Today, 3.7 million employees work out of their houses at least half the time, according to the research firm GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. And that’s not even counting the self-employed people who already run home-based businesses. Telecommuting is on the rise, too: It grew 6.5 percent from 2013 to 2014.
The benefits are plenty. “Working alone means you have more control over your environment. You can work in silence, without a chatty coworker who ends up standing at your desk for 20 minutes,” says Beth L. Buelow, ACC, life coach and author of The Introvert Entrepreneur. Plus, she adds, when you work from home, you get to bow out of office politics.
The arrangement also makes smart business sense: According to a study of one business published in the Harvard Business Review, managers who let employees telecommute saved their company $1,900 per worker over nine months, had a lower turnover rate, and boosted productivity by 13.5 percent.
So what’s the secret to staying relevant in a company when you’re not physically in the office? Here are 15 ways to stay present at work when you work from home:
1. Check in regularly. Since you can’t pop into a nearby office or chat in the elevator, constant communication is key. Says Buelow: “It might be a weekly conference call, an emailed report giving everyone an update on your activity (peer-to-peer; it shouldn’t feel like they’re keeping tabs on you!), or an agreement about texting or IMing that keeps you in regular contact. Co-create the style and frequency of communication so that it feels good to everyone.”
2. Announce news often. Make an effort to frequently update your team so your role isn’t forgotten. Met with a new client? Made new strides in a project? Email everyone on your team when new events happen, recommends Scott Edinger, author of The Hidden Leader.
3. Identify your team’s busiest time of day. Some offices buzz early. Some really get rolling at 4 pm. Figure out that peak time of work at your office and then make sure you’re responding to any correspondence in real time.
4. Carve out a time when you answer calls and emails. Get more done and ditch distractions by sticking to that schedule. “Without the wide range of interruptions inherent in an office setting, decide when and how to interact,” suggests Buelow. “This degree of control can help with productivity and lead to an overall more positive mood about work.”
5. Add your coworkers on your social media feed. “If you share your profiles on social media with your coworkers, pop on there occasionally to like, comment, and share, especially work-related items (for instance, someone shares that she's gotten a promotion, makes a sale, or otherwise is experiencing a ‘win’ at work),” says Buelow. “Take part in the virtual celebrations of your colleagues, and share your own wins as appropriate.”
6. Don’t forget to pick up the phone. With so many digital ways to stay connected, it can be hard to remember that the old-fashioned phone call could also be the most effective during critical times. “Make a habit of connecting via conference call for important discussions, rather than trying to do them over email,” says Buelow.
7. Set up video-conferencing equipment. “Set up a Zoom account or other video conferencing platform and use it to connect with your team,” Buelow adds. “You don’t have to use it every time you talk, but a few times a month will help you stay present in one another’s minds.”
8. Attend company functions. If you’re local, attend “big team meetings, holiday parties, or annual meetings,” says Buelow. “You might feel a little out of the loop at first, but if you’ve been intentional about connecting through phone and video conferencing, it could feel more like a happy reunion.”
9. Brag a bit. When you work remotely, doing good work might not be enough to get noticed. “You have to get very comfortable with being direct about your accomplishments,” says Buelow. Feel awkward about emails that sound too showy? “Use language such as ‘I’m excited to share’ or ‘Great news for the team,’” says Buelow. “It makes the celebration more inclusive while still highlighting your win.”
10. Dial in to calls a few minutes early to chat. “It’s through small talk that colleagues form strong connections,” Buelow says. “Talking about the weather, their weekend, the game, their pets, etc., gives everyone a glimpse into the person outside of work.” It might be tempting to dial in late to skip all that, but resist the temptation and chime in with updates about yourself every so often.
11. Refresh your home office. Make sure your office equipment is up-to-date and in working order. You should also consider updating teleconferencing equipment. Is it better for you to wear a headset when you’re on a call, or can everyone hear you from your cell phone? Should you get an external microphone or can your laptop’s audio equipment do the job?
12. Banish distractions. One of the biggest problems with working at home is, well, you’re at home. So make sure you have an area dedicated to your work. If you find you’re spending more time in the kitchen than on your laptop, you may need to reassess whether working remotely makes sense for you.
13. Channel that on-air personality in teleconferences. When you’re not meeting face-to-face, make the most of your voice and manner when you talk in a teleconference. For example, you’re not privy to casual side conversations as people pile into a conference room, so make sure you start with a quick summary of your agenda. Then talk slowly and clearly with precise language. When you finish, close by asking if everyone heard you okay and add that you’re ready to open up the conversation for questions or comments (since you can’t see other’s faces or gestures).
14. Summarize meeting minutes/notes/recaps. To make sure all communication was clear to everyone involved in a remote meeting, make it a habit to write up the minutes after your phone call (or assign someone else to do it). Make sure this happens shortly after the meeting and that the information outlines all the key points made.
15. Never ignore correspondence. Even if you’re working on a response and there’s a delay, make sure you let everyone on your team know that you got the email and will respond soon. Silence isn’t an option when you’re working remotely, because your coworkers can’t assume you actually got the message. ▲