April 15, 2009
How telecommuters can steer clear of layoffs
I've been making my way through an interesting collection of articles on work/life balance that BusinessWeek recently published. One in the particular, "Telecommuting: Once a Perk, Now a Necessity," caught my eye today.
The article discusses professionals who've been sent home to telecommute in order to save their employer money. In a classic case of "careful what you wish for," some workers with newfound telecommuting privileges find adjusting to the solitude and lack of structure more challenging than expected. (Fortunately, both issues have many remedies, which I'll discuss in an upcoming post.)
But something telecommuters may have to work harder to overcome is the perception among colleagues that they're disconnected from the team -- a perception that can be especially dangerous in today's layoff economy.
As a BusinessWeek reader named Robert pointed out in the article's comments, "It is human nature to cut those people [that] you are not close to or that appear to be not part of the team. If you work from home, you and your management lose that personal connection and you may be asking to be moved to the top of the chopping block."
But telecommuting doesn't have to be the kiss of death that Robert makes it out to be. There's no shortage of ways you can remain an integral, visible part of the team, even when working remotely. A few suggestions:
Respond to messages received during the business day within an hour. The biggest fear of managers and executives skeptical about telework is that "home-based" is code for "on the couch with the remote" or "out gallivanting with friends and family all day." Don't give them any evidence to support this theory.
Attend weekly, biweekly, or monthly team meetings. Do so even if your boss gives you the option to dial in, attend by webcam, or simply e-mail over a status update. If there aren't any team meetings for you to attend, schedule breakfast, lunch, or coffee with your manager (and another with coworkers) at least twice a month. Nothing breeds camaraderie like good old-fashioned face time.
If invited to optional training, morale, or social events, by all means go. Yes, you probably can list eight things you'd rather do than attend the annual company picnic. But if it puts you in front of your teammates, customers, or manager for a couple hours, it's a worthwhile investment of your time.
Volunteer for projects that require you to collaborate with colleagues onsite. Don't let the physical distance between you give anyone the impression that you're less invested the team's success. Sometimes telecommuters have to go the extra mile -- literally.
Work in the office at least one day a week. Most likely, your department maintains a conference room or community workspace that telecommuters and business partners can work from while onsite. Use it. Stop by the office on days when you have a lighter schedule, and you'll have more time to chat with colleagues.
How about you? If you've been granted telecommuting privileges since this recession began (or forced to telecommute as a cost-cutting measure), how do you ensure that out of sight doesn't mean out of mind? What tactics have you used to get more face time with the key players on your team?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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