Teleworking (aka, working from home) is what I call a “happiness hack.” For roles that are conducive to this type of arrangement, this inexpensive perk has been shown to have a positive impact on employee engagement, work/life balance, and retention, while also preserving productivity (a 2015 Gallop poll shows that over 75% of employees believe teleworkers are as productive or more productive as those working in the office).
And smart employers are taking notice. From 1996 to 2016, US companies have seen the number of telecommuting employees rise from 20% to 60%. Employees who work remotely tend to do so about 6 days per month. However, there are currently 2.9 million full-time virtual workers in the U.S. As this number grows, career-focused telecommuters need to be strategic in cultivating their networks.
If you find yourself away from the office more often than in it due to telecommuting (or an aggressive travel schedule, shift work, etc.), here are some ways to stay connected:
- Maximize face time. In a study published in Forbes, 75% of executives believed that in-person meetings led to increased social interactions and an ability to bond. While it may be cost prohibitive to connect in-person on a regular basis, even occasional face-to-face contact can deepen a relationship significantly.
- If you’re new, meet colleagues in-person initially to establish a bond, and then make it a point to attend major team or departmental meetings in-person at least quarterly.
- Take advantage of company social events (e.g., holiday parties) to shake hands with people with whom you’ve only had an email or phone exchange.
- If you’re traveling in a location that has a local company office, see if it’s possible to have lunch with the local employees (even if they’re not in your department).
- Engage technology. Over 80% of Executives surveyed praised virtual meetings for the ability to save time and money and for ease of scheduling. There are several ways to strengthen personal connections, even if you’re not in the same room.
- Use Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts or another video conference tool for one-on-one or small group meetings to increase engagement.
- Create a chat group or open an IM window to be more easily accessible throughout the day.
- Pick up the phone rather than emailing. Make time to engage in small talk with co-workers like you would during an in-person meeting.
- Whip up your favorite morning beverage and set up virtual “coffee meetings” with current (or new) colleagues once each week.
- Look outward. Even if you love your job, successful professionals know that networking outside of your company and staying current in your industry needs to remain a priority.
- Join a professional association or attend industry conferences to meet and share ideas with like-minded professionals in your field.
- Enroll in a class at a local university or re-connect with local Alumni from your Alma mater.
- Volunteer, engage in a group hobby, or sit on a Board of Directors to meet people outside of your current circles.
- Find a local co-working space (a membership-based, shared office environment where you work among other professionals) to mix up your view once a week.
If you have the flexibility to decide between in-person and virtual meetings, the research shows that the former tends to be best for interactions where the purpose is to persuade, inspire or engage, while the latter works well for data review, updates, and last minute meetings. Either way, make the extra effort and schedule time to connect with others regularly. “Outta sight” doesn’t need to lead to “outta mind” if you remain proactive.