fighting “out of sight, out of mind” when you work from home

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’d like your input on excelling as a remote worker. I’m a full-time employee working from home in a state that differs from where my department is located. For the past few years, I have been working in this capacity for a large, multi-national company. I was the first in my area to be granted this arrangement (after a decade or so of tenure there), and others have followed (partly since I demonstrated it could be done with no issues and a continued dedication to quality work).

The benefits of this are huge: no commute, no dress code – hell, there’s not even a need to shower, as we don’t utilize video chats. I can throw in a load of laundry between meetings, and I’m always home to receive packages as they’re delivered. And when Mother Nature strikes, as long as my Internet holds, I’m not bothered by it.

However, fighting the cons is where I’d love your insight. I have a few friends who work similar arrangements for different companies, and we all struggle a bit with feeling a bit “out of sight, out of mind.” My boss is very good about keeping me in the loop on news and such, but the usual gossip, lunches, and elevator chit-chat that can lead to relationships and special assignments are obviously missing from my work life. Participating in certain committees or work “extras” is difficult, because I’m not physically on-site to help coordinate, and the vast majority of such events are understandably geared toward those who are on-site. Working for such a large company always carries the threat of lay-offs, and I’m always concerned with having enough credit to my name to keep me above the white line. While I’m fully aware, and comfortable, with the fact that my career is stagnant due to my remote status, I’d like to make sure that I’m present enough to remain well-thought of, and that’s proving difficult as more new managers come in who literally have never met me.

I’m a hard-working employee with a good reputation, but am finding that harder to keep up when turnover and re-orgs consistently bring new people into my bubble. I only go into the office about once a year, and I make a point to make the rounds when I’m there, but that only goes so far. It’s hard not to feel that the level of work I do would be rated higher if those in the rating conversations had a person to refer to.

Tips about how to excel as an “out of sight” employee would be welcome.

Readers, what’s your advice for remote workers who want to make sure they stay fully on colleagues’ radar?

{ 143 comments… read them below }

  1. Stormfeather

    Is there an office Slack or something that you could find your way into? Even if you’re not seeing these people face-to-face more than once a year, it’s hard to imagine you being “out-of’mind” so much if you’re actively participating in conversations and the like.

    1. Bee

      Yes, this. It’s a really great way to replace the water cooler chat and make sure your coworkers get a sense of your personality as well as your work. (If not, maybe suggest starting one, especially as more people go remote?)

    2. Project Problem Solver

      Exactly what I came here to say. There’s no Slack where I work, but we do have an instant messaging system, so I make it a habit to make “chit chat” with people I work with, especially my manager. It can be as easy as saying “wow, the snow is really coming down today!” or “Hey, how’s your morning going? I saw that email about X. That was a surprise!”

      Basically, you need to proactively look for ways to do small talk. Also, if you’re in meetings a lot, listen to the chatter before the organizer starts the call. This can tell you what people might want to talk about. For example, if I’m talking about my cat walking on my keyboard a lot, and you have a pet, you can send a message sympathizing and sharing your own stories.

    3. tinyhipsterboy

      Seconding this–it’s totally fine to even have social conversations now and then. My boss is based in Germany, with one coworker in England (both from home), and one of my other coworkers is in one of our offices in Canada. We have days that are largely silent, but it’s nice to bring up a new game or movie on occasion.

    4. Marion Ravenwood

      Seconding this. In my last job, we had several remote workers, including two key members of my team, and we used Microsoft Teams for this (as well as for team meetings as it has a video call function). We also had a WhatsApp group for more immediate things. It worked really well as you weren’t clogging up emails with day-to-day stuff but it kept everyone chatting and talking to each other regularly.

  2. Jadeded

    My husband felt like that so he started going in to the office once a week, it was sufficient face face contact to remind people to call him about cool stuff when he was at home.

    1. your favorite person

      This OP is in a different state, though. Even still, maybe trying to go in once a quarter, rather than once a year might work? At my husband’s company, they do a quarterly get together to get everyone who works remotely on site to go over certain things also ‘team building’ stuff. Could OP suggest something like that? Maybe even try to coordinate it to be more involved?

      1. WellRed

        This is my only suggestion. Otherwise, that’s kind of the tradeoff if you work from home. You are going to miss out on the smaller stuff (which can be important for all the reasons you say).

      2. Adlib

        I wonder if OP’s company or team ever attends industry or professional conferences. Being on trips like that as a team could help as well. I physically work in a branch office for my company and at home as I want/need, but my immediate boss and the rest of my team are scattered across the country. We talk often via Skype and regular conference calls/meetings, but when we get together for business/project trips or conferences, that helps build the relationships as well.

      3. Celeste

        Yes, quarterly would be better than annually. It allows for the personal touch in relationships that the OP is after. The issue would be having a work purpose for the trip. Maybe there is some continuing education to be had, or an annual work event to attend? There needs to be something to justify the expense, I think.

      4. Person of Interest

        I live in another state from my office and I go in once a month on staff meeting day, and I intentionally schedule meetings, coffees, and lunch with people when I’m there to get as much face time as possible.

      5. MsM

        Agreed. I felt so much more connected when I started going in once a month as opposed to the couple of times a year it was absolutely necessary. Even once a quarter is an improvement.

      6. Bob

        This. I work in a company that seems fairly flexibly in terms of remote working, but even so, people still make an effort to meet at least twice a year, and preferably once a quarter. Agree with all the others that making more regular trips might be the way to go.

        Otherwise, you might need to make some effort to use the video chat (if you actually do have it available). I get thats not something you want to do regularly, but when people actually have a face to put to a name, it makes a very big difference. You might not need it all the time, but certainly when you have a new manager it might help for the first few 1-2-1’s or perhaps during team meetings you can make the effort.

    2. sheepla

      I have a similar set up (halfway across the country) and I’m willing to incur the expense to travel back to my office one week out of the month (usually just Monday through Wednesday) to see everyone in person.

    3. facepalm

      My remote coworker used to be in the office but was able to negotiate a remote setup when he moved 4 hours away. He comes in once a month for 3 days. I thought it was nuts when he came up with that idea, especially since none of our other remote folks (even closer ones) do, but it actually seems genius now. When he shows up, everyone is happy to see him and looks forward to seeing him again the following month.

      1. LindsayAerin

        I work remotely and am over 700 km away from my home office after we relocated for my spouse’s work. However, because my family is still close to my home office sometimes if I am visiting family I will tack a day on to go into office. My company also has a two day meeting every year where they bring us all in together.
        If the OP ever has reason to go back to the area close to the office I would recommend working out to come in for a day. I always feel like a rock star – people are so excited to see me and everyone wants to have lunch and catch up!
        We also utilize instant messaging so I can always bounce ideas off people .
        The nature of my work as well has built in assigned mentoring relationships – my mentor is on other side of country (were in Canada) but having weekly chats with her helps too because she is in same boat.

        1. EH

          That’s what I did when I was working remotely! I flew down once a quarter or so and tacked a 3-5 days onto my visit to be in the office, and IMs were my main way to chitchat with folks when I was home. The company got pretty toxic and I wound up leaving, but for about a year it was really nice.

      2. Emily K

        I have a colleague who does this, but the rest of the department has mixed opinions about it. Some who work closely with her enjoy seeing her. But her travel costs come out of the same travel budget that pays for us to attend conferences, and a lot of us routinely work with people in other departments in other states who we only see in person once a year at the all-staff, and we have enough of a remote work culture/video equipment in all the conference rooms that I can’t remember the last time I was in a meeting that didn’t have a video conference line open. Some of us would rather have more money in the travel budget for in-personal training opportunities than being blown on bringing someone in for meetings that could just as easily take place over v-con.

        1. Emmie

          Are you open to raising that issue to managers? As a manager, I’d love to know that’s how it’s perceived by employees. I understand that sometimes these things feel like common-sense, but managers may not be tuned into how an issue always impacts other people like this. It is helpful to know.

        2. azvlr

          I sincerely hope you will reframe this in your head. Establishing relationships with people who are geographically separated is not always easy. She is missing out on many of the daily, seemingly small interactions that help you know how to navigate other more important situations. It has a very real impact on opportunities that she may have.
          Your colleague already has this obstacle to overcome without others begrudging that of her.

        3. Person of Interest

          It’s a fair point. In my case we did two things: I usually combine the office trip with other external meetings in the same geographic area so I get more bang for the travel buck and the trips can be charged to a project, and I framed this my manager as the face time being important for my professional development (rather than a management class or whatever). It’s worked ok for us.

