If you’re a resident of Cubeville, you may daydream about breaking free from those fabric-covered walls. But instead of dreaming, your time would be better spent planning and preparing.
Just because your company doesn’t allow flexibility for your position right now doesn’t mean it will always be that way. And when your life changes—through a spouse’s job transfer, perhaps, or the need to care for aging parents who live hundreds of miles away—you may want to take your job with you.
Here are six skills to develop now that should help you prove you’re ready for flexibility when your time to ask arrives.
All workers need good time management skills, but if you want to be a flex worker, yours will need to be even better than average.
For starters, use lists to keep track of tasks. Make it a point to consistently complete your work prior to the deadline. Find ways to improve your efficiency and increase your effectiveness.
If you’re a manager, you should also seek opportunities to streamline your team’s processes and procedures. Remove roadblocks that prevent them from doing their jobs, and help them develop tools that allow them to focus on the tasks at hand.
Every flex worker knows excellent communication is the key to success. If you’re shifting your hours or working from a remote location, you have to find ways to collaborate with others.
This may seem relatively simple when your colleagues or the people you manage are sitting in the cubicle next to yours, but you can still work on communication skills that will serve you well when you move to a flexible position.
For example, be more careful with email, keeping messages clear and concise. Show that you can provide and follow detailed instructions. Establish a procedure for reporting progress, and for receiving those reports from people who work for you. Investigate different hardware and software that can be used to enhance remote communication, and then recommend a package of tools to your manager.
Remote workers, in particular, must be able to tune out distractions. In other words, if you’re working from home, you can’t be thinking about the dirty dishes in the sink or the yard work that needs to be done.
Offices provide plenty of opportunities for distraction, too, which means you can prove your ability to stay focused. Figure out how to (politely!) avoid productivity-killing water-cooler conversations when you need to wrap up a project. Ignore the siren song of social media. Plan your breaks for appropriate times, and use those minutes wisely to recharge.
Your success in this area will show in your ability to meet deadlines and stay productive.
A remote worker must be a self-starter who doesn’t depend on a boss looking over her shoulder to keep her working hard. Even when you’re working in an office, your manager will appreciate those same characteristics.
Take the initiative on projects. Suggest new ideas when appropriate and provide plans for carrying them out. Complete tasks in a timely fashion, and without asking for constant guidance. (Remember, however, that there is a fine line to walk here. Sometimes it’s appropriate to ask questions in order to avoid mistakes, and that kind of query can actually save time and money.)
As a manager, seek ways to motivate your team members, no matter where or when they are working. Develop communication strategies and fun activities to keep them unified, productive, and engaged. Observe your own manager’s strengths and weaknesses, and emulate her best traits.
One popular caricature of a flex worker is a telecommuter who participates in a videoconference while wearing pajamas, with his bunny-slipper-covered feet up on a desk.
To lay the groundwork for flexibility, show your boss that you are a professional. Dress and act appropriately in the office, and when you have an opportunity to participate in the occasional videoconference while on a business trip or during a telecommuting day, make sure you still look and act like a professional.
This doesn’t mean you have to be a “stuffed suit” all the time. Show your personality and have fun with your work and with your colleagues. However, especially if you are a manager, it is important to exude an attitude of professional competence. Everyone makes mistakes, but if you own yours, react with class, and remain calm, you’ll be seen as someone who can be trusted no matter where she is working.
If you’ve ever participated in a video interview for someone who has applied for a remote position, you know what a red flag it can be when you see a messy home office or a room full of distractions in the background.
Show that you won’t be that person through your behavior and environment in the office. Keep your cubicle or desk area neat and tidy. Pay attention to detail in your work and in your interactions with your boss, your colleagues, and your team.
Your organizational skills will build trust, as people come to see you as someone who is dependable and ready to handle any task.
By working on your skills in these six areas, you can position yourself as a strong, successful, professional worker who has the trust of her manager, her coworkers, and her direct reports. You’ll also have a solid portfolio of evidence to make your case for flexibility when the time comes.
Prepare now, and you’ll be ready for that daydream to become a reality.
Which of these skills have you tried to develop to prove you are ready for flex work? What other items would you add to this list? Please share your ideas in the comments section.
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