How Not to Look Like a Slacker When You Work From Home

A reader asks: “I recently started working from home. I’m one of the first people in my company to be allowed to do this, and I’m being looked at as a bit of a test case. What are the things I should think about or do in order to make it clear that I’m really working, not watching soap operas all day? I’m concerned that some colleagues may assume I’m slacking off.”

If you’re a trailblazer for telecommuting in your company, you’re right that you need to be especially careful about the perceptions that people have about how you’re  handling it. Here are five key things to pay attention to – although these are good tips for people whose companies have long-established telecommuting programs as well.

Keep the same hours you kept before.

When you’re working from home, it’s easy to get seduced into thinking you can do some laundry and watch the show you DVR’d last night and then just work a little later into the evening to get caught up. But while this absolutely does work for some people, it can backfire if you’re not rigidly disciplined about ensuring you do indeed make that time up. Moreover, when you’re just starting out, it’s wise to stick to your previous work schedule to get in the swing of things … and besides, if you’re a test case at your company, you’re probably better off not throwing untraditional hours into the mix too.

Be extra responsive when working at home.

As convenient as working from home is for you, it has the potential to inconvenience your coworkers, by making it harder for them to talk to you when they need something. Since they can’t just walk down the hall to your office, go out of your way to be accessible by phone, email, and—if your office uses it—instant messaging during the day. If coworkers, clients, or your manager don’t get relatively speedy responses from you, not only will you inconvenience them—you might raise questions in their minds about whether you’re really working.

Find ways to make your work visible.

As a telecommuter, you’re going to be out of your colleagues’ sight most of the time—but you shouldn’t be out of mind. Make a point of ensuring that people know what you’re working on and how your projects are going and about any successes you have.

Establish a system for communicating with your manager and stick to it.

For instance, you might decide that you’ll have one regularly scheduled phone meeting per week and you’ll regularly create opportunities for less formal interaction, since your separate locations mean those won’t pop up organically. If you leave it informal, you’re less likely to have regular communication than you would if you were physically in the office together. (You might also resolve not to rely on email for sensitive or complicated issues and instead get on the phone to hash them out!)

Volunteer to come in for some meetings without being asked (if you’re local).

By proactively volunteering to come in on occasion, you’ll signal that you’re still connected to your workplace and that you’re not checked out. And being physically in the same room as people can help build and maintain bonds and remind them that you really do still exist and have plenty to offer.












Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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