It’s still not entirely clear what our workplaces will look like post COVID-19. Recent surveys find that the majority of executives believe that it is important for corporate culture to have staff in the workplace at least some of the time. Employees seem somewhat less eager to return to offices. In a PwC study from January of this year, over 50% of remote workers surveyed stated they would like to work remotely three days or more per week. A smaller number, around 20%, would like to work remotely full time.
While remote work does have obvious benefits, such as saving on commute time, office expenses, and the convenience, there are potential downsides. One major concern is that remote workers will be unable to develop the same connection to their coworkers and management team that they might have in a traditional office. Without opportunities for casual watercooler talk and seeing each other in the hallways, will remote workers feel isolated from their colleagues and organization?
Then there is the question of advancement and promotion. How do remote workers compete for opportunities with staff who are able to interact regularly with their managers and colleagues? The good news is that there are strategies emotionally intelligent remote workers can use to keep themselves from fading into the woodwork and ensure that they’re not forgotten at promotion time.
Frequent communication is important in any organization and crucial for remote workers. Make sure that your managers and coworkers hear from you often. If you wonder whether some document or guidelines should be sent out or not, err on the side of sending. Not having the ability to physically interact with your coworkers and managers will put you at a disadvantage if you allow yourself to go quiet. Ask questions if unsure of what you need to do or if looking for support. Make sure everyone knows that you are engaged. Not doing so may raise questions as to how you’re spending your time.
Proactively update leaders
When it comes to progress reports, become proactive. Don’t wait until management asks you about your progress. Even if it’s just a line or two, let those you work with and report to know what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day; lay out what you’re planning to tackle tomorrow. Keeping everyone in the loop gives the impression that you are involved and self-motivated. Don’t feel like you are being a pest or a burden. It’s up to management to let you know that they don’t need to hear from you as much.
Show you’re listening
One of the difficulties of video meetings is not being able to use body language to determine how others are feeling. Making a special effort to hear what the speaker is saying, and relaying back the message you heard, is a way to let them know they’ve been heard. Avoid looking down or away from the screen, as it gives the impression you’re not paying attention to what’s being said. Avoid multitasking, and give your full attention to the matter at hand.
Keep looking professional
It may be easy to stay in pajamas or put on sweatpants when working from home, but wearing professional-looking clothes during video meetings will pay off in the long run. Keep your background looking professional, as well. Family photos and awards for volunteer activities or other achievements look good in the background; remnants from last night’s party don’t. Attendees will notice your clothing and background, and make judgements about them. You want those judgements to be positive ones.
Check in and make casual conversation
While there will be different expectations from your organization on how to conduct meetings, use opportunities to share how you’re doing and make time for some casual conversation, if possible. This allows people to get relaxed and make a connection before getting into the core of the meeting. This also can help compensate for the lost small talk in office elevators or kitchen.
Get back to people promptly
When you receive emails, Slacks, or phone calls during your working hours, return them as soon as possible. If you’re busy and a response requires more time than you have at that moment, send the person a quick reply that you’re in the middle of something and will get back to them as soon as you finish; if that won’t be for a while, include an approximate timeframe. Working remotely makes it difficult for managers or colleagues to know how busy you are at the moment, and long delays in your response can be interpreted as too many distractions not related to your work.
Look for opportunities to connect
Find smart ways to add value or brighten a colleague’s workday. You might share a relevant article you recently read, or check up on an office mate who might be struggling. Finding reasons to stay in touch and up-to-date can help put you top of mind, even when you’re physically far away.