Q: I work from home, but my boss (who works in our corporate office in another city) often asks me to find reasons to work in the local office. It’s not a short commute, and I don’t actually work with any of the people in that location — my projects are with people in other countries or cities in the U.S. I don’t understand why this is important to him and how to handle it.
—Alex, 44, software engineer
A: It’s worth taking the time to understand why he wants you to be physically present in your local office.
First, does he realize that you don’t work directly with people at that location? You should double check. “He should know …” isn’t sufficient. If he has many direct reports or a wide scope of responsibility, that detail may just not be on his radar.
There are other reasons to be in the office. He may have concerns about the team’s visibility, so having an in-person presence may fulfill a need, even if you are not working directly with people.
You give a face to your part of the organization.
As you form relationships, you also are more tapped into the mood of the organization and dynamics that are going on. Might this also be part of his objective?
Or, he may have some more ad hoc questions that he needs you to get answers for from time to time, but not an ongoing expectation for you to be there.
It seems clear that you need to understand his point of view.
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If you have not just asked him, what has held you back from discussing it? If you are uncomfortable, reflect on the reasons. Then ask yourself, “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” You will probably find that it’s a low-risk conversation to have.
Taking a broad view, think about the benefits that you could realize. Forming broader relationships in your company is not trivial. As you work on different projects or take on different roles, the connections can support your success. It can also help build more job satisfaction through more work friendships.
Having an ear to the ground can also be useful, especially in the volatile business climate we are currently experiencing. It is easy to get too out of touch if you are working remotely, even if you have frequent virtual contact with co-workers.
Then think about a plan that you would find agreeable. Offering a solution will make things easier for your boss and also set you up to be more satisfied.
If he has an interest in building team presence overall, propose a regular schedule to be in the office — perhaps a day every week, or even every two weeks.
If he wants more access to specific information, spend some time building relationships, maybe by going up for coffee meetings now and then. That way you will have people to reach out to when needed.
Just remember — ignoring your boss’ preferences can be career limiting. Instead, find a balance between being productive with your tasks and meeting your boss’ expectations for office face time.