Be Virtual & Visible

With Yahoo!’s recent clamp down on working from home (WFH) the socialsphere has been a buzz with arguments supporting and criticizing their decision. The justification was supposedly a loss of innovation and lack of engagement caused by the WFH policy. As someone who has worked in a research & innovation role for more than a decade and has spent the last 3 years as an e-worker, I don’t believe this. The abuse of WFH is the symptom not the cause, and dragging everyone back into the office is not going to solve the inherent innovation problem, only strong leadership will do that. I’m not trying to beat up on Yahoo!, I completely sympathesize with their challenge and wish them the best in bringing their organization back to its original innovative culture. I’m also not pretending that WFH is easy, that it suits every role and organization, or that it doesn’t put certain pressures on the leadership team. However it most definitely works in many scenarios and allows an organization to leverage the best skills for the best projects irrespective of location. And this is not something to be sniffed at.

In this post I wanted to start to share my perspective on what makes WFH work, both from the perspective of the employee who works from home and the leader who has remote (or virtual) team members. To that end, over the next few weeks I will share a series of hints & tips. Hopefully some of them will prove useful and others may have you thinking Doh! :-)

Lesson #1: Be Visible
Working from home has the potential to be isolating. This can impact your access to people and ideas, and make you invisible to the organization. Not a good position to be in. However all is not loss, and in fact with the right strategy WFH can make you vibrantly visible at an international level. All you have to do is:

  • Be active, not passive!
    Reach out to your colleagues on a daily basis across the most appropriate digital channels. I’m not suggesting you start spamming them; just let them know you are there to help, or share interesting articles, ideas, introduce them to people, update them on projects, be that source of all knowledge that no-one can live without :-)
  • Think globally, not locally!
    If digital channels are your primary form of communication, and you are willing to be flexible on time-zones (not as difficult as it sounds), then location becomes irrelevent. Reaching out to John from the New York office or Jane from the Dublin one is as simple as dialing a number or clicking on an instant message icon.
  • Virtual can be personal!
    Don’t think of digital channels as being sterile, they are only as sterile as you choose to make them. Whether its adding some great emoticons to your instant messaging client, sharing an excellent dilbert cartoon, or giving someone a virtual pat-on-the-back for a job well done, it is possible to make virtual personal. In fact I believe its critical that you build close relationships through these channels, and all that it takes is a little imagination.
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