Virtual Work

When Only a Few are Virtual


Meeting When Not All are Present

You’re at a meeting–well, virtually. You’ve dialed in to a meeting with 6 or so members of your team who work physically together. They are sitting around the conference table with the squawk box (Polycom may be the technical term for it) in the center. The meeting starts out orderly but as the meeting progresses it devolves into clamour as spirited members attempt to speak over one another. Though it may be a productive discussion for those physically present, for you as a virtual participant it’s too hard to follow who’s talking, let alone jump in, so you retreat to finishing work tasks, checking email, scanning Facebook, or playing Tetris on your phone.

This scene may seem all too familiar.

The internet is replete with tips for running in-person meetings and for running virtual meetings. So what do you do when only some of your participants are virtual — when you have both in-person and remote attendees? All too often, what happens in such a “blended meeting” is that the virtual participants struggle to keep up with those who are physically present. Once you have even one person dialing in, in order for that member to be able to participate fully, and for your meeting to successfully accomplish its goals, you must understand that your meeting needs to be approached differently. A blended meeting is neither a virtual meeting, nor an in-person meeting. These “somewhere in the middle” meetings require their own framework; otherwise, your meeting will turn into an in-person meeting with a few lost souls trapped hopelessly in the ether!

There are different schools of thought on how best to approach a blended meeting. One school dictates that colocated team members should stay at their desks and dial in, even though it may seem easier to gather together around one speaker in a conference room. This levels the playing field for all participants. However, another school of thought is that forcing in-office team members to attend virtually would ruin the “synergy” or “juju” (they’re synonyms, trust me) of the meeting; and therefore the onus is on the virtual attendees to do their best to stay engaged with the rest of the group.

Promoting a meeting environment hospitable to virtual participants requires a concerted effort from all members. The most important thing a team can do is agree together on rules of engagement AND commit to follow them. Begin with a brainstorm of what rules ought to be followed for your particular team. Below are some best practices to get you started.

 1. Alternate the meeting format

The best solution is for the blended meeting to alternate between being conducted entirely virtually and conducted with both colocated and virtual attendees. Alternate between conducting your meetings with everyone dialing in, and conducting them with only the remote people dialing in. This will help everyone to understand the difficulties of being virtual, and this understanding will improve all meetings.

2. Eliminate side conversations.

When people at a meeting indulge in a conversation of their own, one that is unrelated to the matter at hand, one that the virtual attendees cannot see, it leads to feelings of exclusion. If virtual attendees don’t understand the context of comments, there are more opportunities for misinterpretation, especially if there is not a sufficient amount of trust amongst team members or they do not yet know each other well. Furthermore, side conversations are simply distracting!

3. Say your name before saying your piece — Every time.

While it may seem tedious, especially if the team has been working together a long time and know each other well, saying your name before you speak will immensely help virtual participants keep track of the unfolding conversation. It requires a fair bit of mindfulness because, as meetings progress, participants are inclined to dispense with the formality to the detriment of those who cannot identify the speaker.

4. Work — actively — to include those not in the room.

Mindfulness is key. Be aware when virtual attendees have been silent too long and elicit their feedback. Actively call on them by name. Engage them. Leave silence and space for them to talk. Articulate what’s happening in the room for them: who’s leaving, who’s arriving. Consider sending them a picture of what is happening. 

5. Provide name tags.

Place name tents or some other sort of name tag of the virtual attendees on the conference table (with photos is ideal). This helps to remind those who are in the room that the virtual participants are there, too.

6. Revisit your rules of engagement.

Pull out those agreements every 4 to 6 weeks and see if you are really following them and if not, why not? Change them if you need to — the key is to keep the conversation going.  Working together to establish your own rules of engagement is a good thing. Consider bringing in someone from the outside to help evaluate how you are doing.

If everyone actively works to include virtual participants and elicit their thoughts, they’ll have no more excuses to shut their eyes, mute their speakers, and power nap during the meetings.

P.S.  And just don’t rustle papers in front of the microphone!


Question for readers:  What suggestions do you have for running good blended meetings?


Before Hitting the Send Key


What you Need to Know about Cross-Cultural Emailing

Cultural understanding can make or break any team, but especially an international one. Cultural misunderstandings can drive irreparable wedges in relationships. Not only is it important in avoiding potentially expensive and embarrassing blunders but it is also important in building cohesive teams.

