 4:42 am

Scott: I had a conversation with another pro yesterday who also used the “out of sight, out of mind” mantra. In my corporate days I did some telecommuting, but working with clients I like to spend time on site to build better working relationships and just hear the hallway chatter. It also brings me more opportunities, because I’m there to rope in to impromptu meetings on upcoming projects. But many organizations are systematically using telecommuters. I’d love to hear others’ success formulas.

And thanks on the layout!

Lynn Clark August 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm

In my job before this one, I worked two days a week from home, putting in about 50 hours a week “on the books” and several more that I didn’t count (mainly keeping up with email). When bonus time came around, the president of the company told me that my bonus had been calculated by the hours I work: “Since you’re part-time, your bonus reflects that.”

I did get it straightened out, but then, when the company moved to new digs, I was demoted from office with door to cube because I was not in the office 5 days a week.

And this place claimed to be striving to become “workplace of choice.”

In other words, in my experience, out of sight is out of mind.

Kristi August 29, 2010 at 6:42 am

Lynn: I would hope your experience is a somewhat extreme one, but I suspect others have been in that position. So the question is — what can you do if you’re a telecommuter to avoid being forgotten or devalued? And how can we equip managers so that they understand the need to be stronger advocates for employees in this work arrangement? Would love to hear anyone’s ideas or success stories!

Fernando Bravo August 30, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Hi, Kristi:

With us, telecommuting is reserved for situations where we could not come to work, because we have to take care of personal concerns, such as having to watch the kids when the daycare is closed or when they get sick, having to keep an awkwardly scheduled doc appointment, take care of family emergency that requires travel, or my favorite: hurricane evacuation (we’re in Miami). Our experience is that such circumstances are quite common, and that being able to take care of ones personal life, allows one to concentrate on work better. There are many other benefits, such as cultivating a corporate culture of trust, fostering an environment that genuinely cares about employee personal lives, etc.

If your clients are not telecommuting or are having trouble adopting it, perhaps a transitional approach is worth a try; that is, maybe they can try allowing their folks to work from home when they have personal situations that dictate that doing so would make much easier for the employee. Because these would be exceptions, they would still have to return to the office when their personal situation is resolved (almost always resolved in one day).

As for “out of sight, out of mind”, that applies as well, but only because we don’t telecommute consistently. If we each were obligated to telecommute one day per week, that may work, but only if we were all telecommuting on the same day.

Kristi August 31, 2010 at 6:04 am

Fernando: Your model is something a lot of employers have embraced. It’s a nice alternative to losing complete productivity from an employee on a given day if your infrastructure can support it. And I think the question here is more about how to effectively manage your perception at work if you are a telecommuter. Just because a company allows telecommuting doesn’t mean that they’ll fully support your choice to take advantage of it, and being out of the office can affect your perceived value — especially among peers and higher-ups. There are ways to avoid that problem — would love to hear people’s best practices. For instance, do you think your supervisors believe you’re as productive on a telecommuting day?

Fernando Bravo August 31, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Hi, Kristi: Good point. To answer your question of how productive on telecommuting day, as a supervisor myself, my perception is that productivity is lower for routine tasks, but greater for project development, with our business model. With routine tasks, without the high speed printers and copiers, the IT infrastructure, and the ability to work together is diminished by the isolation of telecommuting. This is not the case however when we are working on projects that benefit from isolation, because such isolation allows for greater concentration and focus. However projects are the exception, not the rule. Routine tasks are performed better at the office where infrastructure, equipment, resources, and people allow for greater synergies to take hold. Perhaps my perception is limited by habit; hard to say. But I will say this: I agree with your premise.

Kristi September 1, 2010 at 4:26 am

Hi Fernando: I think you’re right — if your job tasks rely on that infrastructure, that can slow you down. Of course, one can create that infrastructure for themselves, but that requires an investment — either from the telecommuter or his or her company. I’ve also found project work to be easier to do from a home office. That’s one way to enhance your influence — use that productivity boost to churn out great strategic work that’s hard to ignore. That’s a big value added. Great to hear your experiences!

Carol July 27, 2011 at 5:05 am

My husband telecommutes–he is a computer engineer. He loves it, as it allows him to get more done and there is no commute time except for the few days a month he goes back to the home office for meetings. His boss also telecommutes.

He feels much more productive, especially since when he is in the office he is either in meetings or people want to come greet him, so he gets very little of his regular work done.

Kristi July 27, 2011 at 8:39 am

Carol: It’s a big help when the boss also telecommutes — it’s much easier to see how it does/doesn’t impact a team member’s value when you have similar experiences. My team is now (almost) completely virtual, and all involved enjoy increased productivity, flexibility, autonomy, etc. I also work with a number of clients who have a similar, and successful, model.

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