        4. LawBee

          That’s a problem with the budget. I wonder if there’s another bucket her travel expenses should come out of? Or of the department could find a way to set up a separate travel budget for the remote workers?

    4. MissDisplaced

      We have a lot of remote workers, some in Canada even. But we try to have two team meetings a year with everyone and usually also go to a trade show or two. But if your company is on travel bans, you’d have to setttle for video chats.

  3. Krabby

    A company I worked at previously did a monthly “meet your coworkers” and each of our remote offices would take turns doing video presentations about the work they did/the city they were in/updates to their office space. And we provided a pizza lunch to everyone who attended. It wasn’t perfect, and it was a different situation (small company with small 2-5 person external pods) but it let people put names to faces. Maybe you could ask your boss about something like that?

  4. Amber Rose

    Send in a gift basket with a framed photo of yourself every now and then?

    In all seriousness, I like Stormfeather’s idea of an office Slack. If you don’t have one, maybe propose one to your boss.

      1. Van Wilder

        LOL.
        I was going to suggest though – include your photo on Skype/Outlook if your office does that. I think the visual helps people feel a little more like they know who they’re talking to.

        1. Hey Nonnie

          Also, is there a specific reason why your office doesn’t do video calls? Not saying you’d need to set up a formal once a week meeting or anything; but suggesting such a thing, especially when you’re introduced to a new manager or coworker, might help you and them put a face and personality to a name. As well as helping to establish rapport in a way that’s difficult to do over email. There are so many free and easy options for online video chat these days that it would be very simple to implement.

          1. Anonna Miss

            (I’d personally hesitate to use video from home. Partly because I’m old, and I hate being on camera, period. I do not need the way too close camera showing that I’m not wearing makeup and having a bad hair day. One of the benefits of working from home is NOT feeling like you have to be presentable all the time.)

        2. Anonna Miss

          Definitely add your photo on Skype/Outlook, if possible. That way, they see your face when they see your name, and it keeps that face/name/your work tied together for them.

          I also agree with everyone who says to go in as often as you reasonably can, preferably quarterly or more. That way, you are getting the small interactions, the coffees/lunches/happy hour and other face-to-face meetings that really help build rapport. The remote workers I’ve worked with who were 100% remote but managed to come in once in a while struggled a lot less than those who never did.

  5. anonamama

    My situation is different since I work for a company that is entirely remote – we have no office location and everyone works from home. Chat is the major way we stay connected. We have various channels, some obviously work focused but also a few more “break room” channels where we can post funny memes, celebrate birthdays, have virtual dance parties, etc. I also make it a point to check in with people via chat regularly, just to say hello, see how they are and keep the relationship going. As a remote worker, this may be the best, and honestly only, way for you to keep yourself top of mind with some folks. You won’t be in the break room, but you can cultivate relationships this way as an alternative.

    1. LilyP

      Does anyone have tips on establishing “break room” channels/culture? I’m the only remote employee on my team currently and though we actively use chat (Microsoft teams) for work stuff there’s not a lot of social chatting anywhere and it feels awkward to just ..start posting memes while everyone else is focused on work, you know?

      1. anonamama

        The nature of our company lends itself to have a lot of Skype rooms. We have team chats, department chats, etc. We had an All Hands chat up until recently, but things actual important things were getting lost. So we split the room- we now have a more formal “stuff that you need to know” All Hands chat for actual work stuff, and an All Hands chat literally called “Break Room” where we post memes, links to youtube clips, celebrate birthdays, etc. I am in charge of this stuff so I just created it and told everyone how to use it. If you are not that person, then maybe approach a manager or someone else who might have the authority to get something like this started? Good luck!

  6. Shark Whisperer

    About half of my office is fully remote like this scenario and spread out across the country. Our work email is hosted through google, so we use G-Chat like some people use slack. We have a manatee club G-Chat and a team spirit G-Chat where we share jokes and cheer each other on. I know there are others as well.

      1. Shark Whisperer

        Haha, yes, it’s literally a chat where we send each other manatee memes and alert each other if someone notices manatees doing something cute on Blue Spring State Park’s manatee cam. The manatee club is awesome because people keep adding people from other departments who secretly love manatees, so I’ve gotten to know people in my organization that I never would have known otherwise.

        1. 2 Cents

          OMG, this is genius! I’m stealing this and modifying it (flamingos for me!) if I ever get the chance :P

  7. AllAccountsAreNotCreatedEqual

    How often do you travel to site ? I have a remote employee in a different (european) country, and she travels here once every 8-10 weeks for a few days. Its enough to keep her more “in the loop”

  8. agmat

    How are these new managers announced? If these new people are being announced by email, introduce yourself via email. Let them know who you are, what you do, and that you are remote.

    If onboarding is sort of silent, still introduce yourself when you learn of these new people.

    How often do you talk to your manager? My entire team is remote (by design of the position), but I talk to my manager at least once every two weeks, one on one. That way he stays up to date and I have an opportunity to get the dirty details from the main office.

  9. mrs__peel

    I’ve been working remotely for several years now, including a stint where I was in one state and the rest of my department was in another.

    I do think it is important to visit in person at least once a year (if possible), to have at least a bit of face time. I was fortunate in that my company was happy to pay to have me come out there every so often, and it really helped a lot to put faces with names and feel a more personal connection. I also had a good excuse to go, because I needed to do annual CLE classes in that state to keep up my law license there. Do you have any similar professional development-type things you could do if you took a trip for a few days to visit the office?

    Currently, my entire department works from home in different states, so it’s even more challenging to establish that personal connection. My boss visits here in person every few months, which is really nice. I do make a point to try to “socialize” via email or phone with my remote co-workers and chat about what’s going on in their lives outside of work, so that we develop better relationships and our communication isn’t *entirely* work-oriented. Little things like that go a long way towards making us feel more cohesive as a unit.

  10. Frances

    I have a colleague who works remotely and has regular “coffee dates” via Zoom with others in the organization, not just our department. It isn’t quite the same as being there but it has helped a lot regarding keeping a pulse on what is happening. Good luck!

    1. Person of Interest

      Ooh I love that idea. I work remotely like the OP does, and I use Zoom for meetings once in a while, but the Zoom coffee would be fun!

    2. drpuma

      Very much agree with this. I used to work for a company with offices all over the country, and before I left I put “catch up” video dates on the calendar with some of my favorite coworkers so I could tell them directly I was leaving. Everyone was so excited to connect and say hi that I wished I had made a regular practice of it sooner.

    3. nonymous

      Yep, half my team is remote and we (the remote employees) take time to schedule chat up the locals. Keep it short like if you were running into someone in the hall or break room. And don’t be afraid to be a little more direct about your motivations (make it really clear it’s social and not warming them up for work topic/bad news). After a while you’ll get a schedule going – for one coworker it’s Friday afternoons, and another it’s Tuesdays after lunch. A third group is Monday morning via a slack channel (day after GoT airs). Another subgroup is the day after school vacation days to share kid stories.

    4. inothernews

      Yes, I also schedule regular catch ups with people, even if we don’t directly work together or if I don’t have a work thing to talk to them about. It’s been helpful in feeling connected to the office and to my colleagues… we’ll talk about our days or weeks, help each other with small problems, tea and sympathy or laugh together. My company also hosts twice yearly offsites as we have a large number of us not in the home office.

  11. ArtK

    I’ve been a remote worker for 18 years now. I still haven’t resolved this. It’s probably not as bad for me, because I’m in a key position — people can’t forget that I’m here, as far as work is concerned. I do miss the day-to-day interactions, though. Sorry I don’t have any magic answers — I’m looking for a job now where I would be in an office with other people, partly because of this!

  12. Smia

    My team has a lot of remote workers, including me. Many of us have no issue having our own “water cooler” meetings at the start of informal calls, and reach out via IM just to stay hi. We chat about our lives, what’s going on with our work, etc. As a result, I know and like more of the virtual people than some of the ones I see in person.

    1. Jules the 3rd

      Seconding this: you don’t get as much group participation, but you can get good 1 on 1 interactions and it’s worthwhile to put the work into them.

      Make sure you have an informal chat (5 – 10 minutes) with your manager at least once a month, on top of any formal business updates that you have more often. Topic can be ‘personal professional’ (eg, hope the hurricane didn’t impact you!) to ‘non-job task professional’ (eg, “hey boss, I heard about this training, can I go” or “can you fill me in on the backstory of this Work Announcement”).

      Much as I hate video, it can help personalize things too. Make sure you at least have a picture up for your chats / internal systems.

