“I’ve paid my dues.” she thought aloud, as she tossed the remaining contents of her desk drawer into her pink computer bag. “I worked too many long hours, took on enough crappy projects to make my head explode and dealt with the most difficult personalities.”
Janet had been with EEE Consulting for six and a half years when her position was eliminated. “Budget cuts”, her boss had told her just a few hours earlier. She was stunned to learn her participation in the company’s remote work program, “EEEWork” played a role — albeit small, he declared reluctantly — in the workforce reduction committee’s decision.
“You’ll find something right away… I just know it.”, Janet’s co-worker, Diane said quickly, when she heard the news. “Besides, we never see you ’round here anyway.”
“Oh, I WILL be fine. I promise you girl!” Janet lied, with a dim smile. She knew she had the talent to maneuver the job market — even in this economy. Plus, she loved her work. Getting picked up by another consulting firm wouldn’t be difficult.
Or would it?
Companies and organizations around the globe are recognizing the intrinsic value of a virtual workforce. For employers, remote work programs often translate to reduced infrastructure and operational costs — allowing valuable dollars to be directed elsewhere. And, their employees are enjoying more flexible schedules while saving money on reduced clothing, auto fuel and meal expenses.
The benefits don’t stop there.
With no commute, less distractions and an eager desire to balance family and career obligations, work at home professionals are more productive than their office-based counterparts. In a 2012 Harvard Business Review article entitled Why Remote Workers are More Engaged, Organizational Consultant Scott Edinger reports that remote workers make better use of available technology tools and tend to maximize their time with greater efficiency than traditional office workers.
You might conclude it’s a “win-win” for all involved. But, not so fast… Untethering yourself from the traditional office (even part-time) can have its drawbacks.
As increasing numbers of business professionals take advantage of employer sponsored remote work programs, it’s easy to disengage from your professional network. And for dedicated remote workers like Janet, neglecting opportunities for “face time” with business colleagues could have grave consequences for your career.
Just because your boss complements your work in front of the company’s Senior Leadership Team, doesn’t exempt you from downsizing. Working from her home office 3-4 days a week, Janet had been so focused on project execution that she’d neglected to build relationships along the way. She earned numerous accolades and had been recognized within her department, but now she wondered if her performance alone was enough.
Especially in a tough economy, remote workers who fail to be intentional about visibility and networking could find themselves out of a job. In her 2009 Wall Street Journal article, Does Avoiding a 9-to-5 Grind Make You a Target for Layoffs?, Sue Shellenbarger asserts, “People on reduced-hours or work-at-home setups may be the first to fall under the budget axe.” She advises remote workers to “be willing to bend a bit”, but your strategy should be even more deliberate.
Recognize that the very nature of your “workplace” incites greater scrutiny. Staying connected requires more of an investment than responding to e-mails in a timely manner or using video for meetings.
Three smart ideas to help you keep your career on track by becoming your own advocate:
Chart Your Course
Figure out who’s plugged in to your company’s internal network and ask that person to mentor you. Outline a viable career path within your company or department and share that plan with him, as well as your direct and dotted-line managers. They can help stack the cards in your favor when the time comes for layoffs or even better, promotions.
Cultivate Relationships with Professionals in Your Field
Join local professional networking groups and industry associations to gain exposure to the “key players” in your field. Go out of your way to schedule regular time to connect with industry professionals inside and outside your organization. These genuine relationships will come in handy when you want or need to change employers or start a new career.
Train Your Colleagues to Solicit Your Opinion
Leverage social media as the business networking tool it was intended to be. Get active on LinkedIn Answers and use Twitter to position yourself as an industry expert. If people come to know you as the “go to” person in your company or business networking circle, they will happily refer you to their friends and colleagues — should you ever ask.
In all, work at home professionals — and the companies which employ them — enjoy some pretty neat perks. With careful planning and strategic effort to build and maintain your professional network, you can guarantee that eliminating your commute doesn’t cost more than you gain.