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How to Stay Visible If You Work Offsite

Many professionals worry that telecommuting will derail or delay career advancement. Learn how to keep a high profile when working offsite.

April 17, 2008
from Robert Half Finance & Accounting

Telecommuting has turned out to be a boon for professionals who are able to take advantage of it. Working offsite — from the comfort of one's home or a satellite office — generally means greater scheduling flexibility, better work/life balance and a shorter or nonexistent, commute. Such benefits are not without drawbacks, however. When pressed, many telecommuters will acknowledge that "out of sight" may very well mean "out of mind" when it comes to being chosen for promotions and plum assignments.

The possibility that a telecommuting arrangement will delay or even derail career advancement is real. The good news is there are ways to avoid the problem. If you want to keep a high profile at work, even though you're seldom physically present in the office, consider using these strategies:

Be a Consistent Communicator

Leverage technology. Consider how frequently employees in the same location call or e-mail one another rather than walking down the hall or over to another part of the building. As a telecommuter, you can achieve a similar feeling of proximity despite geographic separation. Use technology to help you maintain an almost continuous virtual presence at the office. There's e-mail, of course, but for greater immediacy, also consider instant messaging, which is a feature within many e-mail applications (e.g., Microsoft Outlook) and offered as well by Internet service companies such as AOL and Yahoo!.

If you're planning a meeting (one-on-one or staff-wide), opt for a video- or a Web conference format when it's available, rather than the disembodied conference call. You'll seem more "real" to your boss and coworkers if they can see you as they speak with you.

Stay in close contact. Consider e-mailing a daily status report to your manager about the projects you're handling — more frequently if appropriate — making sure to copy coworkers with whom you're collaborating. Remember that socializing is a critical part of day-to-day life at the office and helps strengthen work relationships. Even though you're not present, you can send brief notes to check status and touch base, reminders about upcoming networking events you've heard of or an offer to help colleagues who are overloaded with assignments.

Make an appearance. Whether you come into the office once a week for a departmental meeting or once a month to have lunch with colleagues, it's important to show up "in the flesh" at regular intervals. Allow extra time after the meeting or lunch to circulate around the office and check in with other key teammates or your manager. During these visits, be careful not to appear too casual or leisurely. You don't want to give the impression that you're taking it easy while everyone else is hard at work.

Maintain a Professional Image

Manage perceptions. We've all heard the myths about telecommuters working in their bathrobes or loafing around in coffee shops when everyone else is chained to their desks. To make sure that your boss and coworkers take you seriously, strive to convey the same professionalism, competence and commitment you would if you were at the office. Set regular work hours and stick with the schedule as closely as you can. If you must leave your home office for an extended period during the day, let your colleagues know how they can get in touch with you and when you will return voice and e-mail messages.

Be flexible and cooperative. Keep in mind that some of your non-teleworking colleagues may feel resentful of your freedom. To prevent such feelings from causing problems, be willing to come into the office whenever necessary, even if it's on one of your telecommuting days. Make sure your teammates know that you will re-arrange your schedule to accommodate a tight deadline or to help resolve a problem with a project.

Revisit the arrangement periodically. It's a good idea to meet with your manager at least once a year to evaluate your telecommuting arrangement within the context of your long-term career goals and the needs of the firm. For example, if you want to become the head of the audit division, ask if continuing to work offsite will hinder you in reaching that goal.

Telecommuting is not without its trade-offs, and the risk of invisibility is certainly one of them. But with extra effort and consistent communication, telecommuters can make sure that even though they're out of sight, they'll remain top of mind at the office.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world's first and largest specialized financial recruitment service. The company has more than 360 locations throughout North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at http://www.roberthalf.com.