  13. ThursdaysGeek

    One thing I do is work closely with a co-worker who is in the office, so I have a local champion. I also send weekly status updates (what I’ve done this week, what I’m going to work on next week) to show some visibility.

    Another con not mentioned is that there is a lot of collaborative learning when people are together. Just watching another person use a tool as you go into their cube – “Oh hey! I didn’t know you could do that!” I miss out on that, although I get a little bit with video sharing.

    1. BRR

      Ooh I also have a local champion! I know it’s been helpful to me for one person to remember me.

  14. Jennifer

    I agree that maybe going in more than once a year might help. I don’t know how that works with your company as far as who pays for what, so that could be the reason you only go annually.

    Slack is also a good suggestion.

    If those aren’t options, if you hear news from your manager about someone having a baby, getting engaged, etc, maybe send them a congratulatory email or card. If you have a call with someone, maybe make time for a little chit chat before or after you get into the work stuff. Also, make sure you have regular one-on-one meetings with your manager. If they don’t take the initiative to schedule them, ask for them, just so you have regular feedback that your work is excellent. You could even bring up the question you’ve asked here if you think your boss will be receptive. This will keep your exemplary performance front of mind for management also in case lay off time does come around.

    I would think remote employees cost the company less money which would make you less likely to be a victim of a layoff, but I understand that personal relationships do play a role.

    1. Tech Writer Tucker

      My previous company had a couple of bad quarters and decided to implement some layoffs to make it look like they were serious about turning things around. They ended up axing most of their remote workers. I can only assume the thinking was “well, no one outside of those people’s immediate circle will really notice, but if a bunch of people who used to be here suddenly aren’t anymore, it’ll be bad for morale.”

      (I was one of those remote workers who got laid off. It was honestly pretty much perfect: I’d been burning out something fierce and was preparing to talk to my boss about the possibility of taking a significant chunk of unpaid leave.)

  15. agnes

    I think this is a legitimate concern. We see it in our workplace, despite the assurances that it won’t happen.

    I’m a fan of video chat. And I would be intentional about how you use it. Use it more than is absolutely necessary–occasionally check in via video chat instead of email. It has helped in our organization.

    1. Blue

      I know there are definite advantages to not doing video calls or conferencing (pjs all day!) but I fully agree that they can make a real difference. I wouldn’t advocate switching to them entirely, but perhaps for some one-on-one meetings, or, if the equipment is convenient for them, to participate in a few group meetings that way.

      1. Anonymous

        I agree. When I have worked from home and Skyped in for meetings I put on a work shirt with my sweatpants :)

  16. Alton Brown's Evil Twin

    This isn’t a direct answer to OP’s question, but it illustrates how good management can help with this kind of situation.

    I spent 6 months at one of my company’s field offices in San Antonio – I normally worked at the headquarters in DC. The San Antonio office supported 3 different projects, none of which had anything to do with each other. So there wasn’t even much in the way of informal contact between those project teams, let alone contact with HQ.

    In this office, they did two great things to counteract the out-of-sight issue.

    1. Once a month, the office had an all-hands breakfast meeting. Two hours with coffee, breakfast burritos, lots of informal talk, employee recognition & awards – plus news about the 3 project teams that the others wouldn’t have known about, and lots of news from headquarters. They tried to schedule visits from corporate VPs to coincide with those meetings.

    2. The three site managers were very keyed into business development at headquarters, and would go out of their way to get people from the office involved in proposal-writing – which was one of the most important ways to build professional relationships & team camaraderie, and to come to the attention of the higher-ups at headquarters. Some of that could be done remotely, some involved a trip to HQ for anywhere from 2 days to 3 weeks.

    I think that being in touch with more than just the day-in, day-out of the business is especially important. The OP should try to find ways to tap into other people for what the future holds for your employer – near-term and long-range planning. Then you can find ways to get involved with that stuff — even if you’re just a subject-matter reviewer or a copy-editor for a 3-year plan, you’re demonstrating that you are both willing and able to help move things forward.

  17. Colette

    Including remote workers is hard to do when the majority of the team is in one place. I agree an office slack channel might be good; I’d also suggest taking the lead on organizing meetings, and proactively reaching out to people via IM/slack (if you have it) to chat. Some people won’t be receptive, but some will, and that might help you stay more in the loop.

    And if you don’t already have them, can you set up regular one on one meetings with your manager?

  18. Ginger

    This might be unpopular but video calls really do help connect and mitigate the “out of sight” issue. Having your face pop up in webex makes a difference – literal face time. Make sure you have a photo in your email (if you use Outlook, you can add your photo and it shows up next to your name, not in your signature and body of your email).

    1. Jimming

      Agreed. Most of my company works from home even though we have an office and we do a lot of video chat. Even if it’s casual “coffee break” time, that could help to build relationships.

  19. Nothemomma

    We have our twice monthly team meetings in skype with a round-robin for each person to discuss what they have been doing personally or professionally. We also have a team bio doc on our SharePoint with self submitted photos, and 3-5 items about ourselves. We also IM each other freely. Our entire team is remote, but with this concerted effort I feel more connected than some in-person teams.

    1. Quackeen

      My previous team of about 50% remote and 50% in-office workers did this. We also rotated facilitating the meeting so that everyone would be in the habit of actively contributing. A few minutes of each team meeting was dedicated to optional sharing of personal updates, such as hearing from the person who was on vacation during the last meeting, etc.

  20. The Tin Man

    I’m already loving reading these thoughts because in the next 1-3 years I am planning to move 3+ hours from my office. I worry about these cons and how it will affect how I am seen.

    I am hoping to slowly establish the “I do good work remotely” mindset in my boss, grandboss, and coworkers. I am looking for ideas on how to do that. My idea right now is to start by leveraging that my performance review was great but money is tight so my raise was “meh”. I want to talk to my boss about maybe as additional “compensation” that doesn’t cost the company any money I could work from home each Friday (excepting when there are meetings I need to be at in-person).

    1. The Tin Man

      And now I have self awareness that this comment is all about me, not OP. My bad – I will repost tomorrow in the Free for All.

      1. Jules the 3rd

        Lol – you are at least a dozen steps above Derek, tho! On topic, and no embarrassing photos…

  21. Bostonian

    Well, one of the first things I noticed in your letter is that you never use video conferencing. I mean, I get it, when I work from home, I don’t want anyone to see my messy bun and sweatshirt. BUT, if there is any regular team meeting (biweekly, once weekly), it might be a good idea for them to video you in just for those meetings (and other remote workers). You’d be surprised how much it helps to get that weekly visual reminder that this person is part of the team. It might be a little awkward at first for everyone if it’s not usually done, but the novelty goes away by about the 3rd meeting.

    Honestly, I’m not a fan of being pinged on IM by someone out of the blue “just to chat”, but that’s just me. I would rather have a few minutes of “relationship building” chit chat with a remote worker during a planned work-related call.

    I definitely agree with others that quarterly visits (instead of yearly) from remote workers to the central location would help a lot- this is what remote workers at my company usually do. It’s so great to have them here, and that’s when we do a lot of “social” stuff (go out to lunch, happy hour, etc.).

    Doing some or all of those things will improve the situation, I think, but overall you are right that you will be limited in how much connection you really have with your coworkers. It sounds like your work speaks for itself, which definitely helps.

    1. Weegie

      I second all of this – I work from home the majority of the time and definitely get ‘overlooked’ and left out of decisions, or even just having the decisions communicated to me (my most often repeated phrases: ‘Are you? No, nobody told me about that!’).

      I’ve started proactively inviting myself to certain meetings, even just to provide a 15-minute update on what I’m up to, so that people remember I exist. It works: post-meeting I suddenly start getting email requests for my input! I’m fortunate in that I can get into the office in an hour or so, but other remote-working colleagues use video-conferencing to join meetings.

      So I’d agree with upping your visibility – in person, if you can; by video if not.

  22. Où est la bibliothèque?

    If you’re ever on conference calls, sometimes you can ask your department to stay briefly on the call to check in after the main conversation is over and all non-team people have hung up–this is a good time to make things a little more casual and show some personality. My team has done this, and it does make the remote worker seem more like a person.

    “My officemate over here is doing well, and he’s been very productive this week. He’s a cat. How are things over there?”

    “Some stupid coworker keeps putting empty ice trays back in the freezer. It’s me.”

  23. Sharikacat

    Maybe ask to set up a bi-weekly or monthly video chat (or online conference call with screen sharing) to deliver a more in-depth progress report on your projects? While you can’t possibly catch up on all of the office events since you work remote, at least you would get some dedicated face-time with your bosses and be able to introduce yourself to newer people sooner.

