While many aspects of our lives are returning to normal, our workdays are still transforming. Companies are pivoting towards hybrid work models, giving employees the freedom to work remotely much more often than they used to. In fact, only 1% of human resources leaders surveyed by Gartner expect all of their employees to again be full-time office dwellers.
The option to not commute or get properly dressed is a career perk that few would pass up. But as offices reopen, there will be challenges for a remote worker (especially as the rest of your coworkers are back inside their cubicles).
I’m all too familiar with these challenges. For five years before the pandemic I was one of my company’s few remote employees. Before Zoom became ubiquitous, I would struggle to follow along as 11 people at a large conference table spoke into a single speakerphone. And I knew when those meetings ended that I was missing out on informal hallway conversations as my colleagues returned to their desks.
The pandemic has made it easier and more acceptable to be a remote worker, yet if you plan to continue working from home when your colleagues return to the office, you run the risk of fading into the background. Here’s how to stay top of mind when you are one of the few remote employees.
Show initiative when scheduling
The faces in those Zoom squares will once again be sitting around a conference table, and while you may not be at the table with them, you can at least ensure that you’re in the room.
Video conference rooms are essential for this. Therefore, if you know that your office only has a handful of video rooms, be the person who books these rooms well in advance. Don’t rely on your manager or coworkers to do it for you. If you want to participate in every meeting virtually, make it as easy as possible for your teammates to see you on-screen.
Keep your camera on
You’ve probably sat through plenty of meetings this past year where each person had their camera off. This was fine when all of your colleagues were at home, because it was still a level playing field.
But when your coworkers return to the office, they’re going to see other faces in person, but not yours. To make meetings more fair to you, set a strict rule for yourself that your camera stays on, no matter what. Even if you are the only virtual meeting participant with the camera on, By being seen on screen, you will prevent yourself from becoming “out of sight, out of mind.”
Create your own opportunities to socialize
Virtual networking events were a great way to bring people together during the pandemic, but real happy hours in physical watering holes will soon become the norm again. These types of informal gatherings can leave remote employees feeling even more detached.
However, the pandemic taught many of us it’s possible—not to mention more convenient and more cost-effective—to socialize online. If you want to stay connected with your colleagues, take the initiative to plan virtual happy hours or other casual events. You can keep it informal by organizing a game or conversation theme, using some of the many ideas found online. Or, you can ask your boss for funding to host a virtual wine tasting or other unique experience; there are companies that specialize in planning these events. Even if your manager is not willing to approve the expense, they will at least recognize that you took the initiative to plan it.
Take responsibility for your network
When your colleagues return to the office, they will be having coffee break chats and lunch conversations again—the kind of talks that lead to stronger office relationships and new opportunities. Working from home forces you to miss these in-person chats, but the good news is that, thanks to the pandemic, every office worker is now adept at meeting virtually. Be diligent about scheduling 30-minute coffee chats to stay in contact with your colleagues. Or, if your calendar is too full for regular networking chats, send a simple email instead. “Hey, I spotted you in the room during that meeting yesterday. How are things going in the office?” With a bit of consistent effort, you’ll continue to be on your coworkers’ radar.
The past year was a boon for every employee who wished to work from home more often. Now that many companies have granted that wish, the transition to hybrid work will require new strategies to ensure your career continues to flourish from home.
Jaclyn Yuppa is marketing manager at the United Parcel Service (UPS). She has a Masters in Business Administration from Duke University.