Thoughts and Reflections on better business relationships
POST WRITTEN BY
JULY 30, 2021
Harvard Business Review
In an all-remote work environment, everyone’s in the same situation, so it’s a level playing field when it comes to managing your personal brand. But as we shift into a hybrid phase of work, in which many employees are headed back to the office, a new question emerges: if you plan to work remotely full-time or most of the time, how can you stay visible when your in-office colleagues are likely to have far more exposure to the boss, as well as access to casually transmitted information that could prove useful to their careers and promotional opportunities?
For nearly a decade, I’ve researched personal branding at work, and I’ve discovered four key strategies that can help remote workers maintain their visibility and their strong reputation, even when measured against coworkers who are putting in more face time at the office.
It’s true that the previous stigma against WFH has decreased markedly during the pandemic, as many knowledge workers had the opportunity to try it for themselves. But it’s also probable that leaders may revert to their past frame of reference once they’re back in the office — namely, that employees they can’t directly monitor may well be goofing off. That’s why it’s essential for remote workers to overindex on creating perceptions of rock solid reliability.
This may include reinforcing that you’re meeting or exceeding deadlines. For instance, if your manager has asked you to write a time-sensitive report, you could just send it to them with a simple email — or you could make your contribution more noticeable by writing something like this: “Julie, as promised, I’m attaching the ABC report here. I know the official deadline is Thursday but I wanted to send it over to you early so that we have more time to make revisions if necessary.” This verbiage stops being effective if you use it too often (you don’t want to come across as a brown-noser). But used sparingly, it can draw attention to your ability to deliver in clutch situations. And the short phrase “as promised” is almost always effective in reinforcing that you live up to your commitments.
Colleagues working together in an office have plenty of organic opportunities, from elevator rides to breakroom encounters, to develop a low-key, ambient awareness of each other’s lives (everything from where they last vacationed to what their favorite sports teams are). That information isn’t essential to performing your job, of course, so it’s easy to overlook its importance. But it provides a form of “social glue” that enables you to connect with colleagues beyond the purely transactional format of Zoom calls discussing a particular project or account.
Research has shown that online negotiations are far more likely to be resolved successfully when participants share personal information with one another and thereby create a bond, rather than sticking to “just the facts” of the deal. Similarly, a colleague who feels a personal connection to you is almost certainly more likely to advocate for you when you’re not in the room, or volunteer to help you even when it’s not convenient, as compared to someone with whom you have a more distant relationship.
As a remote worker, you’ll have to think harder about how to engineer these connections; you can’t rely on bumping into someone who invites you to lunch. You’ll likely have to be the initiator, whether you decide to invite colleagues for one-on-one video chats or host a virtual networking event. But the effort is worth it, given the powerful impact of social connections on both your reputation at work and your ability to do your job successfully.
Where geographically feasible, try to come into the office occasionally to meet with colleagues and ensure, particularly with new hires with whom you don’t have a previous history, that they can “put a face to the name.”
Similarly, even if your office culture permits online meetings with the video camera turned off, make a point of keeping yours on and ensuring your face is well-lit, with a professional backdrop. This may seem like a minor aesthetic point, and overkill if other colleagues are keeping their cameras off. But if those colleagues are putting in more face time at the office, the people around them have far more data to use (in the form of interpersonal interactions) in forming judgments about them. If you’re working from home full-time, on the other hand, this is the only way you’re connecting with colleagues, so you need to be hypervigilant about how you’re presenting yourself.
For obvious reasons, overextended managers appreciate employees who are willing to adjust to their schedules and work around their preferences. As a remote worker, you’re never going to be as accessible as someone sitting 10 feet away whom they can grab when a question arises or a new idea pops into their head — so you’ll need to make yourself easy to work with in other ways.
For instance, it’s valuable to have an explicit conversation about your manager’s communication preferences. Do they find phone calls to be the most efficient way to connect? Or are they an adherent of email, or Slack, or text messages? Make sure you understand how — and when — they expect to be able to reach you, how they’d prefer that you contact them, and their assumptions around response time, including during nights and weekends.
You’ll be far more successful if you understand, and honor, their desired communication style, even if it’s not your natural preference. Your goal is to minimize friction in their ability to connect with you when needed. Similarly, even if your boss hasn’t requested it, it’s useful for you to suggest a regular (perhaps weekly) one-on-one check-in meeting, ideally on video. That ensures you’ll have at least a small amount of direct contact every week, including an opportunity to ask questions, clarify expectations, and keep your boss updated on your progress.
The risk when working from home is that your contributions fade into the background until the point when your boss and colleagues feel that you’re no longer essential to the enterprise. By following these four strategies, you can stay visible and ensure that you’re viewed as a valued contributor who makes a significant impact on your team’s success.