Navigating office politics and making sure you are visible for the right reasons, to the right people has always been a challenge. But the difficulties have been heightened as we are all working remotely more and travel and meeting restrictions are in force. The notion of intrapreneurship has shifted in the office-less workplace. It is becoming more difficult to make key players aware of our very existence, not just the value of our contribution.
Not a new issue
Raising visibility from afar is not a new issue. It’s a problem that has plagued individuals in a range of situations. in 2012 The Economist “Working from home: out of sight out of mind,” highlighted the negative impact that a flexible work place culture can have on some individual employee’s promotion prospects, if they are home-based. We also know that expats on overseas assignments removed from the power centre of HQ, or employees in regional offices have also felt “faceless” at different times. Non-P & L support functions who are treated in some organisations as second class citizens also complain. Being physically present in an office doesn’t always mean you are more visible. But it certainly helps. In a time of remote working in an office-less age for all, those who were close to the centre of the action and power, are also starting to feel removed.
Personal branding strategy and remote working
Personal branding in a time of remote working has taken on a new dimension. Navigating office politics when you are physically in an office can be challenging but still easier. There you can have casual but significant encounters with bosses and colleagues. You can read body language and sub-text at a physical meeting and knock on someone’s door with quick questions. It was possible to arrange coffees and lunches and turn up to meetings early, which is when the real networking takes place. With 46% of employees saying they want to work remotely, this disruption to traditional working patterns is likely to be a more permanent feature.
How do you manage your personal brand in an office-less workplace?
1. Intentional communication
It means making a specific effort to communicate with the people who are necessary to your career and networking strategy. This btw means you have to actually one. You should understand their communication preferences and check in with them systematically in a way that they will hear and listen to you. Some people prefer Slack and What’s App. Others email. Voice messaging is also an option. Remember that online messaging has a 57% chance of mis-communication. You can also schedule an old-school voice call.
The random encounter is less likely to happen now if you are permanently working from home. So all communication has to be intentional, short and focused. Some channels do have the option to set up random meetings (Slack and Teams.) You can ask your organisation to set that up.
2. Be accessible yourself
One element that engenders trust is availability and responsiveness to queries and issues. This is a fine line to navigate as for many employees it means their work/life boundaries have become blurred. Finding a balance that works for you or blocking off time and publicising that for ad hoc calls or open door online queries is also a good solution.
3. Give credit
By leading the way in giving credit you contribute to a culture of recognition. Acknowledge the contribution of others. When something good happens express gratitude, a small but significant action which highlights the role of others, makes bystanders feel great and also adds to your own political capital.
4. Zoom in – not out
The relentless schedule of Zoom or other online meetings is proving to be a curse in the office-less workplace. How do you make your presence felt in big meetings felt when your colleagues are logging in from their kitchens and guest bedrooms. If they are that lucky. Much has been written about getting the tech right for a virtual presence, camera position, audio and getting the background right. All of that is a given. You should be on top of that by now.
But because virtual interaction is a permanent feature of our lives, there are some key tips which we need to focus on.
- Appearance: This isn’t about women looking sexy, but we are 6 months in to this situation it’s important to look together and dare I say it professional. I have also noticed a proliferation of baseball caps on the men as if millions have taken up the sport. I have one question. Why? Time to lose them I would say, especially if you live in Pontypool or Pauillac and there’s probably not a baseball diamond within a 50k radius .
- Use your camera: Be physically visible just as you would in a real meeting. If there are extenuating circumstances, see the next point. But know if people can’t see you it is a disadvantage. If your organisation has a no camera rule because of pressure on the network, set up smaller, separate meetings which can be held to camera. Out of sight can be out of mind.
- Fill out your profile: so your full name appears and if necessary a business picture avatar so people can see your face on your place holder and when you chat or pose questions .
- Body language: Restrict hand movements and other little habits such playing with hair, beards and jewellery. They are distracting and look a bit manic. Many men have grown beards in lock down and have developed visible self-soothing habits, which once again seem exaggerated on screen.
- Use the hand up tool: so you can indicate a desire to make a contribution
- Engage in the chat box : to make a comment, recognise or thank a colleague
- Ask questions in the question box: when you want to pose a thoughtful question
5. Online networking
Now is a key time to also step up your online networking efforts outside your organisation. Reach out to people on LinkedIn, attend online workshops and conferences and follow-up in the usual way. Working from home doesn’t mean that networking efforts should stop. Engage with connections on social media platforms, offer to be on online panels or contribute to posts and blogs, and try to extend your reach. Establish your online presence, land a page, feature your logo design, and stick your brand name in people's minds.
Easing of protocols
When safety protocols are finally relaxed, prepare a strategy for engaging with colleagues and network contacts in line with your priorities. If you have the opportunity to physically attend meetings in a safe way, it would be a good idea to let your bosses and team know that you are open to seizing that chance. You don’t want anyone to exclude you based on unqualified assumptions about wanting to stay at home. This is a bias that women are already experiencing.
Women you certainly don’t want your male colleagues to be physically in the office and for you to be off the radar. It seems that more men are returning to offices than women. If necessary you will need to have a constructive conversation with your partner. If you are a single parent and day care facilities are not open in your area, try to find if you can a solution, even if it’s only for one visit.
The point is, when the office-less workplace is replaced by the next normal, whatever that might turn out to be, probably some sort of hybrid arrangement, you will be ready and equipped to handle both scenarios.