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Face Time, Not Flextime, Is Critical to Success

Vivia Chen

July 16, 2012

© Andres Rodriguez - Fotolia.comI'm a big proponent of flexible working arrangements, so I don't believe most people need to schlep to the office to do their jobs. I bet you can write an awesome brief or negotiate a terrific settlement in your pajamas from your cozy nest at home.

But just because you have the tools to do your job remotely (and you are happier and more productive when you do so), is it smart to work from home?

Not if you want to get ahead in your career, say business professors Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable. Writing in the MIT Sloan Management Review, Elsbach and Cable find that employees who work remotely pay a price. Often, they "end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises, and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office—even if they work just as hard and just as long."

Why the old-fashioned obsession with face time in this day of BlackBerrys and laptops? One reason is that employers and colleagues still value "passive" face time, which means "being seen in the workplace."

To get credit, "you need only be observed at work." People who show up at the office get credit for being “responsible” and “dependable,” say the authors. "Just being seen at work, without any information about what you’re actually doing, leads people to think more highly of you."

And if you really want to rise to the top, the key is to put in extra face time at the office—what the authors call "extracurricular face time." One way to get extra credit is to come in early and stay late at the office—so that people think you practically live there. At that point, your status will get "upgraded to 'committed' and 'dedicated.' "

This stuff might make you puke, because there's so much game playing going on here. But I'm afraid the research is accurate—hanging out at the office will probably earn you brownie points as a diligent worker bee.

But there's another reason to show up at work—which the authors don't address: Face time gives you the chance to sweet-talk your superiors. As I've said in the past, to get ahead, you need to do more than be a good soldier: You need to brown-nose—and you just can't do that effectively through e-mail.

Ultimately, though, I suspect how much you can afford to work remotely depends on the working style of your direct boss. If you work for someone who's always at the office, it might take a lot to convince her that you're not napping or downing martinis during business hours when you work remotely.

But what's wrong with naps and cocktails during the day—if they help you get the work done?

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.


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While this may be great career advice, it works against women in the workplace. Often women need to have more flexible schedules (due to family responsibilities) and are not able to put in extra face time. This doesn't mean that they are not dedicated and committed to their jobs. As long as employers reward "face time" rather than performance, women will have a tough time getting ahead.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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