Even longtime remote workers have come up against the “fear factor” — when a new manager or company executive doesn’t trust remote work and wants to bring people back into the office. The most common argument — that remote work has a negative impact on communication and collaboration — is not typically based on productivity measures, output or employee performance. It really comes down to management’s insecurities.
One of the greatest concerns that these managers have about remote work is not being able to SEE people working. After all, they think, how can I be an effective at my job if there is no one in the office to manage? How do I know that my remote workers are doing what they’re supposed to be doing? Sadly, in some corporate cultures, an employee’s physical presence in a cubicle or in front of a computer is valued more than the actual output.
If you are employed by a manager or company which supports that type of philosophy, the burden of proof lies on your shoulders. To preserve your remote status, you will need to take proactive actions to calm your manager’s fears. The following tips can help you to build trust and prove that you can be as efficient, productive and valuable as your in-office peers (or even more so).
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Constant communication is critical. If your new manager has a “line-of-sight” mentality in which they only feel assured that their team is working when they can see them at their desks, then you’ll need to compensate for your visual absence. Check in first thing in the morning via text, chat, email — or whatever communication tool your team uses. If your most productive time is during first few hours of the morning, consider starting your day earlier so that you can still reserve the first few hours for those activities that need more focus. But be sure to check in with your manager whenever he or she arrives in the office. Schedule a weekly call to catch them up on projects and activities. Just chatting on a regular basis will help you to build rapport.
Provide regular status updates. Make sure that your manager knows what you’re working on. Send frequent status updates to discuss your progress. Focus on what you’ve accomplished, what you’re current tasks are, what you will be working on in the near future, and the project’s big picture (how all of these pieces fit together). Recap discussions that you’ve had and let them know how you’ve carried out the action items mentioned during those meetings. It may feel like overcommunication on your part, but keep in mind that when you’re not visible, others may not know what you’ve achieved during the day. Your goal is to make sure that your team and supervisor realize that, even though you’re in a different location, you’re just as effective and productive as those who are on-site.
Respond quickly to their calls and messages. If you’re never available to answer your manager’s calls or messages on the first attempt, take several hours to respond to a message or you frequently answer their calls from your car instead of your home office, they’re going to assume the worst. Set up notification alerts so their calls and messages don’t get lost among the bulk messages you receive every day.
Contribute during meetings (and be on time!). Dialing into team conference or video calls a few minutes late reflects negatively on your time management capabilities, and demonstrates disrespect of your colleagues’ time. Fearful managers may also use your tardiness as further justification that remote workers don’t take their responsibilities as seriously as on-site staff. Besides being on time, it’s important to speak up during team meetings; don’t stay silent in the background or get distracted by other work. Share your thoughts. One of the most commonly mentioned drawbacks of remote work by managers is the loss of “watercooler” or “hallway” conversations where impromptu brainstorming and idea generation takes place. Offer valid input during meetings so they know that your insights and creativity are not being undermined by the distance from your team.
Let them know when you’re not available. Working remotely doesn’t mean that you can’t take breaks. Just make sure that your manager knows when you’re not available and when he or she can expect you back online. If your team uses a collaboration or chat tool with a status feature, use the “out for lunch,” “in a meeting” or “away from desk” messages along with an estimate of how long you’ll be unavailable (e.g., “Out for lunch – back in an hour!” “On a conference call from 2-3.” “At a client site from noon-4 p.m.”). Or send a quick text or email to convey the same message.
Meet face to face whenever possible. If you live close enough to the office to drop by occasionally, try to spend some one-on-one time with your supervisor. Show up for office gatherings and special celebrations whenever possible. Let your manager and colleagues get to know you as a living, breathing being, and not just a faceless voice or text message. Try to build a close connection with at least one in-office teammate who can let you know when the office is planning potlucks or after-hours outings.
Going through the process of proving your reliability as a remote worker with a new manager or company leader can seem like a lot of effort, and it often feels more restrictive than actually being in the office. Remember that this is about management’s insecurities, not your abilities. They don’t know you, so it’s up to you to reassure them. You are setting (or in some cases, resetting) expectations about your productivity, work ethics and ability to perform well outside of the office.
It’s always more difficult to build rapport and credibility with someone who you don’t see regularly, so be proactive and make the effort to establish a solid relationship built on trust.