IBM recently informed its thousands of remote workers that the jig was up: They’d either have to relocate to one of the tech company’s offices, or find new jobs.
To be fair, only 56% of employers offer any kind of flexible work arrangements, but the move was met with criticism all the same. Even so, when big companies back away from remote work, it sends the message that remote workers aren’t as productive—a preconception that many need to go the extra mile to dispel.
We asked three full-time remote workers how they convince wary bosses and clients that they’ll be just as effective working at a distance as they would at company headquarters. Here’s what they said.
Put in Face Time First
Melody Thomas’s current job, webmaster for the website of the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, wasn’t advertised as a remote position. But since her hiring manager knew Thomas lived 45 minutes from campus, she included that option as part of the offer:
“We made an agreement that for the first three months, I’d work in the office every day, and afterwards I’d come in only three days out of the week,” she says. “After working there for six months, I began to work remotely every day.”
Annik LaRoche Bradford did something similar before she and her husband left Canada a year ago to begin to house sit around the world. A communications consultant, LaRoche Bradford had spent the previous six years building up a base of clients—mostly content and advertising agencies with which she’d already forged solid working relationships.
But to make sure they’d stick with her, she says, “I invested over a year [prior to departing]…making sure my clients ‘built a habit’ of sending me work. I worked long hours, turned projects around on ridiculously short deadlines, spent a lot of time in face-to-face meetings, and brought goodies to their offices.”
All that in-person interaction eventually paid off: “I wanted to make sure that my clients knew me, knew my work, and knew they could trust me even from a distance.” Now, a newly minted digital nomad, LaRoche Bradford has spent the past year in Thailand, Australia, and Austria, and has returned to Thailand to volunteer with an NGO in Chiang Mai. But, she plans to pick up and move again in the next few months with her client base in tow.
Make Yourself Essential
After a stint at another major book publisher, Erica Warren went back to working for Macmillan in 2014. But the job she returned to was a more tech-heavy role than the production role she’d held there previously. At the time, Warren was working on her master’s degree in predictive analytics at New York University, and her new job at Macmillan was to develop user support systems for new tech initiatives that would be rolling out company-wide.
Warren knew that gave her a chance to make herself virtually indispensable. “Over the course of two to three years, I basically taught myself pretty niche programming things and built a tool for our specific workflow that’s now super-required to succeed in a bunch of projects we’re doing”—many of which, she adds, are directly saving the company money. “I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that nobody else could do this,” says Warren.
Even so, she and her wife had planned to move to the West Coast after Warren finished grad school, which she imagined would mean finding a new job. Like Thomas, Warren hadn’t given much thought to full-time remote work. But after discussing it with her manager—who all but said the company couldn’t afford to lose her—they set up an arrangement, and Warren has been working remotely from Portland since January.