Remote Employee

the remote employee, glamorous “yes”, career builder “no”

Remote Employees and upper management

When a VP of a department gathers his or her managers to discuss a new opportunity that comes up, the conversation goes something like this:

VP:  “As you know, we have a new campaign coming up for Acme Publishing.  Who has someone on their team that has bandwidth for this high visibility project?”

Mgr 1: “How about we give this new opportunity to Jenny, she just put out that Excel spreadsheet with the joins and the pivot tables.  She can crunch the Big Data.“

Mrg 2: “Johnny just delivered that Power Point presentation and wowed the Credit department.”

Mgr 3: “How about Suzy?  I know she is a remote employee, but she is a steady workhorse.  She can do this.”

VP.  “I like Suzy, but this is a highly visible project.  I would feel much better if it were being handled in the office.  We are going to want regular status updates, and if the client comes into the office to visit us, we want someone that can meet with them face to face.  Lets go with Jenny or Johnny.”

Three candidates suddenly became 2 and Suzy didn’t even get to lace up her sneakers for the big game.  Not only was she declined the opportunity, all the other managers just got the message from the VP that highly visible projects do not go to remote employees.  I haven’t run the numbers, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that opportunity creates opportunity.  Those that get opportunities and do well, will receive more opportunity.  Those that don’t lace up, won’t ever get time on the court.

This post was inspired by a colleague I work with and an individual I and the company feel lucky to have on the team.   He passed me the infamous New York Times article, which reports that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is “abolishing its work-at-home policy and ordering everyone to work in the office”.

His accompanying email said something to the effect, “I don’t know what the company policy is here but I always felt that working from home should be the exception vs. the norm”.   Boohyaahhhh!  You gotta love this guy!

Within our company, working from home is the exception and not the norm. Regardless of our company policy, this post is an HR Insiders explanation on remote employees, how they are really viewed by upper management and how remote employees miss the boat called opportunity.  Of course, if you are a traveling sales person, marketing rep or live in a separate city, you are going to be working remotely.  For the vast majority of the population, you want to be working in the office.  You do not want to be a remote employee because of a longer than average commute or because think it’s “cool”.      

Some background:

  • Our company subscribes to the “work in the office” environment.  We purposely have it set up this way so we can generate a high velocity of effective communication.  We want to foster a collaborative culture.    
  • If you are sick, and want to work from home, cool.  No questions asked.  We don’t want anyone worried about counting sick days, coming into work, spreading their petri dish of contagion and then wiping out the entire team.  If you are coming down with something and want to work from home, we don’t count that as a sick day. 
  • Working in HR, I have negotiated and managed the facilities for 90K+ sq. ft of office space.   I have also been responsible for spending close to $1M in new furniture.  I am familiar with how a square foot per employee ratio can translate into bottom line dollars on the P/L.   I would like to say I understand employee costs.
  • My fishing partner (who I see weekly) has a successful business where he supplies furniture to Fortune 100 companies and provides the facility services including furniture storage and department moves.  We have been on many 15 hour plus drives into remote wilderness areas and the topic of company culture is one of our favorite topics of discussion.  The subject of “hoteling”, “hot desking”, and “hot swaping” of employees comes up on a regular basis as a way to cut down on space, rent, parking costs, and traffic in the local area. I have a bit of knowledge on this topic. 
  • I work in a city that will make the top 10 list of worst commutes in the USA.  I personally spend 1.5 hours a day on the road, 7.5 hours a week or 30 hours a month on the road.

In other words, I feel like I have some background and insight on this topic.  Where most HR practitioners preach working from home as a benefit, I think it is a detriment to the employees career.  I understand how working from home can be a benefit, but at the end of the day, I believe it will hurt your career.    

This is NOT a blog post about increased productivity with remote employees.  I get all that.  Blah Blah Blah.  This is not a blog post providing any opinion on Melissa Mayers decision.  She is a woman CEO in tech with enough cynics watching her every move.  She doesn’t need another peanut in the gallery heckling her.     

This is a blog post from a HR guy who knows he can save rent dollars on employee costs by hiring remote employees or taking it to the next level by hiring offshore.  Yes I did go there.  My advice: YOU SHOULD DECLINE ANY PERMANENT TELECOMMUTING OPTION AND WORK IN THE OFFICE As an HR Insider, this post is giving you the same advice I gave Mrs. HRNasty when she was offered a remote position because of a longer than average commute.  Suck it up and get you butt into the office.       

Do you allow for remote employees?

When I interview candidates, regardless of generation, I can anticipate the above question from 8 out of 10 candidates.  This question comes up with the following common denominators:

  • Early in the interview process, and usually before benefits and pay
  • Disguised as a “culture” question vs. an employee benefit question 
  • Asked before the candidate inquires about the team dynamic or the company culture.  The candidate signals lone wolf and doesn’t want to be part of the group.      
  • Is asked with the mentality that this should be the rule vs. an exception

All of the above are flags in an interview.    

