Staying involved as I am a telecommuter.
— Medical Claims Analyst
In the last post, “Axero’s 8 Rules for Working Remotely and Functioning Well as a Team,” we talked about all the things a manager can do to keep a virtual team going. Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to do anything? What if the individuals and teams kept themselves going?
Not only is it nice; it’s necessary that employees know how to engage themselves. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Even with all the things we do at Axero to keep people psyched, it’s ultimately up to them to adjust their attitude.
Here’s a remote employee who is taking her job seriously, but is struggling to “stay involved.” Is she talking about physical access to people and data? Or an emotional link?
The first case should be easy to solve. In the previous post, I listed all the ways we connect and stay in touch at Axero. This being the 21st century, a telecommuter should be able to come up with a dozen more ideas that work for her and her job. Flagging motivation is a more common problem among telecommuters. And it’s the one I will address here.
To continue with the Axero example, I will tell you what one specific employee has done to keep himself motivated for the last ten years. That employee is me. I am the President and co-founder of Axero, the company that develops and markets the social intranet software, Communifire.
I work out of my home office, as do most of my employees. We use Communifire, our intranet software product to support our work—and we talk a lot about our work habits inside the company, and I get to learn from my employees all the time. With minor variations, most of what I am about to tell you holds true for all of us.
1. It’s not just the money
If I didn’t love what I do, I would be miserable. You don’t have to love everything about your job, but you must enjoy your role and want to be better at it. Our telecommuter needs to ask herself: Do I want to be a medical claims analyst? Is telecommuting the cause of my problem? Would I feel more involved driving back and forth and spending my day in a cubicle?
2. Though money does help
I love it that Axero is profitable. Just recently, we hired our first CFO. He does financial summaries and projections and puts all of our numbers into neat little charts and graphs. We never did that before. Now we can see that the numbers are all trending up. All the work it takes to get there seems worthwhile in retrospect.
So, here’s the second set of questions this telecommuter could ask herself: Am I happy with my income? Can I make more money at this job if I wanted to? Is the money worth the pain and the opportunity cost of my time?
3. Making progress
Money aside, we’ve come a long way as a company and as professionals. Of all the motivational tricks I play on myself, seeing the progress is the most uplifting. All you need to do is to remember something pathetic from your past. No matter how embarrassing they felt at the time, these memories are invaluable for gauging your success.
I like to pull out the Way-Back Machine. It’s an Internet site that crawls the web and takes snapshots. I use it to see what our website looked like five or ten years ago. It’s nothing like what we have today; I can tell you that much. Who the hell wrote that clumsy copy? (Hint: I did.) No matter what else is going on, it makes me feel good about where I am now.
So, the next question for the telecommuter is this: does her job help her move in a direction her future self would approve of? I love the future-self perspective. I use it all the time to get clarity and focus on what matters.
For most humans, a change of pace is essential. When I’m not motivated to do one task, I can switch to something else. Plus, I’m always rotating in and out of roles in the company, depending on what needs to get done. For the last three months, I did software. Before that, I did sales for a year. Now I’m back to marketing.
Our telecommuter should ask herself: Do I have enough variety in my job? Is there another type of project I would be good at? If nothing else, maybe she could switch to house chores when she needs a break from claims.
5. Something to look forward to
Do you have something you look forward to doing every day? Week? Month? Year? Maybe a weekly call with your team? Delivering a report? Posting your numbers on the scoreboard? I love doing new things. Our customers and prospects always have a few surprises up their sleeves, so things never get too predictable. However, every now and again, I like to cross into uncharted territory. In 2018, it was the launch of my first book, Who the Hell Wants to Work for You?
6. Knowing when to quit
Being able to disengage from time to time is a big factor in staying engaged. We often complain that our homes are too distracting a place to work from. But it could also be not distracting enough. Does our telecommuter know how to get into a good rhythm? (See Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Chapter 24, Give Them a Break, for a full discussion of work and rest.)
Working from home can be addicting. Nowadays, you can get everything delivered to your door. Groceries, books, gadgets… I even have an app on my phone for when I want a cold beer and have run out. For me, taking a break is the hardest part. I can stay in my house and work for days on end. I’ve had weeks when I haven’t set foot outside.
Workaholics like myself tend to overestimate their importance. We think the company will fall apart the minute we take our minds off work. People who are dragging their feet on the job often have the opposite problem. They don’t believe they are making any difference.
Hence the final and perhaps the most important question this telecommuter might ask herself:
7. Do I know the value I bring to my team?
Sure. The company will go on with or without us. This is as true of me as it is of the college intern we hired last week. But do you know what happens when you don’t show up? Do you know what happens when you do a half-ass job? Do you care?
I love it that this telecommuter is looking after her own motivation and poking around the Internet for advice. I bet she is more involved already than she gives herself credit for. One final piece of advice: don’t be shy about asking your boss and your employer for whatever you need to do your job well. Not only will most companies honor your request, they will thank you for making it.
If you want your employees to take more initiative, you might like my book, because it will put you in touch with the initiative-taking part of their brains.