    Since you’re working remotely in a completely different state (and was the pioneer of the perk for that office) and have been for years now, I would think that you’ve demonstrated your value far and above being at risk in the case of lay-offs. The only thing that might cause anxiety is whether your bosses put a large value on the physical presence, but it doesn’t seem that way. Your work and results can be appreciated from afar, and you get to avoid petty office arguments over things like the thermostat or who didn’t clean the coffee pot that might actually detract from your standing with them.

  24. Calyx Teren

    One: Get video chat and use it regularly. It’s okay if it isn’t in every meeting, but it should be regular. This makes an enormous difference in the feeling of presence. Even if there’s a video lag, you will still feel like much more of a person to them if they interact with you visually.

    Try to go to the office once a quarter instead of once a year, and make that time an intense collaborative occasion. Brainstorm with people, go to lunch or dinner, share and listen to plans and results.

    Those two are most important, but you can also create more of a sense of relationship by interacting regularly with people on LinkedIn. Don’t haunt them, obviously, but make some comments, like their posts, wish them happy anniversary, and make some of your own posts.

    Make sure that you are reporting your activities and results in terms of the business need and impact. For example, instead of “Designed 22 teapots this quarter,” report it as:
    Problem statement: New customer types needed several different teapot designs
    Action: Introduced three new teapot product lines based on user assessments and industry benchmarking, with 7-8 versions each.
    Results: Immediate uptake by Marketing and Manufacturing; initial sales results indicate market is responding satisfactorily.

  25. Akcipitrokulo

    Is it possible/ is there the budget for occasional trips to the home office? (And would you be happy to do it?)

    We have two members of our department who WFH from a substantial distance away. They will come to the office for a week every couple of months or so (for one, sometimes less often).

    There are things that are better done in person every so often – but the main reason is to keep in contact and feel part of the team.

    Also frequent calls/video conferences and a lot of your IM service of choice!

  26. Lana Kane

    I worked from home full time for 5 years, and currently I supervise a 10 person team (soon to be 14) that is entirely remote. Some thoughts, most of them from the management side, as my management when I was a remote worker was…poor, and I wasn’t able to successfully establish relationships with them remotely:

    –As a remote worker I found that I eventually had to come to work back in the office in order to be promoted. It’s not impossible for a remote worker to be promoted, but it’s harder, as you’re not developing in-person relationships where people can “read” you better when you talk (and you them)
    –Depending on the nature of your work, if you are looking to be included in special projects, it helps to be connected to at least one person in the office who can give you a heads up when stuff is happening. Also any projects or tasks that benefit from independent work, you could make a bid for. Be proactive about making your interest known.

    –As a supervisor of a remote team, I personally work harder with them than I do with my in-office reports to establish and maintain relationships. I am a stickler for monthly 1:1s with everyone, but with the remote workers I tend to try to guide the conversation a bit more when I sense that the person is all, “I don’t have anything to talk about”. I would encourage you to have things to talk about in your 1:1’s and if you don’t, just ask your manager for general feedback.
    –I have remote workers who do good work and never reach out to me except with the occasional question. I have other who reply to my general-update emails with at least a “Thank you” or “Got it”. I can’t speak for every manager in this regard, and you will want to get a sense from your own manager on what they prefer, but I do like to get those simple replies because it makes me feel like my email didn’t go into a black hole. And maybe not coincidentally, those same people are the ones who otherwise express to me that they value being engaged in process, etc. If I need something, I tend to think of them first.
    –I’m thinking of creating a page on our intranet with pictures (voluntary) and a short bio for every remote worker. Some people have never actually seen each other face to face!
    –On conference calls with my team, time permitting, I let them chat for a few minutes before jumping into business.
    –Daily team chats that are open throughout the day are essential. Again, when conversation veers to non-work talk occasionally I’m not bothered by it, because I think it’s important to team building (but I have been known to gently break it up sometimes! lol)

  27. S

    I am in exactly the same situation as you, have been for over a decade, and (drumroll, please!) I got a major promotion (to officer level) last year. Here are my tips:

    –Do try to go into the office when you can. Earlier in my situation I went quarterly, timed to major meetings where I could get my face in front of senior management. More recently it’s been down to once a year, and I’m feeling like it’s not enough. The major focus of the trips is to make face to face contact – my experience is that once you’ve met someone face to face, it’s much easier to work with them over phone/email. Make a list of people you work with, or would like to work with, and set up meetings, coffee, whatever – just make an effort to connect.

    –You’re right that a lot of “networking” opportunities are not going to work out for you. So look for things you CAN do. Raise your hand for a special project, offer the kinds of support that can be done remotely, etc. Examples: years ago, I heard that the head of my dept wanted a newsletter. So I raised my hand. It used my comms background, and it gave me a reason to interact with people throughout my department – asking sr managers to nominate profile candidates, interviewing folks for profiles and articles, connecting with the COO to collect department-wide reminders and updates. It was an amazing way to connect with people when I couldn’t say hi over the water cooler.

    –Don’t be shy about asking for accommodation, either. Many events and speakers at my company are broadcast over the web, and when something is advertised as in person only, I’ve *sometimes* had success asking for them to just add an audio feed – basically, a conference call open in the room. Sometimes they don’t want to, but sometimes they just haven’t thought of it. And usually it’s more than just remote employees who benefit from such arrangements. Anyone who’s traveling, working from home that day, or just in a different building can also call in. And if it’s appropriate, SPEAK UP on those calls.

    –If your company intranet is on the interactivity trend, then post a blog, comment on others, etc. It’s another way to up your “visibility.”

    –Deliberately cultivate buddies as well as professional relationships. If you have a chat platform (slack, IM, etc), ask your teammates about their plans for the weekend. Send people articles. Pick up the phone, say “hey, I just wanted to get your take on this…” Use the 30 seconds of polite small talk at the beginning of a call to actually give people a (fully curated) glimpse of your life. Basically, be a full person, not just your job function.

    –in a way, you have an advantage working for a big big company, because people are used to working with folks who aren’t next door. Many many people don’t realize I’m remote.

    Finally — make an effort to connect face to face at home, too, whether it’s through a meetup, a craft circle, a book club, what have you. Working remotely is great, but you also need *human contact,* just as you need water and exercise.

    1. Lana Kane

      I want to second this post, especially asking for accommodations. I try to anticipate things my remote workers may need but sometimes I miss something. I appreciate it when they speak up and ask for what they need, or think would help them.

    2. Jules the 3rd

      If you can’t meet someone face to face, make a call specifically to introduce yourself, explain what you do, and encourage them to call you anytime. I work with people across three continents, and that intro call or chat is huge.

    3. BRR

      Asking for accommodations is such a great suggestion! I work from home part of the time and I know it’s a pain to set up a call in the office. I have a hunch that I’ve lost opportunities because it’s such a hassle.

      1. LawBee

        I’ve done depositions where the call-in number was a fellow attorney’s cell phone – speaker on, volume up. It wasn’t ideal but it got the job done. Maybe ask if someone can do that?

    4. Emmie

      You make great points. I have been a version of 100% and partial remote for 8 years. These things helped me preform well:
      – I always prepare for meetings. I review the topic, organize my talking points, and anticipate questions. I have few chances to interact, such as one on ones with managers, and this time is important to demonstrate my work progress.
      – We have weekly or biweekly mass meetings via zoom. I was not excited about it at first, but I like seeing every one now.
      – I volunteer for extra projects. I run with ideas. I tell people who get these projects that I would love to do something like that or volunteer to contribute. People remember, and ask me later.
      – I generally do my job well. I respond to many emails nearly instantaneously . It is awful for my productivity, but shows that I am responsible.
      – Do excellent work.
      – Maximize meetings. You don’t need to be more social than others, but show your best work and your best personality.

  28. Res Admin

    I have one out of state coworker (working from home is very unusual here). We have 1:1 telephone calls once a week and a separate call once a week with a larger work group. Also ad hoc calls as needed to discuss projects. Otherwise we communicate via email and visits a couple of times a year for a few days.

    One thing that really helps is that we start/end each call with a small bit of chit chat about more personal stuff–vacations, pets, whatever. It doesn’t take up much time to ask if a vacation was fun, a sick pet is feeling better, etc. and it really helps humanize the person on the other end of the line. It reminds us that we are dealing with real people and also makes us more memorable.

    Another suggestion would be to have a small photo that goes with your email. Seeing a face can make a huge difference. And I say this as someone who loathes and despises having their photo taken. Having a face to go with a name just makes people so much more memorable.

