Like most people, I experienced 2020 as a year of constant change—in the way I worked, the way I communicated with loved ones, and even the way I shopped for groceries. So when my company’s CTO approached me about leading an entirely new department, I wasn’t sure I was ready to make yet another change.
The initiative I’d be leading was important for advancing Envoy Global’s mission of bringing efficiency and transparency to the immigration process. The COVID-19 pandemic opened people’s eyes to the power of digitization and automation—a priority in the typically paper-based immigration process. Our CTO, Mahi Inampudi, needed someone to lead the charge in making our immigration management platform more efficient by integrating robotic process automation (RPA).
Mahi’s ask was both exciting and daunting. As an engineering manager with a technical background, I knew taking on a more people-oriented role would mean new challenges. As an individual with an employment-based visa, I also experience constant anxiety when considering a new job. To feel confident taking on the role, I was going to have to build my own confidence along with Mahi’s and do it virtually.
Taking stock of the challenges of a new role
When Mahi first approached me about the new role, I immediately felt anxious about my career and the long-term success of this initiative. I’ve been pursuing my green card for more than nine years, and I didn’t want to risk any setbacks. If the initiative failed, would I still have a job? If not, what would happen to my visa? Moving into a new role is always a risk, but my immigration status made it feel even riskier.
I was also intimidated because I knew how important it was for this initiative to succeed. I would be tasked with collecting and processing hundreds of thousands of documents containing sensitive personal information for employment-based visas. Security is essential, and the RPA initiative needed to maintain privacy while processing a large volume of documents.
There was a lot at stake, and the fact that both my decision and the job transition had to happen virtually made it much more stressful. Remote communication alone presented its own set of challenges.
Lack of body language: Communicating via video calls is difficult because you only see faces, not the body language people usually rely on to communicate. Without physical cues, it’s easy to overanalyze things like how long someone pauses or their level of engagement in the conversation. The lack of body language hinders relationship-building, which would clearly factor into my success in the new role.
Misunderstandings: Different backgrounds and communication styles create opportunities for misinterpretations, especially when you’re communicating remotely. This makes team-building especially difficult. It’s critical to maintain clear and accurate communication during the early stages of team-building to establish a foundation of trust.
Collaboration: The initiative would require close collaboration among team members in the United States and around the world, as well as coordination with other teams in the organization. This level of collaboration can be especially difficult to achieve in remote totality. In many cases, updates and other important pieces of information are communicated via desk drive-bys and chance office encounters, opportunities that don’t arise when everyone is working remotely.
Despite these challenges, I agreed to meet with Mahi (virtually) to discuss the role. I knew that overcoming these obstacles while making a major life choice wouldn’t be easy, but it was possible.
Overcoming remote communication barriers
Fortunately, my conversation with Mahi went smoothly. Mahi was honest and patient, making it easier for me to express any concerns and talk about my past experiences. While I had never been in a role like this before, I did have experience managing teams on a global scale. Mahi genuinely believed the role suited me well, and as we talked through my qualifications and the requirements of the position, I agreed with him. The transparency I felt during our conversations led me to feel not just comfortable taking on this role but thrilled for the opportunity.
Now that I have experience in my new role, I can honestly say I’m on my way to mastering the art of remote communication. While it may sound trite, patience and empathy are critical in communicating remotely. Interruptions like poor internet connections and barking dogs require compassion and understanding. And it takes patience to wait for coworkers to respond about minor issues that could be quickly resolved through casual face-to-face interactions. In those moments, remain calm and stay focused on the big picture.
I’ve also learned that while misinterpretations are common when working remotely, asking for clarification upfront saves time in the long run. It shows you care enough to really listen to your coworkers and helps avoid confusion as you work to achieve shared goals. And if you don’t think your team is using the most efficient digital tools for a given task, speak up — transparency is key.
My golden rule
Your technical skills and experiences mean nothing without empathy and patience. This principle has guided my entire life, from my immigration to the U.S. to navigating visa renewals and pursuing my green card —and it’s helped me navigate my promotion, too.
If you’re offered an exciting new role while working remotely, don’t let worries about communication issues or other hurdles hold you back. Instead, commit to compassion, transparency, and listening carefully to others. If you keep the right mindset, you’ll enjoy a smooth transition and have no trouble harnessing all the opportunities a remote promotion opens up.
Roy Dsouza is an engineering manager of Robotic Process Automation at Envoy Global.