I am in the advice business. Over the years I’ve heard—even given—some terrible guidance. But there’s one thing I hear from a lot of new remote workers, and it’s awful, terrible, horrible advice:
“Keep your head down, do your job, and your work will speak for itself.” This might sound like reasonable for remote workers at first glance, but let’s break down why it’s incorrect and possibly dangerous to your career and sanity.
Keep your head down.
We hear a lot of this in society. “The nail that sticks its head up gets whacked with a hammer.” When people say this, they usually mean well and it is about two different things.
First, they are saying not to get involved with office politics and all the crazy energy that can swirl when you work in the office. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons people enjoy working from home or in “third locations.” There are a couple of problems with this approach. For one thing, if your head isn’t on a swivel you often don’t see change, bad news, or problems coming and everything comes as a (usually unpleasant) surprise. Also, if you keep your head down, you won’t be noticed. That’s the second problem.
They are telling you not to draw attention to yourself. “Go about your job, don’t toot your own horn, and don’t bring attention to yourself.” While it’s good advice not to be a braggart and make everything about you, one of the most common complaints of remote workers is that we are overlooked for assignment, often left out of important conversations, and passed over for promotion, since we work from home we obviously aren’t interested in advancing our careers.
Do your job.
Why is this problematic? That’s kind of why we are getting paid. The problem may reside in which word gets the emphasis in that sentence. Yes, you need to do your job at a high level of quality and meet all the standards and job expectations. But when you work remotely, there is a tendency to focus only on your job. This can mean not getting involved in team discussions, volunteering to assist the manager or your teammates, because—well—that’s not your job. Yeah it is. Staying engaged with the team and not going down the rabbit hole of your own tasks at the expense of the big picture is one of the biggest challenges of remote and flexible work.
The work will speak for itself.
And there you have it. This is the biggest problem. Your work should speak for itself. In a just universe we’d be judged solely by the quality of our outputs and nothing else. And when you find that just universe, let us know. Until then our work will always come wrapped in how people perceive our efforts, our style, and our personalities. Even when you work with your teammates, it’s easy to get overlooked or subsume your contributions for the good of the team. Sometimes that’s healthy and the right thing to do, assuming that others will recognize your efforts.
When you work remotely, it can be extremely difficult for your work to stand out from everyone else’s. And if it doesn’t, the odds of getting that important new assignment, that stellar performance review, and the positive feedback you need to stay engaged become lower and lower.
A phrase that you’ll hear a lot in these pages over the next little bit, is “ethical visibility.” It means making sure that you and your work are noticed and appreciated without crossing the line into self-aggrandizing, bragging or just plain being a weasel. It’s an important part of our 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate program, and the work Kevin and I are doing on our upcoming book The Long-Distance Teammate: Stay engaged and connected while working anywhere.
No, you don’t want to run around screaming “look at me.” You don’t want to get caught up in gossip and office politics. But if you don’t stay engaged, aware of what’s going on around you and take responsibility for your own work and career, that well meaning-advice can turn out to be very, very bad.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.