Please join me in welcoming two guest bloggers, Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel.  Kevin is a leading authority on leadership and has twice been named by Inc.com as one of the top 100 Leadership/Management Experts in the World. Wayne is the co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute and author of several books that demystify communicating through technology.  This post was inspired by their newly released book, The Long Distance TeammateI’m honored to have Kevin and Wayne share their thought provoking ideas on the how to stay engaged, connected and visible while working remotely. 

 

Being a great long-distance teammate means staying connected to your manager, providing value to your team’s work, and thinking about your own long-term development. Yet one of the most common traps remote workers fall into is to become invisible to their colleagues and the organization. We “avoid office politics,” and “let the work speak for itself.” Oh, we work hard on our tasks, speak when spoken to, and then hope we are rewarded appropriately.

The problem is that doesn’t always happen. When we’re not seen every day,  we can be excluded from important conversations, not get the credit we deserve for our work come review time, and miss out on chances to develop our skills or work on interesting projects. We are literally out of sight, and thus out of mind.

In The Long-Distance Teammate, Stay Engaged and Connected Working Anywhere, we address this paradox: How do we remain visible to our manager and co-workers, while not appearing self-serving, needy, or crudely ambitious?  The solution is what we call “ethical visibility.”

This idea centers on some important, if uncomfortable, facts of life:

  • If you aren’t active in team discussions, activities and meetings, people may not value your contributions to the team or even take credit for your contributions.
  • Your work will not speak for itself. You must advocate for yourself.
  • By intentionally shielding yourself from what goes on in your company, you will miss out on opportunities for development, new work, and the chance to positively network.
  • Your manager means well, but may not know what your goals are, or be aware of the value you’ve added to the team. Since they do your performance review and assign project work, it’s critical that they are aware of what you do, and where you want to go. They can’t read your mind.
  • Most of us have been raised not to draw attention to ourselves. “The nail that sticks up gets hit with a hammer.” “Nobody likes a show-off.” “Let your work do the talking for you. People will recognize your efforts.” This has never been completely true, even in a traditional workplace. When we work remotely we are even more likely not to be recognized for what we do.

We are all at our best if we are energized by the work, enjoy the company of our coworkers, and receive recognition and positive feedback on our work. We like to know we are not just completing tasks, but working towards something of benefit for our team, our organization, and ourselves. If we aren’t recognized for our work, included in conversations, or brought into conversations, we can become isolated, discouraged and disengaged.

The secret is to be visible to our teammates and the rest of the organization, but not in a way that appears blatantly self-promoting or negative. Thus the term, “ethical visibility.” This means we are mindful of the way we interact with our team, protect our own integrity and interests, and take control of our development and how we are viewed by others.

How is this different from shameless self promotion? Ethical visibility is:

  • About the team’s/organization’s goals, not just you. Make sure that you’re using words like “we” and “us.” When making suggestions, put them in the context of what the group is trying to achieve, not how smart you are. “Because the goal is to get more people to use this feature, maybe we can try using more testimonials” accomplishes the same thing as “I think we should use more social media” but makes the goal about the team, not your ego.
  • Appropriate to the team culture. Some teams engage in raucous discussions that can get loud and boisterous. Other organizations are concerned with team cohesion and being “collegial” at all times, which might, to some, feel like avoiding conflict and quashing honest conversation. Being ethically visible means that you stand your ground and contribute but don’t do it in a way that creates unnecessary tension or conflict within the team. For example, if things are usually done in writing, perhaps filibustering a meeting on another topic isn’t the right way to be heard.
  • Supportive and positive. Be aware of others and their feelings—and how you might be impacting them. It’s good that everyone has ideas, even if not everyone’s ideas are good. Being right or having a discussion in the heat of the moment may strain relationships. Even if you don’t agree with someone’s contribution or idea, remember to focus feedback on the idea itself, not the teammate’s intelligence or motives.

Nobody will watch out for you and your future as well as you will. It is okay to take responsibility for the way you are perceived by your teammates. It is alright to raise points in coaching conversations that are important to your goals, even if your manager doesn’t raise them. It’s not only acceptable, but critical, that you make sure your work is noticed and documented so you get the reward and recognition needed to stay engaged in your work over the long haul.

How aware are you of the way you’re perceived by your organization, your manager and your teammates. Do you need to raise your profile? Or are you satisfied being out of sight and out of mind?