How to influence and impact others virtually.
In the past year, I’ve shared plenty of content about how to lead remote teams. It was an important topic before 2020, but the pandemic made it mandatory.
What I haven’t talked much about is how remote team members can stand out from their counterparts and become more influential in the virtual environment. That’s a significant challenge if your “presence” is represented by a 2” square next to 19 others in a Brady-Bunch-style grid on the computer screen.
Some would say these conditions have leveled the playing field—giving every person equal-yet-reduced visibility. I’d say these conditions are still ripe for some thoughtful strategies. Here are five that can help you make a positive and lasting impact while working from home.
1. Set the right stage.
When I first started shifting to virtual keynotes and workshops, I learned some important lessons about creating a quiet space. But not before my presentations were briefly interrupted by barking dogs, Amazon delivery people ringing the doorbell, and hungry teens asking what’s for dinner. It happens!
To avoid those interruptions, I now use signs on my front door and my office door to let people know that they’ve entered a temporary noise-free zone. As for the dogs, they get to hang out in the garage or go on a walk with my son.
The point is, do what you need to do to create a quiet environment. That also means turning off notifications for all of your digital devices and silencing your phone. Remove any potential distractions that might make you appear less than engaged.
Another important part of setting the stage for your virtual calls is analyzing the production quality. In other words, is the backdrop for your call neat and uncluttered? Adjust your camera to be at eye level so it won’t appear as if you are looking down during the whole meeting. A stack of books under the laptop may be all you need! Check the quality of your lighting and sound. And if you’ll be using a new video-conferencing platform, take some time to get familiar with the system.
One final comment on this topic. Skip the super-casual attire like hoodies and baseball hats. Everyone loves the comfort of work-from-home attire (me included!), but making the effort to appear more professional will go a long way toward conveying trust and confidence to the rest of your team. No, you don’t need a suit jacket for every meeting, but think twice before you show up in the KISS concert T-shirt.
2. Don’t let your cyber “slip” show.
You’ve worked hard to set the stage. The meeting starts. What will your colleagues see?
Never underestimate the power of non-verbal communications. Before you ever utter a single word, you create an impression. That’s true in person and on Zoom. Think about the messages instantly conveyed by your demeanor, energy level, grooming, and facial expressions.
Will others on the virtual call see you as bored and disengaged or fully present and enthusiastic about the discussion? Does your loud tone of voice say “decisive” or “abrupt?” Are you grasping at papers on your desk to find the reference document you knew in advance would be addressed? Become more aware of all the variables that contribute to your virtual reputation and deliberately work to manage them.
3. Take yourself off autopilot.
In the pandemic era, there’s a tendency to rush through one Zoom call to get to the next one. Every meeting can start to feel like a perpetual status update.
If you want to set yourself apart, don’t miss the opportunity to speak up and contribute your point of view. What trends are you seeing? Based on your experience, how could you help others on your team connect the dots and make sense of the data presented? Another option is to ask a thought-provoking question that opens the door to a more productive conversation. Be the team member who positively disrupts “business as usual” to create value during the virtual meeting.
4. Create your own touchpoints.
With remote work, you often miss out on the “small talk” that occurs in the halls or the breakroom on the way to the meeting. Find moments within your virtual calls to regain a bit of that interpersonal “glue” that helps a team feel more connected.
Think about how you might be able to contribute something that breaks up the monotony of the business agenda. Share something funny that happened right before the call. Congratulate co-workers on major events in their lives. When you are intentional about connecting with your team members on a more personal level, you’ll quickly be perceived as a leader in the virtual environment—regardless of your title.
5. Do what you can to be consistent.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that being polished, energetic, and engaged in all of your virtual meetings is a tall order these days. It’s tough when you’ve run out of steam and are facing a multitude of work from home challenges but try your best to reset and restore before that camera light turns on. Even with great non-verbal communications and an enthusiastic demeanor on Monday and Tuesday, you lose points if you look bored and shadowy on Wednesday with your laundry in the background. You get the idea!
Here’s the main thing to remember: The rules for business success have definitely changed in a world where Zoom-based collaboration has become a standard. But when you apply some defined strategies to boost your virtual presence, you can elevate your professional impact even as you work from home.