  29. MechanicalPencil

    I engage with the remote members of my team fairly regularly. We’re notorious for all being on calls early so we can banter. I’ll occasionally message them with a legit question and then “Oh how’s little Jimmy doing in soccer? How’s the weather up there?” Semi-idle questions just so they feel like part of the team, but no different than I’d do with someone around the coffee pot. I’ve learned a coworker and I share similar music interests, so we talk frequently about new releases and tours. I feel like it’s a mix of expending effort to get something back from people. And it’s nothing our manager has specifically done, other than encouraging us to reach out to team members.

  30. LKK

    I do a lot of things people here have mentioned:
    – semi-regular check-ins with members of the team (some work remotely like me, some work in the main office). This includes my standing meetings with my supervisor and my team, as well as weekly “walk breaks” with a remote colleague where we each walk around our respective neighborhoods and chat on the phone for 30 minutes. This is the equivalent of the water cooler or eating lunch in a shared kitchen for me.
    – video chat for meetings whenever possible (it’s worth it for me to throw on a nicer sweater for a few minutes and look presentable).
    – visits to the main office a couple of times each year and schedule in-person meetings while I’m there.
    – be active on whatever chat/network your company uses. We use Yammer and I make sure to like posts, make comments, etc. whenever appropriate.
    – schedule virtual lunches or book/article discussions for you and other remote employees. Main office folks can join by video chat too. Everyone is on the same page if we’re all calling in from your desks, no matter where we are.

  31. JJ

    You might consider mentally reframing what you’re doing now as a totally new job. You ARE different from the regular in-office employees now, and while yes, that probably hurts you in the “traditional job progression” department, you’re also gaining quite a lot in the non-traditional working life department, as you noted. Maybe spend a bit of time meditating on what you gain/lose day-to-day as a remote worker vs. what you’d gain/lose if you were in-office, and try to let go of that FOMO.

    It might even be useful to start to think of yourself as more of a free agent (like a freelancer or contractor) which might help you both not worry about the in-office culture stuff, AND help you set up safeguards for yourself in the event of layoff (savings, cultivating little side projects, etc), so you won’t be so freaked out. When you’re a freelancer, being part of the office culture isn’t so important anymore, and you open yourself up to other experiences you couldn’t otherwise do if you were in the office all the time. Good luck!

  32. Rose

    I organize and participate in a number of remote development groups where we are connected by a common interest or goal rather than just the work product (for example, mentoring circles related to career development, leadership development book club, working women support, etc.). These opportunities keep me connected and networking with people across my organization regardless of location, and top of mind when people are looking for someone to lead a project or give feedback on a process.

    I also have a few people whom I make a point of staying in contact with via regularly scheduled call or Skype chats. I found a mentor farther along in her career whom I chat with monthly and I mentor a couple of other people monthly or quarterly. One of my mentees, I’ve never met in person.

    It’s a little extra work, but it kind of replaces the coffee room/elevator chats.

  33. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

    My situation is a bit different, but I understand what you mean. I live and work in the same state, but have a long commute. So I WFH 2 days a week and as needed on other occasions. My physical office consists of 4 people, but our parent company is located in a different state, as we often joke that we feel like the red headed step children, often forgotten about and never included. But I also came from a very large office, and for me this is refreshing. I hate gossip and office politics, and I don’t have to be involved with any of that here. I get the excluded feeling, and the paranoia that you’re not seen so not counted the same as those physically in the office. But I think as long as you do your job, and go above and beyond when you can, you’re in a good position. And if it’s feasible, you may consider going into the office more often – maybe once a quarter? If your once a year trip is paid for by the company, maybe mention it to your boss that you’d like to come in a little more often to meet new people and be engaged with your team on personal level and see what they say.

    1. SUNLIGHT

      co-signed

      For this job and the one before it, I’m a semi-remote person: I don’t sit in the building with any of my team; I just happen to be located close to a satellite office so they gave me a desk. As a result, few people talk to me throughout the day. My coworkers know very little about me and rarely swing by to chat.

      I. LOVE. IT.

      It makes it so much easier to get my work done and go home. I’m not embroiled in the drama, gossip, or backstabbing.

      I’m quite happy with where I am in my career. I have no desire to move up, because moving up would mean management (and I just can’t manage people). The joke is if I could just be a brain in a jar at work, it would be heaven.

  34. Penny

    Once a year does not sound like a lot of face time in the office. Could you make it more frequent, like once a month or every other month? Maybe plan to be there for larger group gatherings like the summer Employee Appreciation gathering or the winter Holiday party. That might help you feel more connected.

    Good luck!

  35. Yvette

    Could you go in more than once a year? Is there an end of year or holiday or company anniversary party?

    Can you send emails or chats that are not totally business related (saw this and it reminded me of that story you told about your kids/dog/mother-in-law)? Links to articles? Ask them for input/advice about something? The kind of conversations you would have by the coffee machine or over lunch.

    When a new colleague is introduced via email, can you find something to email them about as a way of introducing yourself, “Oh, I see you will be working with Anita, we worked on such and such together” or “that was my old group, let me know if I can help you with anything”. Even something more personal, note something you have in common, “I see you have two dogs, so do I” and expand on it a little, “I always have problems keeping them from eating each other’s food, how do you handle it?”. That kind of thing.

    You said it would be hard to participate in committees etc. can you offer to set up email/chat groups for things?
    One company I worked at had their own in-house kind of LinkedIn/Facebook kind of thing.

  36. Sarah

    Oooh, this is a tough one! I work remotely (not for much longer – I am not built to work from home) and I’ve found a few things helpful:

    1) Regular visits to HQ. When I was moved to remote work (against my will, tbh) I lobbied for fairly frequent trips to HQ. I always had deliverables tied to the trips, so it wasn’t just for fun, but it meant I was going up and getting face time about every other month.
    2) Silly emails. I know this sounds a little nuts, but I have a coworker who also works remotely and we’ll send pictures of our dogs or wish each other a happy “Fri-yay!” which normally I would roll my eyes at but it actually helps us stay connected and keeps lines of communication open. I’ll also send links to interesting articles to coworkers who I know will enjoy them (and clients – I just sent one today that was relevant to a conversation we’d had during our check-in call this morning) or links to songs/movie trailers I mention if it sounds like people are curious.
    3) Calling vs. IMs. When possible, I try to have work-related conversations + a little chit chat on the phone. Because schedules are unpredictable I’ll usually start the conversation in IM (“Hey, have you heard back about x client yet? I’ve been wondering about some information they gave us – do you have a few mins for a call?”) I’m not a big chat-throughout-the-day type, but my boss and I will send each other a morning “Hey, how are you doing today?” catch-up chat, and then usually a few IMs through the day. It helps us stay in contact, and then we have things to talk about later. (“Oh man, you talking about baking got me hungry, now I’m going to have to go get groceries and make some cookies tonight.”)

    1. The Very Worst Wolf

      I agree with calling when appropriate. Almost any chance you can take for more personal interactions (when they won’t be a nuisance or come off as inefficient) is positive. But the most crucial thing is the visits to HQ.

      I make regular flights into our office, and those in-person moments pay off tremendously. There’s a certain type of work that is easier to do in person, just there is a level of productivity that is much easier achieved working from home. FWIW, I know everyone is different on that front, but my statement about productivity is directed and myself and OP, who seems to work similarly. It’s also not a gut instinct but something I’ve quantified. When I work without the perpetual distractions of an office, I get more done. Go figure.

      Personally, I consider my office travel days fun (and I’m flying in monthly from many states away) – and on days when it’s not fun at all, I remind myself that the inconvenience of travel is the counterweight to all the benefits of working remotely.

      1. Jules the 3rd

        Mmm, I think the calling is a ‘know your audience’ thing. I’d much rather chat, and my understanding is that’s becoming more the norm than calling.

        There’s times where calling is almost always better than text (first introduction, tricky indepth / emotional / persuasive conversation), but for a lot of people and situations, chatting via im works.

        1. Sarah

          Same, but to fight the “Out of sight, out of mind” I’ve found that a quick call for something that I would normally just get up and walk to somebody’s desk about is really helpful – as long as I check first that they’re free to talk/willing. Which is where the initial check in – “Do you have a minute for a call?” works. If people say no, no worries! But connecting on a more personal level and hearing the tone of somebody’s voice can make a big difference.

          For instance, one of my coworkers is a warm, outgoing person whose emails/chats don’t show that at. all. If that was the only interaction you had with her, it’d be very easy to assume she is abrasive and impersonal, which (depending on the company) could really do her harm in the long run as a remote employee. Luckily I’ve spoken with her enough to be able to read her tone better/imagine the emails being said in her voice, so I know that even when she sounds abrupt she’s not annoyed. New team members won’t know that until they’ve been on the phone with her a few times. Chatting via IM would work for almost all questions we have for her, but she’s had better luck integrating with the team using the phone.

