– To Telecommute or Not to Telecommute –

According to this post on Slashdot,

“Over 60% of 1,320 global executives surveyed by executive search firm Korn/Ferry International said they believe that telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers in comparison to employees working in traditional office settings. Company executives want face time with their employees, the study said.”

Despite this possibility, a significant number of survey respondents, 48 percent, indicated they would consider employment that involved telecommuting with 78 percent believing that those who telecommute are more productive than the traditional office based employee. Productivity aside, why is it that employee who work remotely are less likely to advance in their careers?

– Social Intelligence and Recency –

There are principles coming into play with regard to telecommuting, one being social intelligence, the other reaches back to our cognitive biases, the recency effect. With the concept of Social Intelligence we take social cues from being in contact with one another, making eye contact and observing body language. This is why some find speaking on the phone so difficult, why we needed to create emoticons for email and why virtual environments and instant message programs result in increased instances of flaming. Whereas the recency effect, that results from disproportionate salience of recent stimuli or observations, comes into play around the time of evaluations. Consider the following story.

I have a colleague whose company is currently undergoing a merger. As with any merger there is expected to be a duplication of tasks, meaning layoffs. The company practices a matrix form of management which means he reports to both a project manager and functional manager. Under this system he is constantly monitored by his project manager, however his semi-annual and annual evaluations are conducted by the functional manager, which resides in a different location on campus. During a recent performance review he was told he needs to get in more face time, indicating a majority of his work went unseen. Although he has been instrumental in his department, his appraisal is based on what the supervisor has observed over the past month that she had assumed the supervisor role.

– Communicate, Communicate, Communicate –

Though working in a traditional office setting, the principle applies equally to telecommuting. I am personally in favor of working remotely. With the proliferation of information technology there is no reason that many jobs may not be performed just as well, if not better, from home or the local Starbucks as they can be in the office. The real challenge is to increase communication channels with supervisors who are responsible for determining career advancement. This will not be a one-sided responsibility but instead an opportunity for both parties to work together to ensure achievements are recorded. Perhaps the promises of Web 2.0 technologies and enhanced video conferencing will provide the answer to this dilemma.