Working from home can be glamorous! Drinking coffee from your desk as your next-door neighbors trudge out in the snow, typing status reports with a sleeping cat on your lap, and being able to control your work setting’s temperature are just a few advantages telecommuters have. But like all jobs, working from home has its downside, too. Feeling like you’re truly part of the company can be difficult, staying updated on assignments can be tough, and demonstrating your worth to your boss and coworkers can be a real challenge. Whether you telecommute full time or two days a week, stay connected to your company culture with these five tips.
Refine Your Communication Skills: As a telecommuter, you’re already at a disadvantage when it comes to effectively communicating with others at the office. According to Gayle Cotton, an executive coach on cross-cultural communication and author of Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere: 5 Keys to Successful Cross Communication, 55 percent of a message is lost when you take away the ability to see someone’s body language. “On the phone, we tend to think more about what we are going to say next instead of actually listening to the other person. We can also be easily distracted because the other person isn’t there to pull us back into the conversation. It’s even worse with texting and email because then we lose tone of voice,” explains Cotton.
She recommends that you reduce the chance of miscommunication by communicating with others as clearly and simply as possible. “Actively listen to the other person by focusing on what they’re saying the whole way through. At the end of the conversation, summarize the message you received to make sure you both have the same understanding,” says Cotton. When initiating a conversation, she advises that you first organize your thoughts and then have several clear ways to express them, whether it be on Skype, over the phone, or in an email. This can help to ensure that you, your boss, and your coworkers are all on the same page regarding assignments and expectations.
[Check out Careeranista: The Woman's Guide to Success After College for more advice on succeeding in work and life.]
Develop a Rapport: One way to make your relationships with your boss and coworkers closer as a telecommuter is by developing an individual rapport with each person. “People will tell you how they want to be communicated with if you just observe,” explains Cotton. “Do they make small talk or do they get right down to business? Are their emails long and formal or are they one-liners? You’ll make them feel more comfortable, and you can avoid unwanted judgments, by mirroring whatever they are doing.” In addition to being flexible enough to adapt your communication style to each person, it may also be a good idea to adapt your behavior to each person. According to Susan Hobbs, a business communication consultant and founder of Be Memorable Now, you can work to understand your boss’s strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and ticks, and then use that information to your advantage. “If you know you have a results-driven boss, send them status reports with hard results. Don’t bother them with the little details,” explains Hobbs, who has developed an assessmentspecifically designed to uncover behavioral types in business professionals. She goes on to explain that when a solid, trusting foundation is established, it becomes easier for both parties to discuss conflicts when they arise.
But don’t just stop at developing a repertoire with those you work with on a daily basis. As a telecommuter and founder of Telecommuting Mommies, Alaina Forbes sees benefits in connecting with many people in a company. “If you focus all of your relationship building with just one or two people, if they leave, you’re back at square one. You want others who can vouch for your work ethic and quality,” Forbes explains. By developing many close relationships with many different people at your company, you’ll create a more solid place for yourself.
Schedule and Attend Meetings: Talking to your coworkers via phone, video chat, email or instant messaging throughout the day can help you feel like part of the team as you contribute to brainstorming sessions, answer questions, and catch up on each others’ personal lives. However, it can still fall short when it comes to keeping you updated on major changes in the company. Your boss may remind you about an upcoming deadline but completely forget to mention a switch in your company’s insurance providers. In addition to attending scheduled company meetings, you may also benefit from asking for your own weekly meetings that allow you, your boss, or your coworkers to touch base in a more formal way, and enable you to receive frequent, constructive feedback on your performance.
Hobbs says that if it’s physically impossible for you to attend a company meeting, your next best option is to video call in. “By using Skype or another web video program, you can read body language and connect with others on a deeper level than you would by phone. Not to mention it’s always better for your career when the people in your company have a face for you,” says Hobbs. But for some, calling in to scheduled meetings can be trickier than it sounds. As a manuscript editor who lives in Honolulu but works full-time for a nonprofit in Virginia, Elaine Dunn finds it impossible to attend their morning company-wide meetings; however, she has never once felt removed from the company. “My colleagues are great at keeping me in the loop. Someone in my group will write the meeting minutes for me and anyone else who was unable to attend,” Dunn explains. However, as Dunn has found, you have to show that you are interested in everything going on within your company, so that your boss and colleagues know to keep you informed about both big and little things.
Immerse Yourself in the Company Culture: While it would be nice for your boss to consider you as much as anyone else for a promotion and for your coworkers to immediately phone you when there’s a change to an assignment, the fact is that not being physically present can still allow others to forget about you. “It is especially important for telecommuters to keep their pulse in line with the overall goals and integrity of the company,” says Hobbs. “This might take some extra effort on your part.” One way you can keep up with the company culture is by taking part in company events. Forbes recommends a face-to-face appearance. “Even if you can only show up once a year for a conference everyone else is attending or for a company get-together, that can help you feel included,” says Forbes. But for those who may find traveling unrealistic, there are other ways to connect with what everyone else in doing, as Dunn found out one year during her company’s Earth Week. “When the company held screenings of environmental movies, I was still able to participate by being proactive. I watched the same movies here and was then able to discuss them with my colleagues,” says Dunn. She also said she was able to do the same with the company’s distributed health newsletter by enjoying conversations with her coworkers about her own yoga and exercise experiences. By participating in events that make your company’s culture what it is, you’re not only reminding those you work with that you’re a part of their team, you’re feeling like you’re part of something as well. For a telecommuter who spends much of their time alone, this can be especially rewarding.
Acknowledge Company Members: As a telecommuter, some of your best communication tools are tangible items you can send to others. “Nobody receives things in the mail anymore so when they get a card from you for their birthday or a holiday, it’s instant gratification for them and a way to remember you. It’s even more effective if it has a photo of you and can then be set on their desk,” explains Hobbs. She recommends SendOutCards, a company that allows you to personalize custom cards in seconds, which are then printed and sent to your recipient. Dunn also found sending and receiving small gifts amongst her coworkers to be a positive experience. “For special occasions, I send gifts from Hawaii. I once sent leis for everyone to wear for a colleague’s farewell lunch. In turn, for Christmas, my colleagues all got together and got me a gift basket of delightful foods. I’ve also gotten a gift card for a yoga web site. They know me well enough to personalize the gifts to what I like,” says Dunn. Even by sending a thank-you card or spending a few extra moments detailing a personal email expressing your gratitude for help on a project, you’re giving others a reason to care about you, even if they haven’t met you in person.
--Check out Careeranista: The Woman's Guide to Success After College for more advice on succeeding in work and life.