When reading the emails of people from different cultures, we do not have the luxury of being able to read their body language as we do face-to-face; therefore the precise meaning of their words is extremely important. This difficulty is amplified when the emailer is from a culture different from your own. Understanding the cultural context of their words is essential to your overall understanding of intent.

How Email Varies from Country to Country

First, be aware that people differ—that we don‘t all have the same perspectives, nor the same assumptions about actions and behaviors. What is polite and assumed in one country isn’t necessarily so in another. For example, Americans generally shoot off many emails quickly and casually, and are generally straight to the point; however, in much of Africa and South America,  it would be considered rude not to add a personal touch and to get down to business right away. Additionally, in countries like Germany, there are clearly delineated formal rules for business emails.

Language Pitfalls

It is paramount to be mindful of potentially confusing idioms, jargon, or too much slang. For Americans, this might mean avoiding phrases like “bite the bullet,” which might be taken too literally by nonnative speakers.

Confusion can occur even between native English speakers from different countries. For example, in the U.K., “To table the discussion” in the parliamentary sense is to lay a topic on the speaker’s table for discussion, while in the U.S. “to table the discussion” means to postpone it until later.

Many countries — but not all — love to use sports references in business–everything will be a “homerun.” People from countries where sports analogies are not the norm may wonder why they have to run home or devine no meaning from a “sticky wicket” reference — it is all but meaningless to those unfamiliar with the sport of cricket.

Generally, to avoid language misunderstanding, make what you think is implicit explicit. Double-check your wording for idiomatic phrases that may not be universally understood.  Don’t assume that your reader understands your metaphors or analogies.

Differences in Culture

Of course language is just a manifestation of the differences in cultures. There are High and Low Context cultures. In High Context cultures, messages have very little meaning without an understanding of the surrounding context. France is very high context culture–you need to understand the culture in order to understand the intent. While a non-French speaker may think they are being friendly by putting “merci” at the end of their email, to a French speaker it is a passive aggressive “thank you–now go forth and do my bidding.”

On the other hand, in Low Context cultures the meaning lies mostly in the message itself. In many English speaking countries, for example, as well as countries like Germany, Norway, or Sweden there is less need to read between the lines, as from a young age they are taught to say what they mean and communicate directly. However, a “yes” in a high-context culture like Japan does not imply a firm commitment but generally means “Yes, I understand.”

If email is the only point of contact you have with someone, and they commit a cultural faux pas, it can be harder to overlook and overcome when all that is seen is the email address and not the person behind that address.

It’s important to know what is appropriate to say and do given a person’s position within the company. Integral to this understanding is Power Distance–which anthropologist Geert Hofstede defines as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. In a Large Power Distance country, the distance between bosses and their subordinates is liable to be more significant, and must be especially observed.  For example, in many Asian cultures, subordinates are more deferential to their bosses and authority, so be careful not to address bosses in a too familiar manner.  On the other hand, in low distance countries like the Netherlands and the U.K., bosses are seen as more approachable “equals” and language may feel somewhat disrespectful or mutinous, if you are in a leadership position receiving communications, as it may be far less deferential than you may be accustomed to.

When emailing to Large Power Distance countries, bosses may need to give permission to subordinates, so they should not be contacted directly. At the very least, the supervisor should be CC’d in the email.

While acknowledging differences in manners and values be careful not to overgeneralize. These are people too, working within their own cultural context of assumptions and predispositions, just we as you are. Not all Americans eat fast food in the slowlane of the highway (credit: the late George Carlin). Be careful not to attribute one action of one person to an entire country.

To mitigate problems of traversing different cultures, be as overt as possible with your intentions. Assume benevolence and don’t assume that actions you find hostile to be ill-intended. Whenever possible ask for clarification! This is a trust building opportunity!

Once you learn how other cultures interact, you’ll see how stereotypes about “rudeness” and other misunderstandings just melt away.

Readers: Please share any experiences you have had with emailing or communicating with people from cultures other than your own! Thank you!

Breaking the Global Ice


Nowadays walking across the street can be more challenging than speaking to someone across the country. While we all have heard that companies are increasingly open to flexible work hours and allowing employees to work virtually, less is heard about the resulting difficulties. One of the most common complaints among employees who work remotely is the sense of isolation from the rest of the community.

When meetings are fully or partially virtual, the inclination is to jump straight into the business at hand and forgo the casual banter that happens naturally when people gather together in the same room. Skipping this human connection, however, often leads to decreased job satisfaction as the sense of being on a team diminishes.  As both experts on virtual work and a virtual team ourselves, we take great care to purposefully nurture that human connection whenever we can.  Taking just five minutes at the start of every virtual meeting goes a long way to bridge the distances between us.

