Although it is getting more common in workplaces, a new study suggests that taking advantage of ‘flexi-time’ or telecommuting opportunities to work partly out of home actually ends up harming the career of those who do so.

The reason is that most managers tend to base their evaluations on the experience during actual face-to-face contact with workers, rather than face time via telecommute, the research, published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, has concluded.

The researchers say there are two kinds of passive face time. The first, which they call expected face time, is simply being seen at work during normal hours. The second, which they call extracurricular face time, is being seen at work outside of normal business hours — arriving before most employees staying late or coming in to work on the weekend. When you are at work is noticed by your co-workers and supervisors.

“Who cares?” you might legitimately ask. It turns out your boss and co-workers do. This leads to their second finding — different kinds of face time lead to different evaluations. The two forms of passive face time lead to two kinds of “trait inferences,” or conclusions about what type of person someone is. Specifically, it was found that expected face time led to inferences of the traits “responsible” and “dependable.” Just being seen at work, without any information about what you’re actually doing, leads people to think more highly of you. You get labelled when you put in extracurricular face time, too. But rather than just being considered dependable, you can get upgraded to “committed” and “dedicated.”

The study says that while this is inevitable, managements might consider systems to counter this, by either eliminating ‘trait’ based evaluations, using only objective output measures, or weighing type of work (physical presence/telecommute) while doing evaluations.

Adapted from “Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters” by Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable, MIT Sloan Management Review

(This article was published on July 20, 2012)
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