Whenever you start working for a company, there are a number of things to learn about during your first few months that can make life easier: how to make a new pot of coffee, who knows where the office supplies are, and any internal politics that could blow up in your face. No matter where you work, though, there is something you never really “learn” completely: working in a virtual team.
I say you can’t learn completely because of the fact that the team and dynamics will always be changing. Just as you get the hang of product deployment with your team in Los Angeles, they get a new point person and you also have to pick up Chicago. Or the company decides to close brick-and-mortar offices in favor of virtual offices, only to reopen those offices when leadership becomes suspicious virtual employees aren’t working enough.
Those are completely virtual examples, but then there’s the blended remote set up. In this scenario, an employee may work from home (or any location) a few days a week, then appear at an office the other days. I have worked this schedule myself before, especially because I had to work at 6:30 am to be available for London, but the Director of Marketing worked in California, and her day went past my 7:00pm.
There can be a stigma for remote or blended schedules, however: parents who want to be more available to their kids may opt for this, and that usually means women. These remote employees may not be as available as someone in the office, may appear to be slacking off, and may reduce their opportunities for promotion. Whether or not those things are true does not matter if there is a perception of truth to them.
The survey found that women would prefer to work remotely an average of 3.1 days per week, that they feel the arrangement leads to better work/life balance, and that the leading issue of remote working is slow response time for communications when someone is away from the office.
Young women today may find themselves with an opportunity for a blended schedule, but there are some things to keep in mind as you also prepare yourself to take on roles as a manager. Staying in sync with your peers is one thing, but it is quite another to lead your team when you add in the virtual element. The following are some tips based on the survey results:
- Make appointments. You set aside time to meet with someone in person, so why not make appointments for important telephone calls? By booking time, you can be sure that your coworkers will be prepared and focused.
- Focus on objectives. Work with your manager to define clear goals and objectives against which your performance can be measured.
- Stay online as much as possible. If you are not online, it is likely that people may think you are not working—even if you are. Respond quickly to e-mail and your colleagues will know you are being productive.
- Be assertive. Don’t always wait for people to contact you. Ask for information if you don’t believe you have received it.
- Establish a schedule. Keep home work hours similar to those you would keep at an office. Your manager, coworkers and customers appreciate knowing when you are available.
- Be present. Check in with your team regularly throughout the day and be responsive to their questions and comments.
I also want to add my own tip: Be transparent. That can be something as simple as sharing viewing permissions of your calendar with your team. You can always make individual appointments private, but it is easier to build a trusting relationship if peers and direct reports can see where you spend your time and when you have windows during which they can reach you. This can also mean keeping a running project list in a shared drive so others know what is on your plate.
Face time will become a premium as we all become more virtual. It is critical to develop good remote working habits early since your work situation will always change. This means making the time you spend in an office count and being highly dependable when you are virtual.
Readers interested in learning about the survey with Microsoft and 85 Broads can find more information here, as well as further tips about remote working and “Your Office, Your Terms.”