At Bridging Distance we begin every virtual meeting with a “check-in” question to break the ice. These questions are a great way to learn about one another and to strengthen the bonds between us.  A different member is tasked with bringing and asking the check-in question; anything from weather to sports to life philosophy. Rotating this task keeps the group from falling into a rut, elicits creativity from all members.  These icebreakers play a key role in creating a trusting atmosphere, especially in the early stages of team formation and remain critical in keeping relationships fresh, interesting, and growing and time goes on.

business_group_seated_laughing_400x250Check-in questions spark lively conversation, help flesh team members out as people, and lead to mutual respect and understanding. Think of these first few minutes as an investment in your team’s cohesion and ultimate success.

I’ve found in my time with Bridging Distance that, not only do check-in questions allow us to segue smoothly into the meeting, but also bring a sense of levity and–with the right question–can bring an amount of introspection. In my experience, the questions with the most potential for humor were the ones that brought us closer together. Laughter can break quite a bit of ice.

Here are some of my favorites

  1. Where would your ideal, no-expenses-spared vacation be?
  2. What would be the first thing you did if won a million dollars? (After you were done jumping up and down.)
  3. What is the most positive thing that has happened to you this week? Can be professional or personal.
  4. Would you rather be stuck in an elevator with someone who talked too much or didn’t talk at all?  Why?
  5. “Show & tell” with your favorite mug via video or pictures.  Consider advance notice for this.  (Our favorite — “I like big mutts!” — thank you, Kelly!)
  6. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  7. What is one thing you did not understand about the world when you were a kid? (My dad’s boss was British, and I didn’t realize that not everyone’s boss was British, though I suppose that was one day the case.)
  8. What is your greatest minor triumph? Your biggest small win?
  9. Would you rather have to walk around all day with jelly in your shoes OR sleep all night with sand in your bed?  Why?
  10. What’s the weirdest thing you have ever eaten? (Not for the squeamish.)
  11. How much cash do you have on you?big mutts coffee cup
  12. What most irritates you at a restaurant?
  13. What is the best bumper stick sticker you’ve ever seen? (Mine “You! Out of the gene pool!”)
  14. If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?
  15. If you could live in any period in history what would it be?
  16. What’s your favorite word? Least favorite?
  17. What is something you know you do differently from most people?
  18. Do you collect anything?
  19. Who is someone you look up to and why?
  20. If you were in the Miss America Pageant what would your talent be?
  21. Are you more concerned with doing things right or doing the right things?
  22. If you were just given a yacht, what would you name it?
  23. If you could rid the world of one thing what would it be?
  24. When was the last time that you did something for the first time? What was it?
  25. What would this company/team look like if your mother ran it? (source: 75 Cage-Rattling Questions by Dick Whitney and Melissa Giovagnoli)
  26. If you are pressed for time in your meeting you can always ask participants to choose between X and Y. Coffee or Tea? Cat or dog? Sweet or Salty? Superman or Batman? Beach or mountains? Morning or night? Paper or plastic? Too hot or too Cold? Glass half full or glass half empty?
  27. What is the sound you can best imitate?  Do it!

 Even though you may be tempted to respond with “long walks on the beach,” dating sites like or eHarmony are an interesting resource for “getting-to-know-you” questions; as their whole business, it turns out, is based around bridging a certain distance.

And the list goes on. You know your team best, so tailor your questions to your team.

Question for readers:  What’s the best icebreaker you’ve heard lately (or not-so-lately)?


Do You Have 8 Minutes?

Do you want a chance to win money?

If you work remotely — away from your main office — at least two days a week, then you are eligible to take our survey and enter to win!


Here’s the Deal:

We’ve been developing an online assessment to help telecommuters know what their strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to their telecommuting work habits.  But, we need a LOT of real-world people to take the survey so we can “test” the survey itself.  We’re calling it the Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA).

The more the merrier! our Industrial Organization experts tell us that the more people we can get to take the survey, the better the survey will be.  So, if you know of any telecommuters, feel free to forward this email along.

Thank you for your consideration.  We appreciate your time.

Your completed survey is your entry to win the $100 cash prize.

Please note, sometimes the Survey Monkey link works best when cut and pasted directly into a browser.

Thank you so much.  

