My journey as a teleworking mom started almost ten years ago after I had my older son. I was coming back to work and in the process of changing roles at Cisco Systems. I live in North Carolina and had a job opportunity for a leader based in California. She knew that I wasn’t in a position to move and given we were already on opposite sides of the country, was supportive of my working from home. Thus my journey started as an individual contributor, working for a manager who based the decision to provide me flexibility on my track record of contribution at Cisco and her trust in my ability to do the job outside of an office.
Since then, I’ve been a part of the dramatic changes that have place in the workplace. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article on flexible work practices, the mobile worker population will be approximately 1.3 billion by 2015. At Cisco, almost 50% of our employees are collaborating with peers in other time zones and almost 90% telecommute at least one day per week. In many of our emerging countries, employees view flexibility as a right that is expected, versus a privilege that is earned.
My life has evolved as well. I’ve had another child and become a manager of a virtual team, with responsibility for a number of HR processes, including flexible work practices at Cisco. My experiences have offered me a few insights on how to be effective in our increasingly virtual world of work. Let me share these with you.
From an employee perspective, I have three tips that I think have been important toward my success.
- Be clear in how you’ll add value. Being successful as a teleworker requires a clear focus on how you’ll demonstrate value within the organization. Perceptions are still often formed by interactions that occur in the office. Thus for an employee who doesn’t have these interactions on a regular basis, there’s a greater emphasis on results delivered and demonstrated value to the organization.
- Create the appropriate work setting. Having flexibility in your work environment requires greater intentionality of how you get work done. This includes creating the appropriate setting for where and when you work and how you’ll collaborate with peers or your team.
1) Create a defined space for work. If you are a working parent, this needs to be a child free zone.
2) Establish boundaries between work and personal time. It’s critical to manage expectations around these times, not only with colleagues, but also family.
- Collaborate virtually! Without having natural collaboration that occurs in an office setting, it’s important to ensure you leverage collaboration technology to stay connected with colleagues. At Cisco, we have the ability to collaborate through our WebEx platform for virtual meetings, chat and social media-based interactions.
As a virtual manager, there are two additional tips that I’d share.
- Establish measurable objectives for your team. Because you aren’t physically present with your team, it becomes even more critical to have measurable and defined objectives. These should contribute toward the defined value that you intend to deliver within the organization.
- Take extra time to build relationships. Without having regular interaction at an office for relationships to organically grow, you will need to place extra emphasis on how you’ll establish strong and trusting relationships with your team. This will likely be different for each individual and will require being thoughtful and making the time to ensure this happens.
By doing these things as both an individual contributor and manager, I’ve been able to sustain a high level of impact at Cisco and still preserve a meaningful family life. I’ve been able to enjoy both the reward of making a difference both and work and with my sons!