Does Telecommunting or Working At Home Hurt Your Career?
A new study suggests workers are judged harshly for not showing up at the office. Despite advances in teleworking, smartphones, and Skype, face time, it seems, really does matter.
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- Working from home might not work for you.
Professors, Kimberly Elsbach of the University of California, Davis, and Daniel Cable of London Business School, looked at perceptions of employees’ performance based on whether they were in the office or not. The research measured “passive face time,” which is simply time spent in the office, regardless of whether the staffer is working hard or not.
The results aren’t pretty for employees who would rather work remotely, according to an article Elsbach and Cable wrote in MIT Sloan Management Review.
Workers who are seen at their desks during regular work hours are considered “responsible” and “dependable,” they wrote: “Just being seen at work, without any information about what you’re actually doing, leads people to think more highly of you.”
Work longer hours — early, late, or on weekends — and “rather than just being considered dependable, you can get upgraded to ‘committed’ and ‘dedicated,’” according to the article, which referenced a paper Elsbach and Cable published in the academic journal Human Relations.
Bosses, and peers, often don’t realize they’re forming views of workers’ competence based on whether they’re at their desk, Cable said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
“Without us knowing it, we are creating these assumptions about people based on physical presence,” he said. This isn’t just a perception. Bosses’ vague feelings that a worker does a better job can be seen on employee evaluations, especially when they’re encouraged to make subjective calls in performance reviews.
That leads to pay, promotion, and career-trajectory decisions. Cable estimates that more than 60% of companies are still using “1950s-style” evaluations that prioritize such subjective write-ups over hard data on sales wins, customer satisfaction, or other measures of the employee’s business performance.
So what can employees do to counter this pigeonholing, especially those who want to work from home?
If working long hours from the office isn’t an option, employees might consider sending emails early in the morning or late at night, to prove they are on the job at all times. They might also try using their time in the office to build strong connections to co-workers and superiors, like going to lunch with people or organizing in-person meetings?
Meanwhile, managers should be aware that they may be discounting remote workers’ contributions, albeit subconsciously. (Or, they may be monitoring their home-based workers, as The Journal’s Sue Shellenbarger writes.)
“The bottom line is that employees should be wary of work arrangements that reduce their office face time, and supervisors should be wary of using trait-based performance measures, especially when evaluating remote workers,” the article said. “Finally, employees working remotely need to make sure they are evaluated on objective outputs. Barring that, you might consider sending an e-mail to your boss tonight . . . say, around midnight.”
YOU ARE LESS LIKELY TO BE PROMOTED ALSO
The millions of Americans who are skipping out on the daily commute may also be losing out on a promotion.
These so-called ‘telecommuters’ are less likely to receive positive performance reviews from superiors than their colleagues who show up in the office, a new study by MIT Sloan Management Review shows.
The report chalks up much of the discrepancy to managerial subjectivity. Managers are less likely to be comfortable with a worker they don’t actually see on a regular basis. In fact, they may become more irritated with someone who they perceive isn’t available at all times. Telecommuting employees are also less likely to reap the benefits of showing up early and leaving work late than their commuting coworkers.
Advances in Internet technology have allowed for telecommuting to become more widespread. About 20 percent of workers worldwide report that they telecommute, while 10 percent report that they work from home on a regular basis, according to a recent Ipsos/Reuters poll. That same poll found that 34 percent of workers, when asked, stated that they would telecommute on a regular basis if they could.
But according to some critics, telecommuting creates cause for concern. For instance, telecommuting could prevent workers from being able to fully understand what their managers ask of them, according to PCWorld. That’s because non-verbal facial expressions are an important component of the workplace that telecommuting, which often takes place over instant messaging or phone, doesn’t allow.
But this doesn’t excuse managers from giving otherwise stellar employees poor reviews just because they telecommute, Daniel Cable of London Business School and co-author of the MIT Sloan report told The Wall Street Journal. Approximately 60 percent of firms still use highly subjective employee review standards that prioritize manager write-ups over hard data, Cable told WSJ. This often results in managers promoting sub par employees over superior candidates that telecommute.
Most corporations are using stacked reviews. This obviously pits employees against each other rather than trying to beat the competition. Stay at home employees are working at a disadvantage here as the in office workers can brown nose their way to places that home workers can’t. Here’s how it works.
Eichenwald’s conversations reveal that a management system known as “stack ranking”—a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor—effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”
FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE, BAD OFFICE MEMO OF THE YEAR
At IBM, if you don’t go to New York, you don’t get ahead. That is where the club is. The current Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications said that Raleigh was “Smallville with no chance of going anyone going anywhere if you stay here” at a town-hall meeting with all the communications folks in attendance. Jaws were dropping all over the floor and it was the topic of conversation for days. This was after he gave a speech that was supposed to be about communications careers, but was just an obviously recycled presentation that had been given to a different audience about EPS. Everyone saw through it and no one got why he came to un”motivate” the troops. IBM’s current vice president of external relations publicly made fun of the south as if NY was the mecca of IQ on a global call of all Comms folks. Everyone mentioned how short sighted this was and what a limited view of what different populations worldwide had to offer (there were multiple IM sessions going on around the world on this clear example of prejudice and ego centrism). Despite their high salaries, we are the smart ones spending more time with our kids and paying over 30% less in cost of living. Plus we don’t have to live in New York and work with them especially since this guy yells and cusses you out way more than HR should allow.
I personally turned down 2 offers to move to NY to get ahead. I’d been there many times and knew the unofficial rules that you had to be there to get anywhere. I didn’t want to raise my kids there and my family was more important to me than a job. Because of that, I was labeled someone who didn’t want to climb the ladder which was fine by me, so I worked in the pack and was passed over for promotions after that. My family is much better off having grown up where we wanted to live and I don’t regret it a minute. My kids are killing the NY public school kids at college. Plus, I would never send them to a den of socialism like Columbia or any other schools up there. I need them to get a real education.
But the fact remains, you run a severe risk of not getting ahead if you don’t show up at the office. Many will be able come up with some successful work at home employee story, but only to a certain level…. then you have to be in their face at the office. Either way, it is expected that you’ll check into work at all hours of the night and weekends anyway.
There was one manager in a group I worked for that sent out a “rules of the road” memo (bad office memo of the year) that said if you weren’t working in the office, you weren’t considered really working. Talk about generating trust on your team! He was viewed by his peers as the worst manager of the entire group, I was just lucky to have had the experience of working with him.
OFFICE COOLER TALK
You do miss out on hall meetings that allow you to find out things home workers miss. It allows you to get ahead of the telecommuters on the first news or get into the executives office at a moments notice. That is a drawback, but not enough to call me in. When they sold the building I was working in and asked who wanted to be a home worker, my hand was up faster than Arnold Horshack to get out of there.
The flip side is you have to hear all the office gossip which I was glad to miss. It is too distracting and usually it is never good about anyone, only what they are doing wrong, who is sleeping with whom or what some are getting away with.
Some people need the social interaction and have to be in the office for people contact. I’m perfectly happy to miss that as most of it is idle banter that takes away from productivity. I also don’t miss the hour commute.
Overall, I wouldn’t trade the home office for a cubicle anywhere, anytime. Being at home has more perks.