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Telecommuters Face Perception Gap

Telecommuters Face Perception Gap

By Tom Musbach, Yahoo! HotJobs

Telecommuters must navigate a paradoxical new challenge in the workplace, according to a survey. While a large majority of executives believe telecommuters are equally or more productive than their peers who work in offices, many of those same business leaders believe telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers.

The survey found that 61 percent of executives downgraded telecommuters' advancement chances compared with those of employees who work in traditional office settings. 

Despite their negative outlook, 78 percent of executives still regarded telecommuters as productive employees, according to the survey from Futurestep, a subsidiary of Korn/Ferry International.

Face Time Is Key

The gap suggests that a worker's "face time" with a supervisor plays a big role in advancement, experts say, but it may also point to the tenacity of an old-school way of thinking about corporate success.

"The majority of these executives are most likely baby boomers and traditionalists," says Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions in Northampton, Massachusetts.

"The mindset is similar to that of seasoned physicians training new doctors: 'I had to endure working 80-hour weeks for minimal pay, so you will too,'" she adds.

A total of 1,320 executives from 71 countries took the survey. Ages of the respondents were not available, according to Korn/Ferry.

Results, Not Roll-Call

"Employers are measuring the wrong things," Matuson says. "They should be concerned with results, yet they still focus on who's been in the office every night past eight."

Chuck Wilsker, president of the Washington, DC-based Telework Coalition, agrees that some senior business leaders need to shift their approach.

"To be an effective manager in the 21st century will require that there be a change in management style," he says. "Managers must be trained and become aware of the requirements to manage a remote and distributed workforce."

Plan for Visibility

Telecommuters, however, must be proactive in increasing their visibility with managers, says William Arruda, author of Bullet-Proof Your Career.

Arruda offers the following tips for telecommuters:

  • Communicate more frequently than you would if you were at the office, through regular progress reports or quick check-in calls.
  • Use instant messaging to stay connected throughout the day, but make sure you follow IM etiquette and don't annoy people.
  • Commit to being onsite for important meetings and events. Telecommuting doesn't mean never going into the office. 
  • Speak up during conference calls, always saying your name before making a point, such as, "This is Janice, and I would suggest…"
  • Find a way to add value to the business from your location, such as meeting with local clients or heading the local chapter of a professional association.
  • Increase your visibility outside your company.  Sometimes the value you create externally makes you more valuable internally.

Increasingly, companies are using telecommuting to retain talented employees. With good communication skills, you can make sure the benefit doesn't become a burden on your prospects for advancement.

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