  37. The Very Worst Wolf

    I live in a different state from my office and work from home as well. My role has me very actively engaged with my coworkers and employees; I am on calls, emails, and IMs with other team members daily. However, over the past five years, I’ve found only one solution that satisfies my need to stay connected (a need born of both meeting business requirements and meeting my career goals): I fly into our office for 4-5 workdays every month. I know this might not be possible for OP, nor something for which her employer might be willing to foot the bill. However, in addition to my situation, our company also has a satellite office of three employees in another state. They don’t ever ‘need’ to be in our headquarters, but the company still flies them up a couple of times per year to maintain relationships and accomplish a lot of the harder-to-quantify social benefits of working closely with others. I wonder if OP’s company might do that as well?

  38. CatCat

    I don’t work from home, but I am in a location different from everyone else on my team, my boss, and everyone in management above me in my department.

    1. Go in more often if you can. Quarterly instead of annually would be great.

    2. See if you can organize a lunch when you will be on-site. Several times, I’ve asked my boss if we can reserve a conference room for lunch and invite other team members when I am coming to the main office. Not everyone can make it every time, but a few people always do and it’s a great way to get that informal, relationship building conversation in.

    3. As others have said, video conferencing if available would be great.

    4. Do you have staff meetings? If the format is appropriate for it, make it a point to speak up during the meeting.

    5. We don’t have Slack or anything like that, which I think would be great, but one thing IT did was add pictures to Outlook. I found this very helpful to putting faces to names (especially when *I* would get people mixed up who are in my department and not on my team… no need to avoid Tim now because I can’t remember if he’s Tim or Joe or, wait, is that Bill? I now can put his face to his name. It has made interactions with department-mates soooo much easier when I do go into the office.)

  39. Argh!

    FWIW, you can be “out of sight out of mind” IRL too. I work in a rather stiffly formal environment where chit chat and gossip are discouraged by policy & by architecture (open-office for some, remote locations within the building for others). We have a few social gatherings, and I’ve made a few friends, but our contact time is very limited.

    If you’re more social than your culture, you just need to find your people and find a way to connect with them. Have you considered having get-togethers with the other remote workers? At least then you’d have a sort of affinity group.

  40. Elise

    I work from home and when a new employee starts (who I will interact with a decent amount) actually do use video chat to do an intro meeting with them! This isn’t required by my company, but I find seeing them face to face creates a better relationship on both sides and it also feels more natural in those intro meetings to ask about their hobbies/interests in addition to work. Also, it may not be possible for you, but if you can up your visits to the office to twice a year that may prove helpful as well.

  41. booksnbooks

    I’ve found it beneficial to choose at least one teambuilding event each year and make a point of being there to participate. If there is a remote teambuilding thing (such as tracking miles for exercise, or participating in a group knitting group, or whatever) all the better and you can do that, too. It gives you necessary non-work face time either in person or electronically with everyone and shows that you are a team player even if you’re far away. I second all the other suggestions to figure out how to participate in small talk electronically — be it email, instant messaging, or even text if that is the culture in your office. I think small stuff like that can really add up to show you’re still part of the team even though you are far away.

  42. H.J.G.

    I manage a couple remote employees, and one of them in particular so excels at staying present that she’s actually been promoted into a manager role herself. One thing she does that wouldn’t work for many remote workers is come into the office physically on occasion, but I don’t think that’s really the main thing driving her engagement. We use instant messaging at work and she’s really proactive about responding to questions in group chats, surfacing her own questions, and generally staying engaged through that medium. The other thing, which it sounds like your office might not do, is we tend to have lots of meetings with video conference bridges available, so she dials in & has her camera on, which makes her feel a lot more present. Good luck!

  43. nnn

    Not a whole solution, but one small thing I do is send brief, prompt, cheerful emails of welcome/thanks/kudos/congratulations/etc. every time an opportunity to do so arises.

    For example, a new person comes to the team, I immediately reply to them with “Welcome to our team!” Someone gets promoted, they get an immediate “Congratulations! Very well-deserved!”

    This increases people’s perception of me as warm, positive, friendly, caring etc. The immediate reply conveys enthusiasm and accessibility. Plus it opens lines of communication – about half the time I send a “Welcome to our team!” to a new manager, they reply with some kind of question that they don’t know whom to ask (e.g. “Thanks! BTW, do you know if there’s a team email distribution list, or do we just copy-paste everyone’s addresses?”) and then I get a chance to be helpful and useful.

    It’s very easy to let these little social lubricants slide when you’re remote, but keeping on top of them is a nearly effortless way to showcase the person behind the email address and give them impression of being present and attentive.

    1. booksnbooks

      I agree — these make a HUGE difference. And it makes you seem just as present as the person sitting one floor up, or four cubes over who might also respond via email rather than walking over.

  44. the grayest of sweatshirts

    I’ve worked two remote full-time positions in face-time butt-in-chair offices and here’s what works for me:

    1) I show my face as much as possible. I’m local to my current office, so I go in 1-2x/month and spend the whole day meeting with people in person, even though it means my “real work” doesn’t get done. At my last job, I lived several states away and would come in quarterly to see my team in person. It allowed me to connect with people.
    2) I pick up the phone a lot. My teammates are desk bound, so I’ll call them to say hi, or do the water cooler chit-chat type stuff at the beginning or end of call.
    3) I over-communicate my work to my boss. My work is solitary by nature, and my boss doesn’t understand the ins and outs of it, so letting her know my projects are moving forward, and how, and what I need for her is both good for communicating my workload as well as giving her the language she might need to communicate my value as an employee. If you don’t already have a standing 1:1 meeting, I recommend it.
    4) Consider working video chat in if you can’t get in at least monthly. I like structured video meetings planned in advance, just to remind everyone I exist and I’m a person.

    1. the Viking Diva

      I like these strategies – they all focus on *the work* first but secondarily enable the water cooler chat that generates the kinds of connections (‘Hey, there’s this other thing I meant to ask you’ ) that are really what the OP is after.

  45. Kat

    I hated it at first but the biggest thing that has helped has been for me to join meetings via video skype. Yes I have to get dressed, showered and made up, clean my office (all things I hate)but since doing that its more like I am apart of the team. I also cover the costs to come in the office (4 states away) when we have a training or for the Christmas party at least once a year. Also if the company covers my costs to come in I pay for the team to have a meal, so many people get upset or irritated at the WAH person that gets a hotel stay and all expenses paid to come in the office and they have to cover all their meals.

    I have been fully remote for 6 years.

  46. Didi

    Do you ever send gifts to people in the main office?

    For example, let’s say there’s a big meeting and everyone attends in person except for you (you attend by phone). If you sent a box of candy or a muffin basket or whatnot, people would remember you. Also holidays and other occasions, such as new people starting, or reorg meetings. Imagine if you sent everyone a bottle of local hot sauce before the 4th of July holiday, for example – people would remember that!

    Yeah, it costs a few bucks but think of all the money you save on commuting costs! These do not need to be expensive or elaborate. People tend to really connect with food in office settings especially. You would need someone in the office who can be your point person to accept the box you send and be sure the contents are distributed to everyone.

  47. MommyMD

    Check in visually every few weeks. Teleconference. FaceTime, Skype, etc. Even for a few minutes. Let them know you are invested, alive, out there and working, and do occasionally shower. Good luck!

  48. Green Great Dragon

    Do you have regular conference calls? For smaller groups and people we work with often we usually start off with less formal stuff – who’s busy, who’s got domestic emergencies, who’s got the good weather and who the bad (British, OK?). If you make sure you’re the first to dial in you can start it off with the other early people. (If you’re doing everything by text-based methods, I’d really recommend using phone calls more.) And occasional calls with close colleagues for a general catch-up – work-focused but a chance to get some of these relevant-but-not-formally-communicated stuff like staff changes, who to go to when the ordering system is playing up, the one helpful person in HR…

    I echo video calls, which may be easier if you start with 1-1 calls rather than moving a whole meeting over. It’d be odd in our office to start IM’ing/Slacking people without good reason.

    (context – we’re split site so I have many close colleagues I’ve never set eyes on)

  49. BRR

    I am going to sort of go against the suggestion of video calls. I work partially from home and haven’t found them to connect people when I’m in the office or connect me when I’m at home. I will suggest phone or skype calls versus email. I think there is a big leap from text to voice, but not as big of a leap from voice to image.

