Many of us now work in virtual teams or multisite organizations where our work may be more visible to people in other functions or countries than to our bosses or colleagues in the same office, but what does this mean for our careers?
As the recent Yahoo stories on banning home working showed it's easy for managers to doubt the effectiveness of people who work from home and this can have implications for appraisal, reward and career progression.
Over the last 10 years we (at Global Integration) have been running a survey of people who work in virtual teams and over this period one of the top three issues that people worry about has always been "How do I stay visible when working remotely?"
In our workshops I ask people why they think visibility is important. They tell me it's important for career development, for appraisal, for recognition and also as a means of getting things done. People want to be seen as part of something that is recognised as important by others.
Most languages seem to have some variant of the saying "out of sight, out of mind" and it is well established that people who stay close to the centre of power in an organisation tend to progress more quickly. This is a significant challenge for distributed organisations who need to spot and develop the best talent, irrespective of where it is based; and it's a significant challenge for those of us who work remotely and want to develop our careers.
At this point in our discussion, someone, usually an engineer, will say "Isn't it enough just to do a good job?" I agree that it should be but I am pretty sure that the reality is that it isn't. However, it does bring an interesting point: if you are a poor performer, then it's definitely a bad idea to improve your visibility. You should just keep your head down!
And if you are a good performer, how can you become seen as an effective person and hopefully a high potential person? Perhaps a study from GE can throw some light on this: GE asked how some people become seen as highly effective. They identified three key factors -- performance, image (the picture of yourself you project, and in particular whether it is coherent with the culture you work in) and exposure (who knows about it -- particularly the relevant people for your career?).
When we give this model to participants in our workshops and ask them to estimate how much each of these factors contribute to perception in their organizations, we get a range of responses. In most cases they agree that exposure is the most important of the three.
• Performance = 10 percent - 45 percent
• Image = 15 percent - 25 percent
• Exposure = 30 percent - 40 percent
Most participants feel that performance should count for more in their company, but agree that in reality it probably does not. Most people estimate that performance alone only contributes 15 to 25 percent to being seen as highly effective.
My own view is that performance is a precondition or an entry ticket to the game. If you are not performing, then image and exposure will only be harmful.
It is clear that performance alone is not sufficient to create visibility in a large complex organization. Most people spend nearly all of their time on performance, and, while this is how it should be, if you are not spending any time at all on managing your image and exposure, you may be missing an opportunity.
Repeated exposure to the right people helps enormously in career development. If you are a known quantity your name comes up in promotion discussions: people tend to prefer the familiar because it reduces uncertainty.
So if you are working remotely, first make sure your performance is good, but recognise that it is not enough on its own. Think about the image you want to project and what opportunities you have to reinforce that image in the minds of the people who are important to your career.
Seek out opportunities that will improve your visibility outside your immediate area:cross functional projects or teams are a useful way of getting to know people in different parts of the business.
Make sure that your boss and any other critical players in your appraisal are up-to-date with your achievements.
Of course, don't overdo it and become one of the terrible "corporate politicians" who do nothing but market themselves -- but do recognize that visibility may be difficult in a virtual environment and we need to put in a bit more effort to be seen and valued.