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The Most Important Thing to Remember If You Work from Home

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eating lunch in front of computer

This past Tuesday morning, a Yahoo employee probably sat down at his home office, checked his email and promptly spit his coffee into the air.

That’s because his boss, Marissa Mayer, announced through a company memo that, starting in June, staff can no longer work from home.

From the memo:

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

Everyone who works from home (myself included) will agree that it can sometimes be isolating. That’s why it’s so important to remember this essential tele-working rule:

Over-communicate

Working from home is a modern-day luxury, and we have technology to thank. Smartphones keep us connected to our email, Dropbox and YouSendIt enable us to share giant files, WebEx allows group conversation and Google Hangout puts us in (virtually) the same room.

Still, none of these revolutionary tools work properly unless we do, too. When bosses let us work from home, they expect us to get the job done but also to stay in contact throughout the day, every day.

Here’s the tricky part. The boss might not say outright: “I need you to keep me up to date on your progress.” But that doesn’t mean you have a free pass to check in whenever you feel like it.

Since a boss can’t stop by your cubicle and see how things are going, it’s your responsibility to maintain open and active lines of communication.

When it’s appropriate to over-communicate:

  • In the middle of a long, drawn-out project and it feels like people haven’t heard from you in a while, over-communicate. Send an email with relevant updates.
  • As much as possible, respond to critical work emails. Even a simple, “Thanks, I got it” will let the other person know you’re in the loop. Remember: a co-worker can’t yell across the office and say, “Did you get my email?” You could be 1,000 miles away in another state, so you need to over-communicate.
  • If you send an email and a person doesn’t respond in a timely manner, you’ll need to send a follow-up email. If the person doesn’t answer the second time, pick up the phone.
  • Lastly, be detailed in your emails. It’s much easier to explain yourself in person — and annoying to type a huge description — but the added specifics help you sound clearer. That, in turn, makes the workday smoother and your bosses happier.

Starting in June, Yahoo employees will surrender their ability to work from home. Cherish your own tele-work situation and never give your boss a reason to think it’s time for a change.

Danny Rubin is a media consultant based in DC. He also writes News To Live By, a blog that shows us the career advice that’s hidden in the day’s top stories. Follow him at @NewsToLiveBy.

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