Why you don’t want to be a remote employee

There are too many intangibles that you are missing out on when you work from home.  Remote employees are literally out of sight and out of mind of both the manager and upper management won’t even know you exist.  In todays fast changing environments you want to be as close to the source and in the know as you can.  Even in slow moving environments, many decisions are made in the company restroom before and after the meeting you just dialed in for.  If you want to move your career, YOU DON’T JUST WANT TO BE IN THE OFFICE, YOU NEED TO BE IN THE OFFICE. 

Just a few things you will miss when you work from home:

  • Is Jenny Sue in Marketing pregnant and did BillyBob in Operations have anything to do with it. 
  • Did the Sales department really have an offsite and roll a golf cart?
  • Did some woman really Xerox her boobs at the Holiday Party?  I heard that her necklace made it into the pictures and she didn’t collect all the copies!  Sounds like a Cinderella story except HR isn’t looking for a glass slipper.

You want to create relationships with your peers and manager and you will not be able to create the same types of relationships through Skype, email or phone. 

Ask anyone that wanted something out of their career and has worked in a remote office and they will tell you they wished they worked in the Home Office, closer to the source.  Employees that work in a remote office:

  • Are the last to know anything worth knowing
  • Are not included in discussions that result in company decisions
  • Do not get the same perks as employees in the home office
  • Are usually forgotten or passed over about when it comes to new opportunities.

There is a reason that large companies who want to fast track high performers for Sr. management ask the employee to work a tour in the Home Office.  These cycles often include relocation and declining these offers is a CLM.  The company wants to give you more access, more exposure, and the opportunity to “learn more faster”.    Your “can you be trusted” and subconscious score have the opportunity to go up in the minds of real decisions makers.  Working from home is effectively working from a remote office but this office is in Wankerville USA, population 1.   

Working from home a couple of times a month is one thing.   If you have proven yourself for years and your personal circumstances have changed to a point where working from home is a necessity, that is a separate matter.  Setting up a 40 hour a week base camp in your spare room so you can work in your PJ’s is a Career Limiting Move and you should either consider carpooling with a sexy driver or audio books.

See you at the after party,

HRNasty

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • mskimcoach

    This is true in more ways then one. For two years I worked in the office but in a location three buildings away from my manager. During that time, there was a distinct difference between the projects I had the opportunity to work on and the projects managed by members of my team that worked in the same building as my manager. Their projects were much more substantial.

    • mskimcoach, thanks for stopping by, always great to hear from you, just wish it was under different circumstances. Next post will be from a great friend in HR that is working remotely and has been thinking about how she will keep top of her managers mind. I know we will have some thoughts on this one!

  • THIS! My thoughts exactly. I think pretty much all companies should allow for telework when someone is sick or the weather’s bad and they don’t feel comfortable commuting, that’s fine. But telework just because it’s more convenient shouldn’t be the norm, except in some industries where someone’s work needs a lot of deep thought and inspiration can strike at any time – in which case they need to be salaried rather than paid hourly, and their value needs to be measured by the quality of their work alone, which can be tricky.

    Honestly, the thought that we’re becoming a society where people do everything from their living room just because they can and it’s more convenient (even though leaving the house to do it in person isn’t that much of a hassle in the first place) makes me cringe.

    If we want to reach a happy medium, maybe companies should offer incentives to bring people into the office, rather than ditch telework altogether, so employees want to be there. Working in the office isn’t as outdated or archaic as people seem to think it is, although some companies could benefit from an overhaul of certain in-office policies.

    • Allison, yes, there are always exceptions and the “deep thought” positions are good candidates. The other exception is when your spouse picks up another position out of state and you want to follow them and work remotely with your original position. There are always exceptions but working from home for the sake of working from home in my opinion is the wrong reason. Thanks for the support!

  • gander2112

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    for writing this. I have been chewing on the outrage around the whole Yahoo announcement, wanting to put my thoughts in words, and you captured it perfectly.

    I am a denizen on a lot of internet forums, and universally, the outrage was over how more productive people are remote (not always true). But the tangible lack of being in the loop is the real tragedy and CLM.

    One other mention around the “home office” tour. In many companies that have operations over seas, an opportunity will usually come once to be an ex-pat for a 2 year contract. Say not to that? Might as well turn in your resignation.

    • Gander2112, thanks for the support on this. I completely forgot about overseas gigs. You are absolutely right, if you say no to a Home Office tour, even if you do not want more opportunity in your local office in your home country, turn in your resignation.

  • NiceMathThere

    “I personally spend 1.5 hours a day on the road, 7.5 hours a week or 150 hours a month on the road”

    7.5 hours per week = 150 hours per month?

    • WhereTF did that come from? Well, I am in HR after all. Thanks for the catch. DOH!!!!