The TFA development team

Bridging Distance

The fine print:

1. Eligibility: Sweepstakes (the “Sweepstakes”) is open only to those who complete the Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA) and who are 18 as of the date of entry. The sweepstakes is only open to legal residents of  the United States and is void where prohibited by law. Employees of Bridging Distance (the “Sponsor”) their respective affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, suppliers and their immediate family members and/or those living in the same household of each are not eligible to participate in the Sweepstakes. The Sweepstakes is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations. Void where prohibited.
2. Agreement to Rules: By participating, you agree to be fully unconditionally bound by these Rules, and you represent and warrant that you meet the eligibility requirements set forth herein. In addition, you agree to accept the decisions of Bridging Distance, as final and binding as it relates to the content. The Sweepstakes is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws.
3. Sweepstakes Period: Entries will be accepted online starting on or about October 15, 2014 and ending Nov. 14, 2014. All online entries must be received by Nov. 14, 2014 11:59PM EST.
4. How to Enter: The Sweepstakes must be entered by submitting an completed TFA survey entry using the online form provided on this Sweepstakes email. The entry must fulfill all sweepstakes requirements, as specified, to be eligible to win a prize. Entries that are not complete or do not adhere to the rules or specifications may be disqualified at the sole discretion of Bridging Distance. You may enter only once and you must fill in the information requested. You may not enter more times than indicated by using multiple email addresses, identities or devices in an attempt to circumvent the rules. If you use fraudulent methods or otherwise attempt to circumvent the rules your submission may be removed from eligibility at the sole discretion of Bridging Distance.
5. Prizes: Winner will receive $100. Actual/appraised value may differ at time of prize award. The specifics of the prize shall be solely determined by the Sponsor. No other prize substitution permitted except at Sponsor’s discretion. The prize is nontransferable. Any and all prize related expenses, including without limitation any and all federal, state, and/or local taxes shall be the sole responsibility of the winner. No substitution of prize or transfer/assignment of prize to others or request for the cash equivalent by winners is permitted. Acceptance of prize constitutes permission for Bridging Distance to use winner’s name, likeness, and entry for purposes of advertising and trade without further compensation, unless prohibited by law.
6. Odds: The odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.
7. Winner selection and notification: Winners of the Sweepstakes will be selected in a random drawing under the supervision of the Sponsor. Winners will be notified via email to the email address they entered the Sweepstakes with within five (5) days following the winner selection. Bridging Distance shall have no liability for a winner’s failure to receive notices due to winners’ spam, junk e-mail or other security settings or for winners’ provision of incorrect or otherwise non-functioning contact information. If the selected winner cannot be contacted, is ineligible, fails to claim the prize within 15 days from the time award notification was sent, or fails to timely return a completed and executed declaration and releases as required, prize may be forfeited and an alternate winner selected.
The receipt by winner of the prize offered in this Sweepstakes is conditioned upon compliance with any and all federal and state laws and regulations. ANY VIOLATION OF THESE OFFICIAL RULES BY ANY WINNER (AT SPONSOR’S SOLE DISCRETION) WILL RESULT IN SUCH WINNER’S DISQUALIFICATION AS WINNER OF THE SWEEPSTAKES AND ALL PRIVILEGES AS WINNER WILL BE IMMEDIATELY TERMINATED.
8. Rights Granted by you: By entering this content you understand that Bridging Distance, anyone acting on behalf of Bridging Distance, or its respective licensees, successors and assigns will have the right, where permitted by law, without any further notice, review or consent to print, publish, broadcast, distribute, and use, worldwide in any media now known or hereafter in perpetuity and throughout the World, your entry, including, without limitation, the entry and winner’s name, portrait, picture, voice, likeness, image or statements about the Sweepstakes, and biographical information as news, publicity or information and for trade, advertising, public relations and promotional purposes without any further compensation.
9. Terms:Bridging Distance reserves the right, in its sole discretion to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Sweepstakes should (in its sole discretion) a virus, bugs, non-authorized human intervention, fraud or other causes beyond its control corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes. In such case, Bridging Distance may select the recipients from all eligible entries received prior to and/or after (if appropriate) the action taken by Bridging Distance. Bridging Distance reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify any individual who tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operation of the Sweepstakes or website or violates these Terms & Conditions.
Bridging Distance has the right, in its sole discretion, to maintain the integrity of the Sweepstakes, to void votes for any reason, including, but not limited to; multiple entries from the same user from different IP addresses; multiple entries from the same computer in excess of that allowed by sweepstakes rules; or the use of bots, macros or scripts or other technical means for entering.
Any attempt by an entrant to deliberately damage any web site or undermine the legitimate operation of the sweepstakes may be a violation of criminal and civil laws and should such an attempt be made, Bridging Distance reserves the right to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law.By entering the Sweepstakes you agree to receive email newsletters periodically from Bridging Distance. You can opt-out of receiving this communication at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the newsletter.
10. Limitation of Liability: By entering you agree to release and hold harmless Bridging Distance and its subsidiaries, affiliates, advertising and promotion agencies, partners, representatives, agents, successors, assigns, employees, officers and directors from any liability, illness, injury, death, loss, litigation, claim or damage that may occur, directly or indirectly, whether caused by negligence or not, from (i) such entrant’s participation in the sweepstakes and/or his/her acceptance, possession, use, or misuse of any prize or any portion thereof, (ii) technical failures of any kind, including but not limited to the malfunctioning of any computer, cable, network, hardware or software; (iii) the unavailability or inaccessibility of any transmissions or telephone or Internet service; (iv) unauthorized human intervention in any part of the entry process or the Promotion; (v) electronic or human error which may occur in the administration of the Promotion or the processing of entries.
11. Disputes:THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS GOVERNED BY THE LAWS OF United States AND Massachusetts, WITHOUT RESPECT TO CONFLICT OF LAW DOCTRINES. As a condition of participating in this Sweepstakes, participant agrees that any and all disputes which cannot be resolved between the parties, and causes of action arising out of or connected with this Sweepstakes, shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, exclusively before a court located in Massachusetts having jurisdiction. Further, in any such dispute, under no circumstances will participant be permitted to obtain awards for, and hereby waives all rights to claim punitive, incidental, or consequential damages, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, other than participant’s actual out-of-pocket expenses (i.e. costs associated with entering this Sweepstakes), and participant further waives all rights to have damages multiplied or increased.
12. Privacy Policy:  Information submitted with an entry is subject to the Privacy Policy stated on the Bridging Distance Web Site.
13. Winners List: To obtain a copy of the winner’s name or a copy of these Official Rules, mail your request along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Bridging Distance 41 Worcester Road, Townsend MA, 01469, USA.Requests must be received no later than Nov. 20, 2014.
14. Sponsor:  The Sponsor of the Sweepstakes is Bridging Distance 41 Worcester Road, Townsend MA, 01469, USA .

