How to Silence the Skeptics When Working From Home

“If people work at home, how can one tell how well they are doing or whether they are working at all?”

That’s a direct quote from a 1979 Washington Post article, but, even without distractions like Instagram and Tinder, it could have been written yesterday.

That’s because working from home has always drawn its fair share of skeptics, long before the internet popularized it.

Hopefully, if you’re one of the 8 million Americans who work from home each day, your boss is on board. But you might not realize that having a home office means you need to take extra steps to keep them in the loop.

1. Seek out a direct connection

When you’re in the office, you might email back and forth with your coworkers every day, or use an institutional instant messenger app like Slack.

Illustration of man and woman talking around a water cooler. Working From Home pbs rewireCredit: Adobe
One of the downsides to working from home is losing that day-to-day small talk with your manager and your coworkers.

It’s one of the fastest ways to get something across, and it’s a built-in record keeper. But it’s also easy to misread the tone of an email.

“I think that there’s a tendency to interpret emails one step more negatively than they’re meant,” said Kay Blassingame, a licensed professional counselor.

Instead of defaulting to email, try calling up a colleague or using a video chat service instead. You might find that getting rid of the back-and-forth makes the conversation even more productive.

If you’re worried about losing that built-in conversation record, you can always send a follow-up email documenting the results of the conversation to everyone involved. Just summarize the convo and make note of next steps.

This way, not only can you stay better organized, you can also make sure you’re on the same page with your colleagues, even from far away.

[ICYMI: Is Using Email Wrong Killing Your Workday?]

2. Default to over-communication

Any job comes with some amount of independence, but when you’re not physically in the office, it can be hard for your manager to know where you’re at on a project.

“I think it’s important for the employee to proactively reach out to the manager and let them know what they’re doing, and highlight the projects that they have completed,” career coach Kim Bartels said.

That means, while your manager may not send you an email to find out what you’re up to, you can take the initiative to keep them in the loop.

That will show you’re prioritizing them and their assignments, and that you can be trusted to complete tasks at home.

Forget to keep them posted, and you might not only lose some degree of trust, but you might end up being passed over for certain projects or a promotion.

It’s true that when you’re out of sight, it’s easier to be out of mind. So speaking up can go a long way.

“There’s value in being a squeaky wheel,” Bartels said.

3. Determine your manager’s expectations up front

As soon as you get the go-ahead to work from home, even every so often, you should check with your manager to make sure you’re on the same page.

Do they want you to still work a 9 to 5? Do they care if you start late and work late, or split your shift to accommodate a workout? Do you need to be available at all hours? Should you take your lunch at a certain time each day?

Every workplace is different, so it’s up to you to find out what the expectations are.

Even though the stereotype might be that people who work from home end up lounging around all day, some research indicates that people who work from home actually end up working longer hours than those in the office.

So it’s important to set your own boundaries, too, and communicate those to your manager. Working from home isn’t a go-ahead to work 24-7.

“There can be more confusion with people who work from home,” Bartels said. “You’re going to be seen in a better light if you’re more intentional and thoughtful and proactive about what you’re doing.”

4. Get into the office a few days a week if you can

One of the downsides to working from home is losing that day-to-day small talk with your manager and your coworkers.

While talking about the weather doesn’t seem important, it actually plays a part in building relationships and getting to know the people you work with.

So if your office is within a reasonable distance, it may be worth it to make the commute every so often. If it’s not, you can plan a visit and get to know the people you work with that way.

“Even if that’s not part of (your) job description, seek ways to get together with people on a social basis,” Blassingame said.

You’ll work better with your coworkers when you know them well. It’s hard to build a personal connection with your colleagues without seeing them.

And, because working from home can be isolating, making a point to talk to your coworkers can help with any loneliness you feel.

Gretchen Brown

Gretchen has reported on the criminal justice system in rural Minnesota and covered everything from politics to millennial truck drivers for Wisconsin Public Radio. She is passionate about public media as a public service. She’s also into music and really good coffee. Follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.