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Are You Working Remotely or Remotely Working?

As the percentage of the total workforce working remotely grows, so does the periodic distrust of those working remotely.  Are they really working?  Or are they simply squeezing 3 hours of work into an 8-hour day?

More importantly, can a remote worker/telecommuter even go to lunch without having that "gotcha" feeling?  A realistic question that serves as the basis for a recent BusinessWeek online article:

"It was the kind of spring day that golfers fantasize about—balmy, crisp, no wind. But there wouldRemote_worker  be no links for Ken Wisneski. The president of business services firm Vendorseek and his staff were pushing hard under a crush of new business. So when the office’s toner cartridge broke, Wisneski did his servant leader thing and volunteered his lunch hour to drive to a nearby Staples to pick up replacements. As he sauntered across the parking lot, he glanced over to the patio of Don Pablo’s, where the sun-dappled throngs were lapping up their margaritas.

Wait…was that? Surrounded by her three children and husband in a picture of leisure-class bliss was one of Wisneski’s employees—the same one he had recently warned about falling behind. She was supposed to be “working remotely.” Not enjoying a familla fiesta.

Caught in the act by the man. It’s the flextiming faker’s worst nightmare. Though such treacheries are the aberration, they are on the rise simply because so many companies have opened the floodgates on working remotely. Indeed, seven years into the let-your-people-go phenom, a cadre of burned managers are beginning to ask, sotto voce: is it working remotely…or remotely working? “I have a lot of friends who “work remotely” for big companies, says Wisneski: “They play a lot of golf.”

Here's how I would coach any remote worker regarding the types of concerns outlined in the above missive:

-You like working remotely, so do what it takes to make it work well for those around you.  Don't mess it up for the rest of the remote team.

-Perception is reality - deal with it or go back to the office.

-Focus point number one - answer the phone and respond to emails quickly.  You have to do more than your office based friends.  People will naturally look to be critical of your responsiveness based on your arrangement.  Go above and beyond to pick up the phone and respond to emails same-day.

-If you're going out during the day in the same metro where you have office-based co-workers, don't wear your "Vote for Pedro" t-shirt and flip flops.  If your office is biz casual, you need to look that way when you go out.

-Do what it takes to stay engaged with your team or those that you rely on.  Accept their meeting invites, even if you have to move your calendar around.  Set up a few tele-meetings on your own, even if you could do it all off-line and one-on-one.  It's good for folks to know you still think like an office worker.

-Send some emails after hours if you are working then.  Most remote workers find themselves cranking work out in the evening or after the kids go to bed.  If you are working then, don't hide from laying out a digital trail. 

If you can't deal with that simple roadmap, some folks are naturally going to assume you are taking shortcuts in your remote role.  If you're offended that you'll have to respond quicker to manage perception, you should probably stay in the office.

Then you can judge others from the comfort of your traditional cube...



I've been a remote worker for the last 10 years and agree with most of your points but for goodness sake - people - if your company won't invest in a Blackberry or Treo - do so on your own. There is absolutely no reason you shouldn't be available during the company's normal hours unless you're taking personal time.

My Treo is a lifeline to keeping in touch with my co-workers.......


Wow, what a sad and accurate reflection on the state of flexibility in our organizations. Reality is reality and perception is the result of individual insecurities. As long as a remote worker is meeting business objectives, whether they do it at 3AM or 9AM, that is really all that matters isn't it? Organizations with strong performance management strategies, excellent communication practices and high levels of trust have created powerful flexible work environments. Organizations WITHOUT these capabilities can enjoy long ours of micromanaging and dishing coworkers who are not "in the office"..... welcome back to Junior High School.

Kathryn Kadilak

I agree with Kathy's comments (3/2/08). The story Dun uses to illustrate her point begs the question: If Wisneski's employee was already "falling behind" in her work, why was she allowed to keep teleworking?! Maybe if managers actually managed, remote work wouldn't be such a big deal. Let's face it, if you know what you expect from staff and hold them accountable for producing results, it doesn't matter where someone is sitting. End of story. So isn't this really a problem with managing people effectively and not telework?

Rachel Hastings

A. It was lunchtime anyway, so why can't she eat at a restaurant? B. Remote work often lends itself to working at odd hours like evenings, precisely in order to enjoy this kind of work-life balance. C. It's up to the manager to clarify expectations and to keep performance on track in order for the remote work arrangement to work. Bottom line - the manager needs to manage. If they have a knee-jerk resentful reaction about someone appearing to enjoy themselves during traditional working hours then they should address whether their expectations for coverage, availability or results are not being met and get back to the employee fast. I also agree with the general advice given that teleworking employees should be careful not to enhance inherent prejudices against them by making a joke of their remote work status. Being professional, accountable and delivering results will reduce a lot of mistrust.

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