How to be successful in a remote role: Mastering the virtual world

by Lars on September 29, 2015

business man having a conversation via webcam.

A remote role: These words often elicit mixed feelings in employees and especially in young high-potential managers.

On the one hand, people like the possibility of taking on a global role without having to move and they appreciate the work-life balance benefits of working more often from home.

On the other hand, there are challenges when it comes to remote roles. These challenges include the proper use of technology and how to manage a virtual team.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Aside from these skill-related issues, however, many individuals often also have deeper concerns. “We very often get the question ‘how will this impact my career?’ when a remote role is discussed, especially with young high-performers,” says Francesco Mantovani, P&G’s Head of Leadership Development for Europe. Employees may fear missing crucial discussions or being left out of the loop as in “out of sight, out of mind“.

In addition to mastering the right supporting technologies, I recommend to focus on work approach tools that deal with career and success challenges when one moves into a remote/virtual position.

When looking at success in the remote world, I recommend to look at three areas, based on the PIE model of Harvey Coleman in his great book on the “Organizational Game”: Performance, Image and Exposure.

Performance: Making sure the work is seen and valued

Many people think that performance can be assessed wherever you are, remote or not. It is not as simple as that, however. Both the employee and the manager need to make conscious efforts to ensure that performance is evaluated.

“Deliverables and work you do are harder to see from the distance,” says Jochen Brenner, an HR associate director. “On top of that, you need to be more agile and anticipate much more of what could happen as you just can’t check in with your manager at the same frequency.”

Perhaps the key is to make both individuals and managers aware of what professors Elsbach and Cable call “passive face time bias”. This is the observation that managers and indeed all humans tend to rate the person we see on a day-to-day basis more often more highly then the remote, out-of-sight person.

What can you do?

  • Prepare a plan for proactive interaction. Conscious interaction takes on greater importance when spontaneous interaction and coffee conversations no longer happen. Put a note in your calendar every day to reach out to a remote colleague.
  • Avoid the “burst & silence” communication approach, i.e. massive project updates on one day and then silence over several days. Rather, spread out your communication.
  • Set up regular 1-1’s with your manager, and then make sure that you go before this through your “Sent” Email folder. Give your manager a short update of your achievements throughout the week.

Image: Working on the perception of oneself in a virtual context

A more intangible driver of success is one’s image. Image can be fundamentally affected by the remote world. That is because employees have fewer or different chances to build an image of you.

“In a remote location, your image is critical,” says Peter Yorke, a global Marketing director. “Your manager will very rarely see you so what they hear about you from others will have an even greater weight in how they assess you are performing.”

Apart from being misrepresented by colleagues, a remote employee runs the risk that his or her image will be distorted in communication. In the global world, we interact in different ways and through various channels. E-mail, blog posts, memos and phone conversations and even video interactions are different from “face-to-face” meetings. One may come across differently over these channels than one does in person. Perhaps this is why when you meet somebody for the first time in person after one or more remote interactions you often think: “Oh, this person is really different from what I thought and expected”.

What can you do?

    • Become aware of your virtual image. Use techniques such as the Johari window to understand how you come across virtually. Ask for feedback on your “virtual blind spots” every 2-3 months within your team.
    • Have some of your emails cross-read by 2-3 other individuals from time to time. This helps you identify for instance an unintentionally aggressive e-mail tone.
    • Become a master at e.g. web conferencing technologies and how to give presentations over the phone, screen and video in an engaging way. Watch my 9’ TEDx talk here for some strategies:

Exposure: Getting attention in a global world

Exposure to senior management and key stakeholders is another key issue for remote employees. Because you are “out of sight” in a virtual role more often than in traditional environments, as a remote employee you have to work more to gain exposure. Moreover, because you are often a member of multiple organizations, it is important to gain all-around exposure.

I encourage remote employees therefore to work actively not only on their exposure to their line management, but also to their functional management and the local organizations where they are physically based. “Exposure to your local organization is incredibly important,” notes Peter Yorke. “You need to be extra pro-active (attending trainings, town halls etc.), or the local organization will begin to wonder what you are doing.”

What can you do?

      • Create an exposure map for your own development and discuss these strategies regularly with your manager.
      • Regularly check whether your exposure to the global organization (e.g. a global cross-functional team), local organization (e.g. London or Madrid office), and functional organization (e.g. marketing) is properly balanced.
      • Conduct e.g. triad sessions on a regular basis with both your remote line manager and a local functional manager present.

The road to remote success

Explicitly addressing the areas of performance, image and exposure in remote environments allows companies and individuals to capture the value of remote working. Constantly exploring new coping strategies in a “tools, not rules” approach can help furthermore to fully leverage remote roles.

All strategies and tools have one thing in common, however: they let people leverage the possibilities of the virtual workplace while openly embracing and coping with the challenges that this new world of work brings.

What has worked for you regarding your remote success? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Lars Sudmann is an expert on high-performance leadership in global organizations. He works with multinational companies and institutions as change consultant, keynote speaker as well as workshop facilitator. This article is based on a program he designed for Procter & Gamble. The post also appeared on his blog: www.lars-sudmann.com.

Picture credit: istockphoto.com

Comments

comments

Previous post:

Next post: