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“Many remote employees use ‘virtual’ face time to make up for their absence from the office,” write Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable in “Why Showing Your Face Matters,” in the Summer 2012 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.
Their article describes how “employees who work remotely may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office — even if they work just as hard and just as long.”
For the last decade, Elsbach and Cable have studied the concept of “passive face time,” meaning simply being observed at work. Their research shows that being seen has great power: “Especially in white-collar settings, the presence or absence of passive face time may influence evaluations used to determine the fitness of employees for specific tasks such as team leadership.”
Their research looked at the issue from the perspective of hundreds of corporate workers, including both supervisors and subordinates. They used observation,unstructured interviews and tightly controlled experiments, they say.
So how do remote workers create this passive face time? Here are some common tactics, with comments from employees in Elsbach and Cable’s study:
Make regular phone or e-mail status reports. Used by 83% of remote workers.
“When I work from home, I send my colleagues e-mail messages reporting progress. I try to make them aware that, while they left at 5 p.m., I am still working after 9 p.m.”
Be extra visible when in the office. Used by 35% of remote workers.
“I make sure I meet with my supervisor every time I’m in the office to make sure he sees me and I can update him on what I’ve accomplished.”
Be immediately available at home. Used by 26% of remote workers.
“When I’m working from home I respond immediately to e-mails, so that somebody isn’t sitting around saying, ‘She’s not in the office today so now I’ve got to wait for her to get back to me.’ I make sure I respond to people just as quickly as I would if I was in the office. It’s not like I’m sitting in the back yard sunbathing.”
Get others to talk you up. Used by 22% of remote workers.
“Whenever I get a chance I go say hello [to my peers and the other directors], say a couple of words about what I’m working on. The more they see me, the more they are going to remember me when it comes time for my appraisal.”
E-mail or voice mail early or late in the day. Used by 20% of remote workers.
“I send voice mail late in the evening because my boss’s voice mail system would report what time the message was left and if it came from home or work. It was an important cue that I was working hard, even though he couldn’t see me.”
For more details about the perils and tactics around remote work, see the full article, “Why Showing Your Face Matters.” Elsbach is a professor of management and the Stephen G. Newberry Endowed Chair in Leadership at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis, and Cable is a professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School.