Level the Playing Field for Global Teams


Level the Playing Field for Global Teams

Our recent case study with a US-led global medical research team revealed just how easily distance turns relatively small misunderstandings into significant misalignment for globally distributed teams.

As we continued to analyze the results from our assessment, we learned that the quality of the communications between the US-based leadership and the non-US team members was causing a significant rift within the team.  This was uncovered when we compared specific data sets gathered from each of the non-US teams with the US-based team.

Leadership was surprised:

“But we have weekly status meetings!” “We send emails all the time!”

However, it became clear that the non-US based team members were disconnected from the daily communication of the larger team. The fact that the US team met face-to-face while the non-US teams utilized video updates gave an impression of inequality relating to the roles and importance of individual team members.  Among the global teams, there was an overwhelming perception of favoritism by leadership toward the US-based research team members.  This perception of favoritism tainted leadership’s ability to effectively communicate with the global teams.

Together with organizational leadership, we created an action plan to reduce the perception of favoritism and foster the desired sense of equality among all research teams, regardless of location.

Team Leadership began conducting all team meetings through video conferencing, even when members shared an office location.  Treating all members the same levelled the playing field of communications and sent a subtle, but powerful, message that leadership held all research groups in equal standing.

Additionally, the Team Leader made it a point to visit every global team that quarter to solidify the importance of everyone’s contribution to their team effort.  After this initial visit, a schedule of regular in-person meetings was developed to maintain the feelings of equality.

Six months later, the team had measurably improved its productivity and was on-track with its research goals.  Each team re-took our assessment and this subsequent analysis confirmed a vastly improved global team.


Telecommuting More & Feeling Less Loyal?


You are not alone.

Perhaps you started out, like many of us do, working just one or two days a week from home.  You loved it.  You worked harder, you got more done in a day, you felt great.  You felt trusted by your employer, you felt that they understood you and your desire for work-life balance.

You felt inspired to put your best effort forward because you cared.  You were loyal, happy, and committed.

The flow didn’t stop there.  Family conflicts were down.  You were able to freely enjoy the perks of being in control of your own day (for me, that often meant running errands when stores and malls weren’t busy and working later when they were).

Life was good.

Gradually, you increased your time working from home to 3 or more days each week; and things started to change.  Conflicts within the family increased, the option of napping at lunch turned into forgetting to eat at all and working straight through (or grabbing a yogurt and returning to your laptop).  You started to feel disconnected from your work group. You started to care a little less about your organization as a whole.  You may not have even noticed.

According to Dr. Martha J. Fay and Dr. Susan L. Kline, prominent researchers in communications and remote working, most people who telecommute up to 2 ½ days per week feel more organizational identity and commitment than their non-telecommuting peers; but when increased to 3 or more days per week, organizational identity and commitment dropped to levels below their non-telecommuting peers.

Is the answer to only telecommute up to 2 ½ days per week?  Maybe. But for those of us who will continue to telecommute more, or who don’t have an option, there is something you can do.

The same researchers discovered that the largest factor in counteracting declining commitment is the quality of the relationship between you (the telecommuter) and the coworker you interact the most with.

Having even one “trusted coworker”, who you can bounce ideas off of and who can provide you with a “reality check” as you interpret messages from the organization at large, may make all the difference in your feelings of loyalty, commitment, and belonging.

Take some time each day to maintain and further your relationships with a couple of your coworkers.  It doesn’t have to be anything extraordinary.  A couple of friendly lines in an email, a few minutes of conversation before or after a phone or video conference, a text chat.  Choose your friends carefully, though, research also indicates you will feel even less committed if your close relationships are with someone who engages in a lot of “complaining talk”.

Finally, for some telecommuters, it can be a little uncomfortable or awkward to take this time for casual conversation.  As someone who works from home, you actively cultivate the image of a conscientious worker.  If it is awkward, start small, begin with work-related conversations — seek out advice or “second opinions” on general work topics, pick up the phone to ask someone a question.  These small interactions have the potential to make a big difference in your success as a telecommuter.

Works cited:
Fay, M. J., & Kline, S. L. (2011). Coworker relationships and informal communication in high-intensity telecommuting. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 39(2), 144-163. doi:10.1080/00909882.2011.556136
Fay, M. J., & Kline, S. L. (2012). The influence of informal communication on organizational identification and commitment in the context of high-intensity telecommuting.Southern Communication Journal, 77(1), 61-76. doi:10.1080/1041794x.2011.582921

Day in the Life: Working Remotely in the Big Apple

Times Square on a rainy night in New York City

8:15 am

I wake up to my third alarm. Per my request, my iPhone screen encourages me, “WAKE UP. YOU HAVE A LONG SHIFT TODAY”. It’s amazing how much more difficult it is to pull yourself out of bed when you know that there isn’t a whole office full of your superiors awaiting your arrival. I’ve found that if I don’t hold myself accountable, no one else will. Hence, multiple alarms with multiple threatening messages.

8:50 am

En route to my favorite coffee shop, I pass my favorite bakery. It is slightly dangerous that both of these locales are within two blocks of my apartment. I convince myself to continue past the bakery, promising myself that if I work out after my shifts today and tomorrow, I can stop for a pistachio baklava on Wednesday.

9:00 am

I sit on a café barstool facing the window with an iced coffee, orienting myself for the day. I check my email, create a list of priorities, and begin my first task. I can already tell that I’m on a roll today, which is good. It’s hard to motivate yourself when you work alone, so a little caffeine and enthusiasm go a long way.

11:00 am

The task I’m working on is tedious and after about two hours I start to lose focus. My eyes are tired from looking at the computer screen, so I let my gaze wander to the city streets on the other side of the glass. I laugh with a café employee as his moped gets tangled in an extension cord outside. In the absence of my real coworkers, it’s nice to have these honorary coworkers. I watch the rain as it falls in sheets, encouraging a wide array of personalities and demographics to duck into the café for reprieve. As disheveled as they look, they are as happy as I am that this weather is dramatically (albeit briefly) lowering the heat index.

11:15 am

Back to work drafting questions for a survey project. I can tell I’m fading, but I want to squeeze 30 more minutes in before I take my lunch break.

11:45 am

The rain is starting to let up, and I don’t know how much time I have before it starts to pour again. I pack up my laptop, bid my café “coworkers” adieu, and walk home for lunch.

12:00 pm

I eat my handcrafted sandwich while talking to my mother on the phone. I hate eating meals alone, so I’ve gotten in the habit of calling a friend or family member on my lunch breaks if I’m unable to meet up with anyone. I recount the weekend’s adventures in Midtown and Williamsburg, with a complete analysis of the people I met and an elaborate description of our experience at Sing Sing Karaoke. After a prolonged goodbye (as is always the case with the two of us—longwindedness runs in our maternal line), I grab my backpack and head south a few blocks to the nearest Queens public library.

12:45 pm

I’m back “on the clock”, but it takes a few minutes to refocus on my work in the new location. I like this library a lot—free wi-fi with a library card, and there are a lot of different types of people coming in and out. The energy of the interactions sparks my creativity, so I decide to shift gears to something a little more fun. After 30 minutes of researching, I construct a blog about the benefits of telework and why organizations should adopt telework programs. This is, after all, a big chunk of my specialization within this position, so I figured putting it in a blog format would be a great way to simplify and consolidate some of my research. I have a little fun searching for a Dilbert cartoon to include, and then submit the blog to my supervisor.

2:30 pm

Now what? I’ve made a pretty big dent in my main project, and I’ve even finished a blog. I start to worry that I won’t be able to find anything else to do until 5:00 pm, so I start to look at my long-term priority list. I’m feeling eloquent, so I opt to write a second blog for the day.

3:15 pm

I catch my mind wandering as I’m writing this blog, and I glance up to see a man with kind eyes teach his daughter about libraries. For as many jerks as there are in NYC, it is so refreshing to see this interaction. The dad encourages her to interact with the librarian independently, and the librarian treats the five-year-old girl as if her request is the absolute most important intellectual question he’s encountered on the job. This is not at all pertinent to my work, but there’s something about witnessing this positive exchange that breathes life into me and reminds me of how much I enjoy “working from home” when I force myself out of the house for a few hours.

3:40 pm

I am wrapping up my blog, so I rack my brain for what to do with my last hour “at work”. I decide to return to my original task to bring it to a more final product. I set a goal to send the draft to my team members by the end of the day so that they can give me feedback by the end of the week.

4:40 pm

I’ve achieved my goal and sent out the draft. I spend my last twenty minutes polishing the blog and checking email. I plan to stop at the grocery store on the way home, and then work out before dinner. That pistachio baklava is calling my name.


Note: This blog was written in the summer of 2013 by our amazing remote intern, Sarah Chatfield.

What am I?

Telecommuter?  Teleworker?  Virtual Worker? ??

Along with many of you, I have a flexible work arrangement.  Coincidentally, my primary research is all about different aspects of remote work.

Right now, I’m stuck and I’m hoping you can spare a moment to help me out.

Here’s the scoop — I keep coming across different terms that “describe” these flexible arrangements, and it’s more than a little confusing.  I know all the formal definitions, of course, but they don’t seem to matter in the real work world

What about you?  Can you spare just a moment to answer the following 3 questions?  We’d love to hear from you.  

Click the “done” button at end when finished!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Additional Fascinating Information about Terminology

Both terms (telecommuting and telework) were coined in 1972 by Jack Niles and, are used interchangeably.  The other terms just add to the befuddlement as they seem to mean pretty much the same thing.

Wikipedia suggests that while both refer to people who work outside of a centrally located office, the difference is that telecommuters maintain an office and split their time between the central office and other work locations.  These locations are established specifically to reduce the commute to and from work and may or may not be outside of the home.

All types of technology-enabled work is considered to be telework.  Telework encompasses telecommuting, along with a range of employer / employee work arrangements, that are not specifically established for the purpose of reducing commute time.  So all telecommuters are teleworkers, but not all teleworkers are telecommuters.  Fun stuff.

Here’s a good definition of virtual work from the Work and Family Research Network:  “Virtual work, whereby individuals work from home, “on the road,” or otherwise outside of traditional, centralized offices, is an important and growing phenomenon (Wiesenfeld & Garud, 2001).”

What if you don’t have a central office?  The best answer I found was from Lullabot, a fully “distributed” company in which everyone works from wherever, they have global clients, but not a single office, and almost all of them work from home.

My best advise when searching for information (or jobs) within this space is to search on all of these terms because you never know exactly what you are going to find.


Telecommuting: How Much is Too Much?

As telecommuting experts, we know that telecommuting is both flexible and productive. However, as telecommuters, we know that it can also be a bit isolating.

