Your time in the office is invaluable. Use it wisely.
My 4 year old son, Max, owns a book called, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? Have you seen it?
Billed as “A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids”, it carries a lesson through the concept of a bucket that doing positive things can be rewarding, sustaining you through the other times. While the metaphor isn’t perfect, there are parallels for the remote worker seeking to get the most out of on-site visits to the office.
This is something I’ve now been doing for over a year as the head of marketing for turnstone. Working remotely in Atlanta while my team and other colleagues are mostly based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I’ve learned just how valuable in-person time can be, where I can “fill my bucket” catching up with my co-workers. Here are some tips I’ve learned that may help other remote managers get the most of their time in the office:
Eliminate all non in-person meetings when in the office.
Have a standing conference call, or other appointment with someone not in the office? Unless it’s really necessary, cancel it and focus that time only on your actual office colleagues. You will have plenty of time for conference calls when you get back home.
Leave yourself some free time during the day.
While you want to fully leverage those working hours, leave yourself contingency time in case meetings run late, but also to make sure you have enough time for impromptu encounters with colleagues you don’t normally get to see. I usually find a visible spot in our work lounge where people can find me as needed throughout the day.
Many meetings are scheduled for an hour by default, as if nothing can be accomplished in less than 60 minutes. Trying to squeeze in a lot over a short trip? Schedule yourself in a specific place (our WorkCafe is my favorite) with a series of 30 minute meetings to interact with more of your co-workers in a confined time.
Pick someone new to meet with outside of your team.
This is the one piece of advice I most wish I’d been given at the start. As I alluded to in my initial post, a steady diet of conference calls with people who have met you personally is manageable; doing so with those who haven’t is a challenge. Schedule informal coffee meetings with at least 1-2 people outside your core team network while in town, and ask more questions of them than they of you. Remember, as a remote worker you rarely get the chance to run into someone you might only work with occasionally. It requires a little more planning, but the next time you’re on the speakerphone instead of physically in the room, it will pay off.
Be sensitive to scheduling off-hours.
While it may be tempting to schedule meetings before 8AM or after 5PM, and/or invite colleagues to meet up for dinner or happy hours, remember that it’s you on a business trip, not them. Understand that they have the same family or social obligations as you do at home, so use that early morning or evening time to follow-up on email, prepare for the next day’s events, or occasionally catch up on your Netflix queue (in my first year, I spent many hotel nights slowly working my way through three seasons of Friday Night Lights).
Coordinate schedules with other remote employees.
While local colleagues may have commitments, if your company employs other remote workers, consider coordinating schedules with them to maximize your experience and meeting capacity. I have recently begun trying to schedule my visits to coincide with times when our field sales team is also in town. This has led not only to some fun dinner conversations, but stronger relationships and communication with others who have also grown accustomed to working mostly apart from the team.
Work hard and have fun.
OK, truth be told, on my first three week trip to start the job I ate too much greasy food, and allowed myself to get out of the healthier routine I pursue at home (maybe not quite the ‘Freshman 15’, but you get the idea). Since then I’ve made a point to maintain my normal eating and exercise habits during visits, which for me usually includes a nice run or two zigzagging across Grand Rapids’ many bridges downtown. Remote workers who spend time each month in another city enjoy a sort of dual citizenship that can have its advantages. While leisure opportunities may be slim, check out a local attraction where possible, or at least try a new restaurant on each trip (another of my goals).
Anything I may have missed? What are ways you make the most of your in-office visits that I didn’t mention?
Currently the Chief Marketing Officer for turnstone, Jon has previously held management posts within the e-commerce divisions of American Greetings, HSN, and OfficeMax. An Ohio native, he holds a degree in Telecommunications from Ohio University, as well as an MBA from Cleveland State University. Jon resides in the Atlanta area with his wife, Shannon, and two young sons, Max and Carter. He enjoys writing, travel, and finding new restaurants for he and his wife for the rare times they are not knee deep in Thomas the Tank Engine trains.