Out of sight out of mind

Working remotely for my employer on the other side of the world I had to learn a new way of working. The inherent lack of visibility is a key aspect to this new working methodology.

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Of the many challenges that I have faced in over a decade of remote working from such distance the psychological ones associated with not being visible are some of the most difficult ones to contend with.

It’s not always easy for businesses to measure output and so, instead, input is often focused on as the performance metric. For example, if somebody does the same amount of work in four days as it takes another to do in six days, then it will often be the latter that is best received as they worked all week, and even put in a day at the weekend. This is a way of thinking that is difficult to shift in all of us. It’s not surprising that input is often judged more than output as, without accurate metrics for measurement, much of this judgment happens on a visual level.

As well as the perception of you from the perspective of those back in the office there are also the worries that you will have in your own mind. George Ball; a US Undersecretary of State in JFK’s and LBJ’s administrations famously said: ‘Nothing propinks like propinquity.’ By this he meant that nothing fosters a good relationship better than close proximity. Ball popularised this general theme in politics and went on to expand on this idea with what eventually came to be known as the ‘Ball Rule of Power’ which states that: ‘The more direct access you have to the President, the greater your power, no matter what your title actually is.’ This is consistent with much of our own thinking about how the organisations that we work within operate. The idea of removing ourselves from that inner circle and distancing ourselves from the leader (the President) is going against our deeply engrained set of beliefs.

If you are considering becoming a remote worker then taking the time to define your performance metrics is probably the most important thing that you can do prior to setting out on your big adventure. With this new way of working radically challenging how our efficiency is managed and recorded it is more important than ever to put measurable and objective gauges in place.

As children, we have a simplistic view that there are employees and the boss. The reality is, in most companies, everybody has a boss and you have to go a long way up the chain of command before you get to the ‘big boss,’ and even he or she potentially has bosses in the form of share-holders. We are all accountable to somebody else and, as a remote worker, your boss will need to have a good handle on your efficiency levels in order to report to their boss (who in turn reports to theirs and so it goes on).

Having previously been a manager myself I definitely found it was much easier for me to understand what my manager would want to see from me in terms of efficiency and productivity. I understood that he wasn’t asking because he was judging me or wanted to give me a hard time but simply because my accountability to him was directly related to his accountability to his boss, and so on.

By taking some time to proactively define the ways which your performance will be judged, you’ll be giving yourself and your boss a measurable gauge with which to determine your output levels. This should enable you to have a better understanding of what is expected of you and some objective accountability. It will also provide you with some targets to beat, with your work-time now being more focused and productive.

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