“Out of sight, out of mind” wrote John Heywood, a favoured playwright to four Tudor monarchs, in his collection of proverbs. With the initially forced and now inexorable rise of alternative employment patterns, this epigram is as poignant today as it was centuries ago. For remote workers, several questions arise – how does a person stay connected, visible, remain part of a team and secure good work and promotion whilst not being on site?
The Challenge For Remote Workers
No commuting, less stress and concentrating in the relative quiet of home (in non-Covid times) mean that homeworkers are ready to attack their to-do lists with more gusto than otherwise. But there is a lingering sense that being physically present in the workplace indicates that an employee is more available, more obviously diligent or perhaps even just more personable. These issues increase with the amount of time spent out of the office, with full-time remote workers facing particular challenges.
It’s Good To Talk
Email has become the default manner of communication but it’s good to talk. When you pick up the phone and speak, you can modulate your tone of voice and nuances come across far better. There is also the chance to ask for clarification and further information on a real-time basis. With people’s in-boxes increasingly cluttered, the direct personal approach can be more effective. If concerned about interrupting someone, use instant messaging to check availability. Alternatively send a meeting invite for an Outlook calendar which can be accepted or used to propose a more suitable time.
In an office, a line manager can walk up to a desk, ask if something can be done and get an instant, and reassuring, response. Where appropriate, it is helpful to recreate this interaction by responding promptly to an email or voicemail. Even if the deadline for the work is far into the future, reply immediately to say that you have received the message and that you will be actioning it.
Make Your Voice Heard
Meetings can be testing, as everyone is in the room except the remote worker. You need to prepare carefully to maximise your meeting participation. Do not irrelevantly say things just for the sake of it (trust me, this will not make you popular) but rather focus in advance on what your contribution will be. Body language, in particular, may not come across in Zoom and certainly not on a voice-only call. Instead of just nodding your head and hoping someone will notice this on a screen, you may need to speak up to make sure you get your point across.
Communicate Your Aspirations
Remote working has many advantages. But it does not feel that way when you are at home wondering why X or Y got a plum project when you missed out. Sometimes work just gets handed out to the person who is more obviously in a line of vision.
To mitigate against such disappointment, communicate aspirations and preemptively volunteer for what you want. Your supervisor is not a mind reader. Whatever work you do get, schedule progress check-ins to get feedback and ensure that you are on the right path. This also indicates to your boss how productive you are and reassures that there are no surprise problems lurking in the background.
Connect With A Mentor
If you want more long-term input into your career, being matched with a mentor can be a great move for mapping and achieving progress. It is always beneficial to have someone to discuss how you can get ahead and to advocate for you when you are not in the office yourself. You could also offer to buddy a newcomer and thus have a positive impact on the work environment in that way.
What Next For The Remote Worker
Offices are buzzing places with collaborative relationships often built around chit-chat and water-cooler conversations. Remote workers may miss out on that sense of camaraderie and the networking that comes with it. To combat this, it is smart proactively to instigate social interaction. You can schedule in a coffee Zoom or a lunch Skype since nowadays eating “al-desko” has become popular. Other options include ensuring that you participate in Away Days and attend firm-wide events such as the Xmas lunch.
When it comes to remote employment, the only thing that should be remote is the work, not the worker.
Read more about how Covid could change how and where we live.