Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters
Although it’s increasingly common, telecommuting may be hazardous to employee eval-
uations. But employers can take steps to ensure that remote workers are judged fairly.
BY KIMBERLY ELSBACH AND DANIEL CABLE
These days, more and more corporate employees are working at least part of the
time from home offices. Working from
home, or other types of remote work arrangements such as using a drop-in work
center, can be beneficial to both employees and companies. However, our research
suggests that these nontraditional arrangements also have hidden pitfalls.
Employees who work remotely may 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.
The difference is what we call passive
face time. By that we are not referring to active interactions with coworkers or clients,
but merely to being seen in the workplace.
To be credited with passive face time you
need only be observed at work; no information is required about what you are
doing or how well you are doing it.
Even when in-office and remote employees are equally productive, our research
suggests their supervisors might evaluate
them differently because of differences in their
passive face time. Especially in white-collar
settings, the presence or absence of passive
face time may influence evaluations used to
determine the fitness of employees for specific
tasks such as team leadership. As Jack and Suzy
Welch wrote in a 2007 Business Week column:
Companies rarely promote people into
leadership roles who haven’t been consistently seen and measured. It’s a
familiarity thing, and it’s a trust thing.
We’re not saying that the people who
get promoted are stars during every
“crucible” moment at the office, but at
least they’re present and accounted for.
And their presence says: Work is my
top priority. I’m committed to this
company. I want to lead. And I can.
For the last decade we’ve studied the
concept of passive face time from the per-
spective of hundreds of corporate workers,
including both supervisors and subordi-
nates. (Details of our research were
published in the June 2010 issue of Human
Relations. See “Related Research.”) We
used observation, unstructured interviews
and tightly controlled experiments to
gather information about how passive face
time affects employee evaluations. This
data led us to three key findings.
; K. D. Elsbach, D. M. Cable and
J. W. Sherman, “How Passive
‘Face Time’ Affects Perceptions
of Employees: Evidence of
Spontaneous Trait Inference,”
Human Relations 63, no. 6
(June 2010): 735-760.