While studies have shown that working from home can make you more productive, a big drawback for many workers can be that they are also less likely to garner promotions when they telecommute.
Specifically, a London Business School study found that bosses rate those who are in an office to be more dependable and industrious than telecommuters, no matter the quality of their work.
While you may believe you can overcome this setback with steady progress reports to the boss to prove your productivity, there could be a more insidious problem that will be tougher to combat.
It first begins with some casual comments from co-workers that start with “Gee, it must be nice to work in your pajamas all day!” or “I’ll bet you’re getting caught up on a lot of housework!”
Then it progresses to emails that begin with: “I don’t know if you’re around today, but…”
Finally, you begin to realize that you’re being excluded from certain information in the company. You begin to suspect that some ambitious co-workers are deliberately keeping you out of the loop.
No matter how it happens, there can be a real danger to your professional reputation when you work from home if you are not careful. You need to understand that your physical absence in the office can make you the target of snarky comments, office tyrants and jealous colleagues.
Here are some ways to ensure your professional reputation doesn’t take a battering when you work remotely:
- Never be late. Don’t be late to dial into a meeting, to turn in a project or to wish a colleague happy birthday. Keep in mind that your colleagues cannot see how hard you are working, so they may just assume your forgetfulness is because you’re caught up in doing laundry, walking the dog or doing some other non-work-related task.
- Don’t talk too much about personal stuff. While you may share information about your child’s school play when you’re in an office, talking about it with workers stuck in an office may cause resentment. Colleagues may see it as another way that you’re getting a better deal than they are, or think you are taking advantage of working from home to goof around while they have to work. Not true, of course, but perception can be everything in these situations.
- Respond promptly. It’s tougher for those working from home to say they’ll only check email twice a day. “He’s not responding because he’s probably on the golf course,” your colleagues will mutter among themselves. Carefully weigh how much you need to be available so that co-workers don’t start dreaming up ways that you must be goofing off.
- Send emails at all hours. Normally, you don’t want to bug people with an email at 11 p.m. or 5 a.m., but for those who work from home, sending those off-hour missives every once in a while shows that yes, you’re working from home, but you’re taking advantage of being able to work anytime.
- Show your face. Try to Skype when you can with colleagues or your boss, even if this is just for a quick chat. Make sure you’re dressed appropriately so that there can be no snickering behind your back about how you’re starting to look like Sasquatch. It’s also a good idea to go to your employer’s office when you can, and spend time chatting with co-workers face-to-face about what you’re working on.
- Pitch in. Co-workers can grow resentful if they feel like you escape some of the drudgery of the office because you’re not around. That’s why it’s a good idea to offer to cover for an employee who wants to take time off to attend a family event or train for a marathon. If the office is having a “clean up” day, show up to help out even though it’s not your mess.
- Recruit a spy. You need to know what’s going on in the office and what the scuttlebutt may be about your remote work. Foster a relationship with someone who is in a position to interact with a wide variety of people so he or she can share information that may affect you. This is the person you need to take out for coffee when you visit, so you can casually bring up office happenings and get an idea of any shots to your reputation.
- Confront critics. If it becomes clear that someone is making snarky comments about you working from home, calmly meet with the person in private and address the issue. It could be the co-worker is simply envious of your arrangement, and perhaps you can offer advice for getting a similar deal. If you feel the motive is more mean-spirited, it’s best to deal with it immediately before the poisonous remarks about your work ethic are heard by the boss or begin to affect your relationship with others.
Finally, remember that you can also protect your reputation by showing yourself to be supportive of the company and colleagues even though they don’t see you every day. Post positive comments via social media or send them personal notes of congratulations on a successful effort. Or, you can foster a reputation of trust and integrity by keeping yourself out of the daily office gossip and instead offering valuable advice or a sympathetic ear when colleagues need it.