Whether you’ve been a home office employee for a large part of your career or are just dipping your toes into the home office world, you would likely agree that the advantages of working from a home office are plentiful. Shedding the commute. Achieving a healthier work-life balance. Encountering fewer interruptions. Spending less money on a work wardrobe. I am a home office employee and these benefits have had a major impact on my ability to be productive during the workday and more available for my family than I would otherwise be. However, as convenient as it is to work at home, I would argue that home office employees should take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to have face to face, professional interactions with co-workers, clients, and professional colleagues to stay on top of their game. Read on to learn more about how getting out of the home office on a regular basis can foster both professional and personal development.
Staying in is Easy, Getting Out can be Hard
Once settled into a life of working from a home office, let’s face it, many of us just want to stay there. We can work in our fuzzy slippers if we wish. We can pick our kids up from school. We can run errands or take our dog for a walk at lunchtime. We can keep the thermostat where we like it. Rain, sleet, snow – no worries for us because we don’t have to commute in it.
The problem is that if we are full-time home office employees and don’t take advantage of opportunities to interact with other professionals, we can get thrown off our professional game. Working at home all of the time can lead to isolation and stagnation, both personally and professionally. That feeling of stagnation may cause us to become disengaged and out of touch with the company or client culture. We could miss out on informal opportunities for networking and socializing. And the worst part is that once we start to feel isolated and stagnant, it can make it even harder to get out into a professional setting. The key is to recognize that isolation and stagnation can be natural byproducts of working from home, and try to head those off before they become problematic. Employees can find balance between enjoying the benefits of working from a home office and staying professionally engaged and connected. Here are a few tips.
3 Tips for Promoting Personal and Professional Development
1. Connect with your co-workers. Today’s technology makes keeping in close contact with your team a snap. Between videoconferencing, file sharing, instant messaging, and the good old-fashioned phone call, it can feel like you are surrounded by your team throughout your work day. But staying in touch electronically is just not the same as interacting with your team face to face on a more personal level. I work for a small firm with 12 employees, and although we are scattered across three states, we gather for a full day company-wide meeting one day per month. Despite the fact that my team stays in close contact electronically on a daily basis, meeting in person has proven to be invaluable. We are able to roll up our sleeves, spread out our papers, and collaborate in a meaningful way that doesn’t seem as effective over a video- or tele-conference. Plus, we always go out to lunch on meeting days so we have the opportunity to chat and catch up on a personal basis.
In fact, my team member Ted, who travels three and a half hours to the monthly meeting, said he finds that the face-to-face interactions with his managers and colleagues, and with our boss, give him a greater feeling of connectedness to the company. He adds that the social and professional relationships gained from these meetings are vital to making him feel like part of a team.
In addition to monthly meetings, our firm has annual teambuilding events that have run the gamut of activities, including human foosball, bowling, ropes course, archery, and a tomahawk throwing competition (to answer your question, yes, our company is run by an Eagle Scout!). We also have an annual holiday gathering where we exchange gifts and have a libation. Or two. Although we work separately in our individual homes, sharing in these activities together on a regular basis allows us to stay connected and feel like a team.
2. Connect with your clients. Although much of the interaction with clients can be handled electronically or over the phone, it’s also important to build and maintain relationships with clients face to face. The home office employee may be tempted to rely on email or phone calls to communicate with clients. It’s true this can be an efficient way to do business. However, the opportunity for communicating and developing an understanding of each other at a deeper level can be lost without regular in-person interactions. These interactions can take several forms – attending meetings, getting together for lunch, traveling for work-related activities together, or gathering for social activities outside of business hours. It’s important to learn and understand your clients’ preferences for face time and work within the parameters that best suit their work style. For instance, if your client telecommutes on Fridays, it’s best not to suggest a meeting on those days. If your client prefers to eat lunch at his or her desk, asking for a lunch meeting may not be the best approach. The key is to recognize the importance of in-person time with clients while also respecting your client’s schedule and preferences.
Although everyone in my company is a home office employee, we take advantage of a wide range of opportunities to spend time with our clients in a variety of settings. We look for opportunities to meet with clients onsite to discuss progress on projects and to better understand the client’s goals and expectations. My team members and I regularly travel with clients for several days at a time. These trips give us the opportunity to attend in-depth meetings with our clients, but also allow us to enjoy some free time together. After all, if you’re away from home for several days, why not enjoy the offerings of a city with the people you are traveling with? It’s all business during work hours, but we do let our hair down a bit to enjoy some local cuisine and sightseeing at the end of the work day. A lot of relationship building – and even friendship building – occurs once we change out of business suits and into comfy clothes for the evening.
3. Connect with your professional colleagues. Staying on top of our professional game requires us to be out among people in our industry sharing, learning, communicating, exchanging ideas, absorbing information, expanding our minds, and growing. Being part of professional organizations and establishing a professional network are crucial to being a successful, well-connected employee. Although it can seem daunting and inconvenient to travel to a conference or commute into a busy city to attend a meeting, the information shared at these events can keep employees on the leading edge of their industry. By taking the information we gather back to our organizations and co-workers, we are keeping our companies current and in the know. We are networking and making valuable connections that could be beneficial for our organizations. We are growing as professionals and experts in our field.
A few years ago, I obtained the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) certification to solidify my role and to remain current in the planning profession. I’ve also recently begun attending meetings of the Federal Real Property Association (FRPA), a community of federal real property practitioners to which my company belongs. This group brings together local professionals to discuss case studies, present best practices, and foster collaboration in the federal real property community. Attending AICP and FRPA meetings and conferences has expanded my professional network and exposed me to fresh, relevant ideas in the planning community. It puts me in touch with professionals who are on a similar path and people who are using their skills in innovative ways. Both of these groups also organize social gatherings, so there is an opportunity to engage with other professionals in a more casual setting – a great break from working in the home office!
Get Out and Get Connected!
If you find yourself at a place in your career where you are working from home, by all means enjoy its many benefits! But be sure to look for opportunities to engage in person with co-workers, clients, and your professional network on a regular basis. By making the commitment to get out of your home office, you will be making a significant investment in your personal and professional growth.