remote worker

The dark side of telecommuting: does working from home hurt your career?

Invisibility and isolation are two key challenges when considering telecommuting as a career choice. But is time away from the office hurting your professional path?

Telecommuting holds numerous advantages for professionals, and we’re passionate about sharing and discussing these many benefits with business consumers. Improvements in productivity, work-life balance, cost savings and benefits for the planet are just a few of the ways a regular telecommuting practice can enhance one’s life and well-being. However, some of the most common questions about telecommuting are voiced in whispered tones. What are the trials that telecommuters face and how do they impact the careers of those who work from home?

The power of presenteeism

Without being an active part of the traditional office, telecommuters and flexible workers are often worried about missing out on promotion opportunities because they’re not physically visible within the day-to-day workings of business. And they’re not necessarily wrong. Whether intentional or not, a study by MIT Sloan Management Review shows that managers often choose workers for promotion who show “presenteeism.” Because teleworkers are often passively present via email and conference call, they often get lower performance reviews, smaller raises and fewer promotions than their office-bound colleagues.

  • 56% believe remote work damages employee’s promotion opportunities.
  • 60% of companies still prioritize subjective write-ups over hard data.
  • Workers seen at their desk during regular hours are viewed as “responsible” and “dependable.” If they are seen at their desks early, late or on weekends, they’re upgraded to “committed” and “dedicated.”

Here are the most common 5 questions that most telecommuters have and answers to help you address, mitigate and even surmount these challenges as the practice of telecommuting continues to grow:

Question #1: Will I lose visibility with my coworkers and my boss if I’m not physically present in the office?
As a telecommuter, bet on the fact that you are trading some advantages in order to gain others. One of the things you will lose is the convenience and access of being physically present in the office every day. But a lack of physical presence does not mean that you become invisible; in fact, by increasing your availability and virtual connection, your holistic visibility may likely increase. By using technology to your advantage – tools such as mobile devices and video conferencing technology – you present your professional self as consistent and reliable through multiple communications channels that are easily on hand, and not to just your local office team, but to coworkers and clients around the world.

Question #2: Will I lose opportunities to grow in my career as a result of telecommuting?
This is a tough one because opportunities can be elusive, sometimes happening as a result of a sidebar or hallway conversation that telecommuters are not privy to. If you are the only member of your team who telecommutes, chances are that you sometimes feel like the “third wheel” as you witness your office-bound colleagues enjoying in-person conversations and camaraderie. Evaluate your career path over the past 18 months and your goals for the next two to five years and explore what role telecommuting plays. Look around and see if coworkers you began with as peers are now lapping your own career path, but be sure to look as broadly and as objectively as possible – not an easy thing to do. If you feel your concerns outweigh the benefits you enjoy as a telecommuter, search LinkedIn or Indeed specifically for positions highlighting telecommuting as a feature – this will help you grow in your career without sacrificing your desire to remain a telecommuter.

Why the future of work isn’t at work – TED Talk from Jason Fried:

Question #3: How do I stay motivated without my coworkers around me?
Isolation, especially if you consider yourself a “people person” can be a heart-felt challenge as a telecommuter. Feelings of loneliness can creep inside and can spiral into bad habits like second-guessing yourself, questioning the quality of your work, a creativity plateau and sometimes paranoia. Even while you’re telecommuting, that doesn’t mean you always need to work from home – try “running away” from your home office for the day and working from other locations on a periodic basis. Coworking spaces, coffee shops and public libraries all offer sanctuary to the lonely teleworker, the chance to network with freelancers or other telecommuters looking for a fresh perspective, not to mention a solid Wi-Fi connection.

Question #4: How do I keep my supervisor’s trust while I work from home? And if I lose it, how do I gain it back?
macbookThis mistake happens for both telecommuters and in-office workers alike, and the solution is simple: be available through as many channels as you can. Email. IM. Phone. Video Conferencing. Web Conferencing. Ensure that all communication is open and you keep an open line to your coworkers, your supervisor and your clients throughout business hours (and later, if appropriate to your corporate culture and supervisor’s expectations). If technology (or life) mishaps have caused to you to miss a few phone calls or emails, step up your game and overcompensate for a few weeks or months, as long as you need to until you perceive that trust is regained with both your colleagues and your supervisor. Begin the journey back to a trust with communication and the right tools and rebuild your relationships with authenticity, consistency and grace.

Question #5: What’s the best way to stay involved with my team and my supervisor while I’m working from home?
By not being present in the physical work space, employees miss out on the social aspects and corporate culture of office environments—birthday gatherings, water cooler conversations, lunchtime getaways, and even casual cube chats. Sacrificing these benefits as a teleworker can compound feelings of isolation and impede networking opportunities within the company as well as the chance to build personal relationships in the workplace that ease stress and increase productivity. To get more involved as a telecommuter, get involved in projects that promote a “feel good” vibe, like company newsletters, intranet conversations and internal contests. Also, try being a hybrid worker and telecommute part-time so that you maintain some physical presence in your office environment, wherever it’s located.

free eBookDo you feel challenged, misunderstood or stalled out in your career as a telecommuter? Be sure to read our FREE eBook, the Yin + Yang of Telecommuting for more information about the benefits and challenges of this work practice and make the most of your telecommuting practice!

Photos courtesy of Flickr users John Athayde and Todor036


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