Hey, I’m over here!

My previous employer was very comfortable with its distributed work force. A global company with sizable campuses in numerous locations – three in the Bay Area alone – it was not unusual to attend team meetings with participants in half a dozen time zones.

In 2000, before the dotcom bust, when the company was expanding rapidly and real estate costs were a significant financial concern, it instituted a work-from-home program. Employees were encouraged to sign up for the new program with promises of a company-paid cell phone and first dibs on the reservable cubicles with windows. An early adopter of the “Flex” program, I was issued a wheelie and a locker, and I effectively worked from satellite offices and home for the next 7 years.

Working at home

I learned how to work without printing stacks of paper. I learned to ignore the dirty dishes in the sink and piles of laundry during “work hours”.  I found I was able to make any desk in any location my work spot as long as it had an internet connection. I held meetings with colleagues in Europe during their work day and colleagues in Asia during theirs – without working 14 hour days.  I skipped countless hours of a tedious Bay Area commute.

Fast forward ten years – my current employer is a little more traditional. While the company is trying to support more flexible work styles, work-from-home is an idea many in the company are still trying to get used to.

I, however, reside 3,000 miles away from everyone I work with on every team. Out-of-sight can feel out-of-mind. Information is frequently exchanged via hallway conversation and over lunch. My team gets together regularly at the pub down the road from the office to celebrate birthdays and product launches or just to share a beer.

Sometimes I feel I'm alone on an island.

I’ve experienced my share of odd incidents being a remote worker.  For example, the kick-off meeting where all phone lines were automatically muted, to prohibit the inevitable background noise, but which prevented those of us not in the conference room from identifying ourselves during roundtable introductions or volunteering for a committee position. These incidents can be frustrating, but I prefer to find them humorous.  They’re just growing pains, we’ll all get it figured out.

Meanwhile, I don’t want to be a faceless employee who clocks in and gets my job done without real participation.  I don’t know what my future is at the company. Heck, I don’t know what my career aspirations are. (Or, quite frankly, if I even have any.) But I owe it to myself, and to my employer, to be fully engaged. To continue to build my professional reputation. To close the geographic gap.

So these are some of the things I do to be more present while I’m remote:

I start work in my pajamas. If I get up, do my morning routine (shower, dry my hair, apply makeup), and commute to the office, I will be getting started when my east coast colleagues are heading out to lunch.  I’ve effectively lost half a day. So instead I set the alarm fairly early and jump right on the computer.  Before I brush my teeth or make a pot of coffee, I’ve answered new email and maybe even attended a conference call or two.

I accept very early meeting requests. A 6:30am meeting is 9:30am for my east coast colleagues. Because I’m the remote worker, I’ve got to make some compromises. I’ll try to get a 5:00am meeting rescheduled, but I’ve got to conform, as much as I can, to my teammates’ working hours for all of us to be productive.

I speak up on conference calls. I’m always one of the first people to join a meeting by phone, and while we wait for a quorum I try to engage in small talk.  Asking my colleagues about the big snowstorm they’re expecting or how many days they’ve endured temperatures over 100 degrees not only helps me establish a personal connection, but reminds them that I’m in attendance, making it easier for me to participate in the discussion once business gets underway.

I use social media and collaboration tools. Social media tools like Twitter enable me to have conversations – and not only about work-related topics – with fellow employees I may never have encountered even if I sat in a cubicle at corporate headquarters. These serendipitous relationships have helped me feel that I’m truly a part of this organization and not a contract worker who completes assignments but isn’t a “member of the family”.  And now when I travel back to the corporate offices, I have friends in other parts of the company who can give me a different perspective or just chat over a Dunkin Donuts coffee. This year instant messaging was rolled out across the company, and I’ve found it a godsend that enables me to have the drop-in chats that my east coast colleagues have over their cubicle walls.  I can have a side conversation during a meeting, check in with a colleague before a long weekend to find out her personal plans, get a quick answer to a burning question without filling a coworker’s email inbox, and share my desktop with my manager as we work through a difficult problem together.

I volunteer for special projects. When the opportunity arises, I volunteer for special projects that help me meet people from other functional areas and also give me some executive visibility. When the company was looking for employee teams to review the results of its annual employee review and develop action plans, I raised my hand.  I participated in weekly meetings with other marketers I’d never met, I contributed my ideas and perspectives, I learned a lot about my company from my peers, and when our results were delivered to the EVP of Marketing, my name was listed on the cover slide.  I’m currently involved in a personal development project, working with a cross-functional team to define a required social media training program for the entire company.

I travel. Although working out the logistics at home can be a little tricky, I try to spend a week at the corporate offices every couple of months.  When I’m out there, I pack my schedule.  I attend every team meeting in person, and I try to set up one-on-one meetings with the people I frequently collaborate with.  I try to drop by the offices of people I work with less frequently just to say “hi” so we can both put a face to the voice.  And I bring along some west coast treats, usually small bags of Ghirardelli chocolates, to leave on desks with a note in case I’m unable to connect with somebody personally. Oh, and I always make sure I allow time to head over to the pub after work with my team!

 

Pub time

These activities take a conscious effort on my part.  As an introvert, it would be much easier for me to remain “heads down” and focus on my individual contribution.  But I’ve found that my efforts to have more engagement have made me feel more connected to this company after just two years than I felt after ten years with my previous employer.

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6 Responses to Hey, I’m over here!

  1. Pingback: Why I embrace a blended work environment | A Suburban Life

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