  50. nnn

    I think the suggestion of whether to go to video calls would depend on your organization’s culture around video calls and on people’s individual preferences.

    If they’re into them, great! But if not, you’re trying to push them to do something they don’t want to for the sole purpose of your own self-promotion. (Because no matter how much you may wrap it up in mutually-beneficial language, your question is about your own reputation management, not about team cohesion or anything.)

  51. the Viking Diva

    I want to push back on the emphasis on socializing and friendliness in many of these ideas. The OP is not feeling lonely or noticing a shortage of kitten videos in her life; rather she (using Alison’s default pronoun) is concerned that the lack of social connections will hinder her *professional* growth and opportunities.

    OP, if you are going to spend extra time and effort to be visible, a better focus would be to figure out how to be seen as competent, useful and relevant in the *work* of the company or your group. Are you included in meetings where you can offer useful ideas? If not, how can you be sure you are? (your boss can help here) When you do have a meeting, do you always make a point to offer an idea, reinforcing comment, clarifying question? What value are you adding to online chats?

    One way to think of this is as building social capital through your interactions: what are you giving to the folks in your networks that will make you more likely to also receive the benefits you would like? Paul Jarvis has a piece on social capital that has some good ideas of how to do this (being helpful, showing gratitude, staying in touch… you can google it, ‘what is social capital’). He is writing for freelancers but in a way your position is similar; you are going to have to be a bit more entrepreneurial than the on-site folks to reap the benefits, and it is a kind of self-marketing to demonstrate the value you add to a project or work group.

    I do agree with others’ suggestions that you may want to show up in person a bit more often. Maybe you can use some meeting as an excuse to show up, then stay a little longer than strictly needed, and find other reasons to meet (efficiently) with folks on site – ‘I want to update you on X because I thought what I’m learning might be relevant to what you do on Y,’ ‘I’m working on Q, which reminded me of your work on P and I wanted to pick your brain about the approach you used’ (whatever is appropriate in your setting). You can still hunker down in a conference room or coffee shop and do your regular work in between. I agree about the affordances of face visibility in video meetings too.

    1. Colette

      If the OP has a personal friendly relationship with her coworkers, they will be more likely to share informal information, which is a big part of what she is missing now. So if she sends the occasional message that says “I hear you guys got a ton of snow last night, we were hit with it last week” or “Hope you had a good weekend” and develops a habit of casual chat with people who are similarly inclined, she will be more likely to hear about work-related-but-not-official stuff she’d like to know. This is in addition to being competent and useful in her work, not instead of.

      1. the Viking Diva

        OP already explained that she’s a good worker; my comment is about how to have that good work be seen and valued. Focusing on the social part of a relationship is an indirect route that may or may not yield the desired outcomes, while building social capital in one’s professional spheres is a much more direct interventions.

  52. Stuff

    I actually really recommend implementing video chat including group video chat for meetings. While you may have to shower :) the face time is invaluable for keeping your face in people’s minds. A disembodied voice or email is not as good for personal relationships. My husband works almost 100% from home for a job in another state. They have been fantastic at keeping him part of the team using video chats and including him in small ways where remote workers often get forgotten. i.e. when they had a celebration with champagne they sent him a split of bubbly and did the toast on video chat.

  53. 653-CXK

    Here is my experience of the three or so years I worked from home at ExJob (sorry if it’s a little long):

    1) I only worked two days a week from home, because I was so used to being in the office. Granted, the commute to the office was 1-1/2 hours on public transit, but three days a week at the office made me feel useful (and we all had one-on-ones anyway). We did have opportunities to work from home five days a week, but two was more than enough for me.

    2) If you elect to work from home, you lost your desk, thus you have to reserve hoteling space. (My “desk” was in my laptop bag, and my files were often in Microsoft OneNote.) I could hotel anywhere between the two buildings, but one of the days I had to hotel where my supervisor was for one-on-ones. In addition, once the entire company received laptops, the company no longer had to give everyone the day free when there was snow; you could work from home or take ET.

    3) In my department, we experimented with call-ins for all-staff and team meetings – until management realized some people were dead lost on how to use a mute button on the soft phone. Thus, for all staff and team meetings, everyone was forced to come in from home…which introduced a new problem of people snapping up prime hoteling spots thirty seconds after the announcement went online. Some people who hadn’t been near the office in months had to come in and try to find a space.

    If you had training or refresher courses, you also had to come in. This was so trainers could give written tests.

    4) We were required to have on was our phone and instant messenger in case managers/supervisors could get a hold of us. Most of the time, they contacted us by email (“Hey, can you take a look at this and get back to me?”) but there were times IM messages popped up if it was extra urgent.

    5) The good thing about WFH is that I could get my laundry done while I was working on something, and usually I had the TV/music on for noise. I could also take lunch whenever I liked, and as long as you maintained your time and did your work, management often left you alone. If you didn’t, management had no qualms in disciplining people – one person got canned as they used their WFH to babysit their kids or get them from preschool.

    6) If you were on a PIP and/or had a write-up (initial, written, final), your WFH privileges were revoked.

    7) Since we were a HIPPA compliant office, anything that had to be printed out had to wait until you got to the office so you could print it out on a secure printer – no exceptions.

    In my honest opinion: I didn’t like working from home as much as I thought I would, and realized despite public transportation problems, I prefer working in the office. In the beginning, it was great – if there were storms, if it was too cold/hot, I felt more productive. In other times, it was so isolating and lonely that I couldn’t wait to get back to the office on Monday, just so I wouldn’t be sitting at home.

    1. MaraEmerald

      Mind kind of blown that they thought it was easier to make people come in physically than yell at them to shut off the microphone.

      1. 653-CXK

        All my former colleagues had to do was click a small button on their headphone receiver and/or phone…yet the cross-talk and the amount of “hello, who’s this?” in one dreadful all-staff meeting rendered this convenience “unsuitable,” according to upper management, hence the demand that everyone come in for all-staff and team meetings.

  54. Galahad

    I work with a lot of people that are assigned to the client sites for 6 months to 2 years. Being disconnected is a real thing and in our industy the “out of sight” people are the first ones to be let go when downsizing and do not get promotions. To counter this, we try to have a monthly breakfast meeting (some people video in, and not everyone can make it).

    I also highly recommend going and working FT at your office location for 3-4 months every two years. Yep. Rent a room in an apartment and just do it if you can.

    The 2 year mark is the danger point for remote workers.

  55. Earthwalker

    If your team does hybrid meetings – local people go to a conference room with a speaker phone, remote workers dial in – ask that at least some meetings be entirely remote. In a conference room people can hold multiple conversations at once and use visual cues to break into the discussion, freezing remote workers out of the discussion and making them invisible. When everyone dials in from home or office desk, whether with video or even just audio, everyone must use the same conversational cues. Then remote people have the same presence that office workers do. People in the office may say that meeting face to face is necessary, but that’s just an excuse not to learn the kind of effective remote communication skills that everyone needs in these days of global business.

  56. JSPA

    If you have the space, and live someplace people might go to (or pass through) for meetings or vacations, you could offer to put traveling coworkers up for a day or two. Would require cleaning and showering. ; )

  57. Renee

    I work in an office where about 60% of the staff work remotely from home 80 to 100% of the time. I currently do two days in the office and three days at home, and have gone multiple weeks/months where I have solely worked from home. My advice to the OP is depending on your job and how much interaction you have with co-workers throughout the day (and by that I mean working on projects together or just regularly emailing work), you are probably a lot more thought of than you think. Personally, I work with lots of people who I only see maybe once a year in person, but we regularly work together throughout the year, and I base my opinion of them based off of how hard they work and what dependable co-workers they are, whether or not we talk about their kids soccer game or dog is irrelevant to whether or not I like them and think they are good employees. Also if that personal connection is important to you, sometimes IMing another person just “How they are?” can start a conversation like that, if the person wants to keep the relationship purely about work they’ll normally not reply back or just steer it back to work. I have a good co-worker friend who works remotely 100% of time and we like talking about our day and what our dog is doing, working remotely doesn’t mean you can’t make any co-worker friends, it’s just a different type of friendship.

