Unified communications and visual collaboration solutions have made it easier than ever to work from home.  Remote employees can connect with their boss, collaborate and brainstorm with peers, and drive innovation from the comfort of their couch. However, a recent Forbes article raised and important question.

Can working at home hurt your career?

It’s a possibility, according to a recent issue of MIT Sloan Management Review which notes that remote employees may receive lower performance reviews, smaller raises and fewer promotions than colleagues who go to the office each day; even if they work just as hard, if not harder.  

This is a result of what Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable call “passive face time” or, simply being observed at work. It doesn’t matter what task an employee is completing, he could be writing an email to his wife or friend, and still get credit for being present in the office. What’s more important for career success though is the “extracurricular face time” which involves being seen at work outside of normal business hours or going above and beyond expectations. 

Even though remote workers typically log hours of “extracurricular time” it can go unnoticed by supervisors or peers.  Additionally, remote workers miss the crucial “water cooler chat” bonding time with the management team and other colleagues. Employees in the office are able to say hello and discuss weekend plans with upper management when passing them in the hall while remote employees rarely come in contact them.

So, how can remote employees overcome these barriers?

Elsbach and Cable suggest being immediately available at home, getting peers to talk you up and regular status reports.  However, UC and video solutions can significantly enable and enhance remote employees’ abilities for “virtual” face time. Instead of making regular phone calls and email reports, use instant messaging for quick updates and video calls for more lengthy status updates. 

Instant messaging allows for real-time, casual interactions that show an employee is hard at work.  However, remote workers must be cognizant of presence information that is available on these applications. Frequent or long periods of an idle status could give the impression that you are not around.  If you need to step away from your computer for lunch, a meeting, or any other reason make sure to change your status to “out to lunch,” “in a meeting” or “busy.”

Use video whenever possible to establish face time with managers and colleagues. Video helps build a relationship as face-to-face communication helps establish trust and can increase the likelihood of others putting in a good word to the management team.  

To help achieve extracurricular time, try emailing your boss early in the morning or late in the day noting that you have a few things to discuss when she arrives in the office.  Just make sure you are available when she is ready to touch base.  

Remote employees certainly have their work cut out for them; but, with a conscious effort they can overcome potential barriers that could affect their career.  While they may have to work a little harder to get recognition; the rest of us have to work a little harder getting ready and commuting into the office so it evens out!

Video conferencing benefits managers of remote workers in several ways, including strengthening relationship through face-to-face communications. But what are some other ways managers can use video to increase motivation among geographical dispersed teams?

Collaborative goal setting.

Participation in the goal setting process increases both employee commitment and goal attainment as employees accept greater ownership and responsibility. During this process, managers should make sure goals and incentives are aligned with the firm’s overall mission and goals. For example, paying a bonus based on quantity of work produced is counterproductive if the firm’s goals are based on quality of work produced.

After goals have been set, managers should review performance on a quarterly or even monthly basis. Periodic feedback about progress improves performance and accomplishment of goals because potential issues or areas for improvement are addressed rather than put off until the next review period.  This allows employees to immediately correct their actions thereby increasing performance. Additionally, periodic reviews allow managers to strengthen relationships with their team members through open and honest communications.

Here are a few additional tips regarding goals:

  1. Difficult goals produce better performance but people may abandon goals they perceive as impossible.
  2. Specific and measurable hard goals are more effective than “do your best” goals.
  3. In teams, individual goals can produce negative results as employees become more competitive and less cooperative.

The last piece of the puzzle revolves around possible incentives for achieving goals. While monetary bonuses are typically the “go to” choice; they are not always feasible nor the most effective in motivating employees. Studies have shown that when tasks become more complicated individuals are more motivated by the opportunity to work on more challenging projects than a monetary reward. An interesting video from RSA Animate goes into a little more detail about the surprising things that really motivate us.

The bottom line is, encourage participation in the goal setting process and get creative when developing rewards. Not only will productivity and performance improve, employees will be happier and more fulfilled with their job.

 

We’ve all heard the famous story of Mike Smith and Dick Rowe who turned down the Beatles because “four-piece groups with guitars are finished.” This was probably one of the worst business decisions in history and today’s executives are doing everything in their power to avoid the same demise. There are several secrets to successful decisions but teamwork and collaboration seem to be the most talked about.  

But does teamwork guarantee success? Of course not, it can simply improve the chances for success if done properly.  So what makes a good team? 

Member Diversity: It wouldn’t have mattered if Smith and Rowe had three other people in the room with them; if they all had the same background and opinions the outcome would have been the same, except there would be four people to blame instead of two. An optimal team has members with a wide range of specialties and no two members having the same specialty. This ensures varying opinions from different perspectives and can minimize the chances missing something important. 

Open Communication: What good are several different opinions if they are never shared? If only two team members contribute while everyone else agrees because they are afraid to voice their concerns important aspects can be missed leading to a poor business decision. Interaction and involvement of all members is imperative and group leaders should encourage everyone to contribute their ideas. 

Strong & Clear Leadership: At any given time in a group there must be a strong leader; however, leadership should shift between members. Every team member should have an understanding of their individual leadership skills and be willing and able to function as a leader when needed. Strong and flexible leadership helps ensure high participation as team members utilize their strengths appropriately.

Mutual Trust: Trust is a key component in any team; members must be able to trust the integrity and positive intentions of the others on the team. There must also be mutual respect for the different approaches to work and conflict resolution among team members. This helps the team members form a cohesive unit based on integrity which is highly conducive to open communication. 

Conflict Resolution: Conflicts are guaranteed in any high performing team, as there will always be a couple varying opinions. Therefore, constructive conflict resolution is an integral process for teams to master. The process should revolve around identifying, defining and then resolving the problem with team members actively listening to each other. The focus should be on working toward a solution rather than assigning blame to team members. 

Great teams can produce impressive results; from new product ideas to strategic decision making. However, simply gathering a group of people together does not make a great team. It takes thought to select a diverse but passionate group of people who can work together in an efficient and effective manner for optimal results.