June 24 is National Work-From-Home Day—a celebration of the cultural and technological advancements that allow us to be productive working from anywhere outside the office. After 2020, I’m guessing there will be millions more people metaphorically toasting to that capability!
While remote workers weren’t uncommon before, the pandemic accelerated the proliferation of tools and services available to make working from home even more efficient and successful. (Think video chat platforms like Zoom and advanced collaboration software.) Bottom line? The solutions worked well. And employees loved the convenience, eliminating commute time and reducing the dry cleaning bill. Most experts agree that working from home is here to stay.
So who among us is most likely to excel at working remotely? And why? It’s not always easy to be effective when your “presence” is represented by a 2” square next to 19 others in a Brady-Bunch-style grid on the computer screen. Here are five tips that can help you make a positive, lasting impact while working from home.
1. Set the right stage.
Become more aware of all the variables that contribute to your virtual reputation and deliberately work to manage them. Remove any potential distractions that might make you appear less than engaged. Is the backdrop for your call neat and uncluttered? Are your electronic devices on silent? Adjust your camera to be at eye level so it won’t appear as if you are looking down during the whole meeting. And be sure to check the quality of your lighting and sound, investing in improvements as needed.
Everyone loves the comfort of work-from-home attire (me included!), but skip the super-casual clothing like hoodies and baseball hats. Making the effort to appear more professional will go a long way toward conveying that your respect for others is greater than your need to be supremely comfy. And keep in mind that you create an impression before you utter a single word in the virtual environment. Never underestimate the power of non-verbal communications! 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”?
2. Move beyond briefing or being briefed.
Remote workers can often end up with back-to-back Zoom calls, rushing through one to get to the next. 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.
3. Focus on making personal connections.
The downside of remote work is missing 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 flavor by opening up about your own life and inquiring about others, as well.
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.
4. Don’t let physical separation discourage collaboration.
One of the risks of working remotely is over-relying on your own thoughts and perspectives. It’s easy to assume that your viewpoint is the same as the rest of the group—until you test that theory. Challenge those assumptions! Consistently reach out to your team members to gather their input, opinions and advice. By making it a habit to disrupt your own thinking, the quality of your solutions will always be higher.
5. Share your progress.
Avoid the trap of being out-of-sight-out-of-mind by sending regular, concise updates to your manager and your team members. Highlight your projects and progress, with the emphasis on why your work is making an impact for the broader corporate goals. Mention deadlines, important findings and potential roadblocks. By keeping others in the loop, you’ll stay on your colleagues’ mental radar despite having a home office.
The rules for business success have definitely changed in a world where remote employees may soon be the standard rather than the exception. But when you apply some defined strategies to boost your virtual impact, you can elevate your professional reputation even as you work from home.
What other tips do you have for standing out, while sitting at home? I’d love to hear your perspective.
In the meantime, stay safe and please put some buffer time between your virtual meetings so that you have the capacity to share fresh ideas and ask thought-provoking questions.