  58. KitKat100000

    I work in a small company (35 employees) where we have five offices around the country and additional employees that work remotely in other states. Some of the following may help:

    1. Call instead of emailing – this is my BIGGEST RECOMMENDATION!! CALL CALL CALL!
    2. Text instead of emailing (it can be a quick way to catch up, if you have company phones and your company is a company that texts – some are and some aren’t)
    3. Attend conferences where your coworkers will be present
    4. Ask if your company will pay for you to come to the office quarterly, as opposed to annually
    5. Ask your colleagues about their families and lives outside of work
    6. Are there any other remote colleagues in your area that you can get together with?
    7. Don’t accept stagnation in your career, just because you’re remote!
    8. Ask your boss and colleagues about any special projects – offer to help as much as you can with all projects!
    9. Try to get your boss to host an off-site annual retreat for your team (although their might be push back from onsite team members, so maybe on-site, depending on the team)
    10. Ask your boss to pay for you to attending the company holiday party or annual picnic or whatever your company has
    11. Could you occasionally videochat to get more face time with your colleagues?

    I think in general, it’s just making the extra effort to make sure people remember you’re around – doing some or all of the above should help!

  59. Lisa

    This might not be immediately helpful, but something to consider if you (or anyone reading this) plan to work remotely again in the future:

    I work for a company that is entirely remote. Other companies call themselves “remote-first” or “remote-focused,” and you want to look for those keywords when applying for remote roles.

    One thing that works well in partially-remote companies is to have a virtual water cooler of sorts. Maybe you get on a video call at 10:30am every Thursday and stay in the call until 11. People can drop in and out of the call for a few minutes to say hello.

  60. Bulbasaur

    I have done this at times in the past and I’m very familiar with the problem. My two main suggestions would be to find ways to be physically present as much as possible (obviously within whatever limits are reasonable and practical for you) and to encourage an online culture for meetings and collaboration.

    The second point can be raised with management if you like to enlist their help. The argument is that if you are moving towards a hybrid workforce, then doing business via purely physical means like conversations at a desk, gathering around a whiteboard in the hall etc. is excluding part of your workforce and using only a subset of your total resources. A set of “instead of X, try Y” type guidelines could help with this (instead of chatting with colleagues at your desk, try all getting onto a hangout or video chat). They should be easy and seamless, and work well enough that the benefit of including remote colleagues is worth any drop in convenience.

    Video conferencing really helps a lot. You want to be more than just words on a screen. If people can see and hear you talking then it gives you more of a chance to project your personality and take up mind space.

    (Personally I also found that working remotely meant I needed to make extra effort to keep my social skills honed so they didn’t atrophy, and that one of the things I relied on an in-person workplace for was to practice being around actual people for long periods. But if you’ve been doing it for a few years then you’ve probably already faced that problem, and either dealt with it or come to terms).

  61. Rich

    I’m in a field sales role, so that means I home office and visit customers when meetings are scheduled. It’s a bit different, because practically everyone in my role world-wide home-offices, including my boss, his boss, and maybe even his boss, other than a few people whose sales territory coincidentally overlaps with corporate HQ — they go to the office.

    However, it’s still difficult to build the relationships and connections that make it easier to succeed, easier to advance, etc.

    I work at this by explicitly asking for semi-formal contact points. I asked my boss for a mentor or other point of contact outside of my reporting structure that would be willing to meet regularly (we settled on semi-monthly) and talk about … whatever. It’s mostly work, overarching company issues, where I’m successful or need to develop, what the company needs to be successful at X, what’s the subtext of this executive change, etc. It’s also turned into a friendship, which is nice, but wasn’t the point (just a bonus).

    Similarly, I’m interested in moving up in the world, and I make a point to make this entirely clear to my grand-boss at appropriate times. We actually have a call scheduled for next week called “Rich’s career planning” — the idea of career planning is a separate set of issues, but it worked better than “Rich seeks to achieve world domination, and how you can help”.

    This sort of thing isn’t as good as being continually in front of people where you can frequently be seen as helpful, successful, valuable. But openly asking for regular squeaky-wheel connections does two things. It helps get focused time in front of people that are good to have in your corner as you do your job, and it puts on peoples’ calendars literal reminders that say “Rich is out there, you need to spend time thinking about him”.

  62. LRB

    I have been remote in a number of roles, and in one of them we occasionally did remote happy hours (when one of us was leaving for another job) or remote coffee dates- using video chat-, to get to know folks outside of purely work situations, and to identify other areas of common interests or work overlap. Highly recommended!
    Also, emailing folks you are friendly with when you get some good personal news now and then can do a lot – “hey, I just got a new puppy, here is a photo!” or if you live in a place that’s particularly snowy, send in a picture of your buried car on a day when they’re having great weather (or vice versa!).

  63. just trying to help

    Routinely reach out in writing or via phone or voice chat to peers even in other departments. Staying in touch is the most important aspect of this work arrangement. Too often, when working at home alone we can also get in our own heads too much and not have the face to face time to express ideas, opinions, and ask questions. When in doubt, reach out.

  64. Home Based Worker FTW!

    Hi, all! OP here.

    Reading through the suggestions, I see a few themes emerge I want to think through and address. Some of the suggestions are things I’m already doing, which was great to see; others, I can do more of:

    1. I can’t afford to go into the office quarterly. It’s a 12-hour drive, or a (usually) $500 flight. Plus hotel. Not to mention, with two small kids at home, my leaving throws the house into a bit of chaos. I could swing a trip or two a year on me, though, and will talk with another remote worker in my department to see if she has appetite for that as well. Culturally speaking, for me to show up for the holiday party, etc, would be viewed as very strange, though I’d be welcome.

    2. I can video chat more, though it’s really not our culture, and my work generally doesn’t involve meetings with those above me. I don’t know that it would “get” me anything I want to get, but it’s worth considering.

    3. My manager is not an issue at all, and it’s funny how many people suggested I have frequent one-on-ones with her. I do. We also work very closely together. It’s rare that I day goes by where we don’t email/IM/have contact. She’s a very big supporter of mine.

    4. We don’t use Slack (an attempt failed last year) but they are pushing MS Teams on us. I don’t love the feel of it – it’s very inorganic – but I can push myself there as well. I have stepped up my sharing of items with peers: things that maybe are tangentially related to our work, random interesting facts about my climate (as it differs from theirs).

    6. When brought into the office, it’s usually for a one-day meeting, and I always stay the full week. It’s a taxing week, but necessary.

    Thanks to all who chimed in and offered suggestions! I appreciate you taking the time to help me out. and glad to see I’m doing some of these things already. I’m hopeful that I stay a remote worker for a long, long time, and we all know it’s not always only the work we do that ensures that.

  65. WantonSeedStitch

    I think that making use of Slack or some other kind of messaging application is a great idea. It’s something I always ask my reports to do when they work from home, and something I do as well. It makes it easier to have informal, real-time conversations with people. Phone is good too, but I feel like a lot of people find there’s more of a mental “don’t-want-to-bother-them” barrier to overcome to pick up the phone and call someone, than there is to send them a chat message. But don’t be afraid to call either. And, as some other people have said, more social conversations are fine too. After all, those kinds of conversations happen in person in the office all the time! Ask folks what they’re doing for the weekend. Share articles they might find interesting. And maybe look into the possibility of occasional video chats, if your company has the equipment for it. I think that actually being able to see you while talking to you would help keep you in people’s minds!

  66. Skeeder Jones

    My whole team works remotely and we get together 3 times a year. We definitely use our messaging system to keep in touch and I generally have chit-chat conversations with people daily. As my work projects change, the people I work with on a daily basis change but I try to keep in touch with those co-workers that I have worked with on past projects. Sometimes I’ll find myself really connecting with someone and we’ll set up a morning call before everyone gets started with the work day where we’ll meet for “virtual coffee” just to catch up. It’s been great for developing and maintaining relationships where we really don’t see each other.

  67. FatCat

    Many people here have excellent ideas. Having been someone in the main office working with a team of 16 or so co-workers who were all remote, though, I did encounter quite a bit of “I don’t know how to do basic task, since I am remote” or “Can you spend a few hours each quarterly meeting doing a presentation to your remote colleagues tellingus how you do x, y and z since I am remote and it’s harder for us to learn how to do that stuff” or “I’ll call when I’m getting my kids off the bus at 4 pm and I know that’s 7 pm your time but I’m remote so” or “Is so and so in the office? They’re not answering their phone. Can you go down three flights to see if they’re there?” My favorite was to come in and find a remote employee visiting HQ sitting in my office, hooked up to my work station and his feet on my desk!

    I always responded with incredulity to inane requests and bad behavior – apparently there had been a bad habit of treating those in the office (at the same level!) as errand runners or brain trusts or luggage watchers or coffee fetchers since “I don’t know how to use the coffee maker, since I am remote.” It took concerted effort by management to change that on the part of the remote workers but my suggestion is to NOT be that colleague. :)

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