Over the pandemic, many professionals found that they enjoyed working from home. They liked the flexibility of weaving between work and family responsibilities. They found they could more easily focus on important work. Now, as work places are creating hybrid work models, they face a dilemma: can they continue to work from home, or will that slow down their careers?
Now that some companies are bringing employees back to the office at least part-time, many people are realizing that they truly like the benefits of working from home. They’ve appreciated the flexibility of moving between work and family responsibilities, increased productivity from fewer distractions, and the comfort of being in their own space.
Despite wanting to continue to work from home, however, some are wary of the toll it may take on their careers. They don’t want to appear less dedicated or connected or miss out on the opportunities that may come from being in the loop.
I learned some effective strategies myself early on in my career to stay visible and connected in the office while I worked from home. When my son was young, I worked part-time and mostly from home, doing team building and team effectiveness coaching and consulting. Despite working a slightly different schedule than others, my employers were happy with the work I did. I was regularly asked to stay on for additional projects and referred to new opportunities. I’m proof that it is absolutely possible to have a successful, flexible career that works with your life and your family. It just takes some extra effort and attention.
Below are some key strategies to employ to create flexible work arrangements, while maintaining your career momentum.
Be clear about what you want.
Putting ourselves on the line to articulate your needs and define how we will work can feel scary. As a result, some people have the instinct to stay quiet and just see how much work-from-home or flexibility they can get away with. The problem with that is that when you aren’t explicit about your plans, it can feel to some like you’re sneaking around or like you’re never there. That can erode trust. Providing a clear and consistent plan, on the other hand, helps others know what they can expect from you. When you stick to that plan, your colleagues and boss will see that they can count on you.
Making a clear commitment shows that you’ve got the best interest of the company in mind. You can talk about that when you lay out your plan – making explicit the criteria you used as they relate to meeting the company’s needs. Be sure you phrase your plan in a positive way:
“I will be in the office Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
I won’t be in the office Monday, Wednesday, Friday.”
You may need to negotiate a bit with your employer, if they have a different view about what’s needed or how to best meet those needs. Staying flexible and aiming for a win-win will go a long way toward earning the credibility that you need to have that kind of arrangement.
Don’t make a big deal out of it.
Once you’ve reached an agreement about your work hours and location, watch out for the tendency to over-communicate or apologize for it. When my son was young, I would leave the office at 2:30 pm to pick him up from daycare, and then would pick up work again in the later afternoon or evening. If someone tried to schedule a meeting with me at that time, I would simply say, “I’m not available at 2:30. How about 4:30, or 10 am tomorrow?” The way I thought about it was this: if I wouldn’t feel the need to explain myself if the conflict were simply another work meeting, then I didn’t need to explain myself in this situation, either.
Make sure that you have crystal clear performance expectations.
This is key regardless of where you work. I’m always shocked at how often people have vague expectations about what they’re supposed to be accomplishing in their role or what their metrics are for moving forward. There are a lot of professionals who operate without clear deadlines or milestones. No matter what your work arrangements, this is risky, but especially if you’re working from home. If you’re in the office, it’s easier for people to see how much you’re getting done. If you’re working remotely, people can more easily imagine that you’re goofing off. In order for flexible work arrangements to work for you – and not against you – your boss needs to know that you’re making progress and achieving outcomes that matter. So the first step is to define those outcomes.
Be sure that the outcomes you set and the milestones for achieving them are realistic. It’s better to under promise and over-deliver. Put some thought into what resources you will need to get your work done. How long will it realistically take? How can you make sure you’re delivering on a quality project or product on time and on budget? Do this work up front so that you are setting yourself up for success.
With outcomes in place, you’ll also need to institute a regular reporting process. Whether you do this daily or weekly, a regular report of your accomplishments will go a long way toward showing that you’re on track. In this report, be sure to connect regular tasks and activities to the broader goals and outcomes you’re working toward. Connect the dots so your boss can see how your day-to-day work aligns to what the company needs from you. That’s not only reassuring for your boss, but also gives them useful information they can report up the chain.
Maintain relationships to stay in the loop
One of the biggest challenges to working from home, or following a modified work schedule, is staying in the loop. When people are in an office together, a fair amount of communication happens informally: there’s chatter before meetings; banter between people in the hallway or in the office kitchen; grabbing lunch or coffee together; and even the simple “hello” as you pass by someone’s desk.
As many of us learned from the pandemic, when people are working from home, it’s easy to become isolated and fall out of the daily contact with peers that those informal, in-person conversations provide. It’s crucial in any work situation to maintain strong social relationships with people you work with – connecting with each other as human beings and looking out for each other.
How do you accomplish this while working from home? It takes intention and planning, but it is definitely do-able. You can set up virtual coffee chats to check in with colleagues and see what they’re working on. You can call or chat with someone after a meeting to ask how it went from their perspective. You can reach out with intel you may have (that’s okay to share) about what’s happening on your team or in your area, or an article or resource you’ve found that they might also find helpful or interesting. You don’t have to be there in person to be a part of what’s happening in the office. You do need to become comfortable reaching out, and asking questions, like: Hey, what did you think? How did that go? Can we chat for a second? I’d love to hear your thoughts about that last meeting.
To be really strategic about this, you can create a list of the people whose work influences your work, whether they’re peers, your direct reports, your boss or leaders in another part of the organization. Then make a point of connecting with them in some regular rhythm. How often, and what channel you use, will vary by person – but if you have a plan and you stick to it, you’ll be able to stay top of mind. Even if you were in the office, many of these conversations would likely take place over email or chat, so working from home is really no different. You can supplement them with face-to-face meet-ups on the days you’re in the office. Count on making lots of connections on those days – even if just stopping by to say “hello.”
Whether you work remotely, or are in an office every day, being strategic about building and maintaining good working relationships will go a long way in taking your career to the next level.
Looking for help?
You can book a call with me here. For even more strategies that will help you take your career to the next level, join my free workshop on The 5-Steps Smart Execs Take to Recession-Proof Their Careers, Become Great Leaders and Jump on the Fast-Track to Promotions. These strategies are just a few of the key pieces I help clients with every day: negotiating for what they want; clarifying expectations; building visibility that will bring new opportunities their way. If you’d like some help applying these strategies in your career, let’s talk.