For many telecommuters, the first half of the work week goes swimmingly. You feel focused, determined, and ready to work. But as the week progresses, you start to miss water-cooler gossip and office lunches. Sure, the lack of commute is nice, but the cat is only so much company after a certain point.

If you’re not careful, the “deluxe work-from-home set-up” that you brag about to friends and family can become a burden that makes you feel disconnected from your organization and dissatisfied with your work.

So what is the optimal amount of telework?

Is there some magical ratio of office-to-home work?

Fortunately, recent research by Virick and colleagues (2010) suggests that there seems to be a “happy medium” for teleworkers. Specifically, employees who spend 45-60% of their work week telecommuting report higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment than do employees who telecommute more or less often. These employees in the mid-range are also less likely to turnover than are other employees.

For those who are more statistically inclined (or just like to see pretty-yet-informative graphs), consider the upside-down “U” curve below:

As the graph shows, increasing the amount of time you work from home is only beneficial to a certain point. Initially, the flexibility and productivity you experience makes you happy with your job and your company. But once you start using your home as your primary office, you start to miss out on some of the important social benefits of the traditional office space. When you lose the social connection with your colleagues, you’re more likely to become dissatisfied with your job and less committed to your company.

Are you dissatisfied with where you fall on this “U” curve? Talk to your manager about changing your schedule so that you can come into the office once or twice a week. If that isn’t an option, consider meeting with co-workers at a coffee shop or restaurant to discuss your current project.

Questions for readers: Where do you fall on the curve? What is YOUR optimal amount of telecommuting?





Source:Virick, M., DaSilva, N., & Arrington, K. (2010). Moderators of the curvilinear relation between extent of telecommuting and job and life satisfaction: The role of performance outcome orientation and worker type. Human Relations, 63(1), 137-154. doi:10.1177/0018726709349198

Telecommuting? It's all about Control.

Whether you’re bookmarking an article to make an after-school snack, interrupting a teleconference to soothe a crying baby, or simply reiterating to your partner that you are on the clock and thus unavailable, working at home introduces distractions that aren’t found in a traditional office space.

So how can you balance work with family, and still maintain some semblance of sanity?

Recent research on telecommuting (Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton, 2009) has pointed to two important factors to consider when creating a positive telecommuting experience.

  1. You must perceive control over how, when, and where you work
  2. You should set clear boundaries between work and home roles


As an employee, do what you can to establish your own control over your work. If you find yourself constantly changing your schedule to align with a co-worker’s, try to be more assertive in setting meeting times. Talk to your manager about having more autonomy in your job. This could mean setting your own deadlines or creating your own list of weekly goals. The more control you feel, the better you’ll perform—both at work and at home.

As a manager of a telecommuting workforce, it is important to grant your employees individual autonomy in deciding how they do their work. If they have certain hours that they prefer, or they want the option of working in multiple locations, it is important that you support their decisions. The more control employees feel over the way that they work, the less work-family conflict they will experience. Thus, they will be less likely to turnover or move on to a new career.

However, there is a delicate balance between allowing employees autonomy and ensuring a predictable flow of communication. For instance, it is difficult to coordinate “catch-ups” with employees who have highly irregular schedules. Thus, depending on how often you feel that you need to meet with your employee, try setting a regular (e.g., weekly, monthly) meeting that is inflexible. This will ensure that contact is still readily available, even if your employee is working at times or locations that don’t align with your own.

Setting Boundaries

It is also important to be deliberate in separating your work and family responsibilities. Individuals who integrate their work and family roles (e.g., using one “catch-all” email account for work and home) are more likely to experience work-family conflict. In contrast, individuals who make clear boundaries between their work and family roles experience a greater sense of well-being and balance.

Having trouble separating your responsibilities? Try creating a space in your home that is “off-limits” to family members while you are working. This could mean closing the door to your workspace, or posting a sign that says “Dad is not available until 4pm”.

Just as you communicate to your family when you’re working, you should also communicate to your co-workers when you are enjoying family time. Grant your co-workers access to your weekly schedule so that they know when you are available to answer phone calls and emails. Set a precedent of not answering communications when you are “off-duty” unless it is time-sensitive or a high priority. Setting these clear boundaries ensures that others respect how you manage your responsibilities, which will decrease your work-family conflict and increase your well-being.

Source:  Kossek, E. E., Lautsch, B. A., & Eaton, S. C. (2009). “Good teleworking”: Under what conditions does teleworking enhance employees’ well-being?. Technology and Psychological Well–Being. Cambridge, MA Cambridge University Press.