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Perception and Telecommuting

Dear Reader,

“You are responsible for how others perceive you.”
– Jim Turner

Jim Turner was an accountant for my parents right after I got married and was working for them. I’d like to say that Jim was one of the wise old ones but honestly, he was a working guy like you and me. However, the wisdom quoted above is the one thing that he taught me that has stuck with me. How others perceive me is my problem, not theirs.

This is particularly important to telecommuting developers. In my recent talk, Open Teams one of the slides talks about this very topic.

This is a very important concept that a lot of remote workers don’t take into consideration. It’s not enough to take the privilege seriously, you have to let others know that you take it seriously. In my talk, I illustrate this with this example. Don’t tell your boss you need to shut off all distractions and focus on the problem, only to upload pix of you and your friends at the water park a couple of hours later. That’s not taking the privilege seriously.

That’s a rather contrived example and while I would hope that everyone would be smarter than that but it’s already happened numerous times. However a better example would be this.

I was working remote for a company providing hardware and software support services. I was on a long-term, full-time contract with them but I worked from my house most of the time. One afternoon around 2:00 PM, I got a support call. I told the person that “I am in the grocery store right now, I’ll be back at my desk in 15 minutes and I’ll call you.” I thought it was a perfectly reasonable answer since I actually was at the grocery store right then and couldn’t connect to her desktop and figure out the problem.

Five minutes later I got a call from my boss giving me an ear full. He wasn’t upset that I was at the grocery store, he was upset that he had to explain to the sales person why I was at the grocery store in the middle of the work day. Had I simply told the sales person that I was unavailable, everything was fine but to the sales person it looked like I took off whenever I wanted to and that her problems took a back seat to my dinner plans.

In that scenario, the problem wasn’t that I was at the grocery store, the problem was the perception of the sales person that I didn’t take the job seriously. That problem was not hers to correct, it wasn’t my bosses to correct, it was mine. Her perception of how seriously I took the job was my responsibility.

If you are a remote worker, make sure that your co-workers, remote or otherwise, perceive you as serious about your job.

  • Be aware of what you post on social networks and more importantly, when you post on them.
  • Make a conscious effort to reach out to your supervisor every day to let him or her know that you are working.
  • Engage with your co-workers daily. Not just about project details or questions but about non-work related items. When you are face to face you talk to people about the small details of their life. Make sure you do that when you are a remote worker.

It is your responsibility to make sure that your co-workers and management team perceive that you are working and not just taking a vacation. Make sure you take that responsibility seriously.

Until Next time,
I <3 |<

p.s. If you haven’t already read them, Check out these posts from Chris Hartjes on telecommuting.
So You Want To Telecommute? Part 1 – Building Trust
So You Want To Telecommute? Part 2 – Accountability
So You Want To Telecommute? Part 3 – Collaboration
So You Want To Telecommute? Part 4 – Programming Tools

p.s.s. Yes, the Open Teams slide deck included several “Tweetable” slides. I felt that what I had to say was so profoundly important that I didn’t want people missing a second of the talk trying to figure out what to tweet. So I sprinkled “Tweetable” slides throughout the talk. At each one, I would pause long enough for people to whip out their iPhones and tweet. :)



One thought on “Perception and Telecommuting

  1. Cal- great post! One other thing I might add is that if you don’t take your telecommuting position seriously, and position it as such to those around you, it will be much more difficult to obtain the support of your family (and friends). They may tend to assume that you can be at their beck and call, simply because you are at home… making it more difficult for you to get things done.

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