One of the most important things you can do as a remote worker is show up at the office every once in a while. There are certain responsibilities that come with a flexible work location and this is one of them.
I recently made one of these check-in trips.
I’ve been doing contract work for a company in San Diego for about a year. I work closely with a team of five and indirectly with a larger team of about 10 people. Until recently, I had only ever met one of them—the one who brought me on. When the team scheduled a calendar planning session for the coming year, I was invited to join them in person on the West Coast.
This is the kind of opportunity all contractors, freelancers, and remote workers need to embrace. I knew I had to go. But the decision was a little more complicated to come by this time. I was breastfeeding so I couldn’t leave my daughter behind. I also live on the East Coast so it meant flying across the country with an infant and no backup help at the airports. I also had to find someone I trusted on the other end who was willing to watch the baby during the all-day offsite meeting with my team.
I had a hundred excuses for why it would be too difficult to go, but I knew I had to make the trip. This is how strongly I believe in face time. Not only would I get to meet the team, but this meeting would set the tone for the coming year. We were making strategic decisions and it would have been hard to feel like I was a part of the group dynamic over the phone. I needed to be present.
The Value of Face Time
The beauty of remote work is that there are systems in place that allow you to do your work anywhere. It’s easy to buckle down and get your stuff done. Every now and again, however, you need to come up for air. You need to evaluate how things are going, make sure you’re still on task toward the larger goals, and reassess how you fit into the framework of the company. These on-site visits give you the chance to do that.
They also give you a chance to put a face—and a personality—to your emails. This little act goes a long way toward reaffirming your commitment to the company and instilling trust among your co-workers and with your boss.
Make the most your time at the office with these tips for planning your trip.
Rules of the Road
1. Be present for the big meetings. Try to plan your office visits around a planning session, training seminar, or kick-off meeting. Ideally you’ll focus on strategic initiatives or team building while you’re there. That way you can help lay the groundwork and cement yourself as part of the group. When you miss these key sessions, you run the risk of being an afterthought for new projects.
2. Make time for the small stuff. Although you’re planning these trips around big meetings, make time for the “small” stuff, too. Schedule one-on-ones with the team members you collaborate with most frequently. Even 20 to 30 minutes gives you enough time to talk about how things are going and addresses any tweaks or changes either of you might want to make to tasks and routines.
3. Plan for the visit. Sometimes these types of meetings require extra prep hours leading up to the trip. In addition to planning for the meetings, I like to work ahead if possible so that I can be fully present while there.
4. Be social. Office time is great, but happy hour is even better when it comes to forming relationships and creating memories with your team. Unfortunately I missed out on two key chances to be social in San Diego. The first was when the team went out for lunch during our break between sessions. The second involved the CEO. I sat down with him briefly during my visit to chat about my role on the team. Time was short so he suggested we talk some more over beers after work. In both cases, breastfeeding took precedence. Luckily he is a father of two and seemed to understand. If you’re not breastfeeding, however, I recommend making time to hang with the team in a more casual setting.
5. Know when to stay home. Just as important as knowing when to make the trip is knowing when to stay home. When my old company was going through a bunch of corporate changes, they brought in an interim manager who made some heavy waves. The energy was high and I was feeling desperate to show my face in an effort to avoid a layoff. The truth was that the company was so tumultuous at that time that an office visit would not have made much difference. I waited it out. A few months later, they flew me out to present at a client meeting. This proved a much more fruitful visit and it wasn’t on my own dime.