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Lack of 'face time' could hold back employees in spite of growth of flexible working, London Business School finds

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Although telecommuting is increasingly becoming the norm for time-poor executives with a global workforce, research from London Business School has shown that a lack of ‘face time’ may stifle their chances of promotion.

In the 10 years they have been researching the topic, London Business School's Daniel Cable and Kimberly Elsbach from the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), reported that the rewards for employees using "non-traditional" working arrangements were fewer when compared to their desk-bound peers.

Daniel Cable, professor of organisational behaviour, said: "Twenty years ago, when we left the office, we generally left our work behind, which is ironic because more than ever before, much work can be accomplished without being physically present at a desk in a building."

Remote working arrangements have shown that they can be beneficial both to employees and organisations. But from the perspective of hundreds of corporate workers, including both managers and subordinates, when assessing the leadership traits and dependability, the difference is passive face time.

Passive face time refers merely to being seen in the workplace, regardless of what you are doing or how well you are doing it. Particularly in white-collar environments, the authors assert, the presence or absence of passive face time may be used to influence the fitness of employees for certain tasks, such as leadership.

Through data from a series of unstructured interviews and tightly-controlled experiments, the authors found:

There are two kinds of passive face time: expected face time - simply being seen at work during normal business hours; and extracurricular face time, where an employee is seen at work outside normal business hours.

Expected face time led to perceptions of traits of "responsible" and "dependable". Without necessarily doing anything in particular, people think more highly of these colleagues. For those who put in the extracurricular time, they can be expected to be upgraded to "committed" and "dedicated".

Managers' inferences based on passive face time are intentional - even unconscious - which suggests that people generally form perceptions of traits spontaneously, without realising they are doing so.

For those people whose work takes them away from their desks, Professor Cable has discovered a few key tactics that many remote workers use to overcome barriers to face time:

  • Make regular phone or email status reports, as used by 83% of remote workers. Take advantage of technology to report progress and show that you are still hard at work
  • Be extra-visible when in the office (35%) Work hard when you are in the office, pointing out to your boss and colleagues when you miss lunch and breaks to meet a deadline
  • Be immediately available at home (26%) Respond to emails as soon as you can to allay fears that you cannot respond as quickly as if you were in the office
  • Get others to talk you up (22%) Make your peers and directors know who you are and update them on what you are doing when you see them
  • Email or voicemail early or late in the day (20%), as a cue that you are working hard, even if you are not necessarily visible.