Six minutes after the start of the meeting, there are 12 names on the list of participants, and you realize that you know two of them by name, but so far you only know the picture from the list of participants. You have not yet met in person. The voice is also unknown. Where have these colleagues been hiding for so long?
Working from home has been a common work model in the IT industry, and not just since the COVID-19 pandemic. The IT sector is well-equipped; there aren’t as many issues as other industries unless you have to deal with low bandwidth and overloaded Internet. So technically, the conditions are right, but there are still colleagues who somehow get lost working from home. They deliver results on time, are present at every online meeting, and participate more or less actively in the discussions, but they are still quickly forgotten. In most cases, however, these are the same people who are also quickly forgotten in the office. Why is that?
An argument could be made here about charisma and body language, but this offers little scope online. The reason lies even deeper in the personality matrix. Some colleagues call too often, invite people to meetings and agreements, push their way in so as not to miss anything, while others wait for someone to approach them. Once approached, these “invisible people” immediately offer their support and complete all assigned tasks always to the fullest satisfaction. Career-wise, they still don’t get ahead, mainly because they don’t actively communicate that they want to. After a two-hour meeting – whether live or online – these colleagues are just as relaxed as they were before the meeting; after all, they haven’t exhausted themselves. They’ve written down their to-dos and are getting back to work. Perhaps they ask a question here and there, but no loud discussions or criticisms, rather well-thought-out ideas and suggestions, which are then often not perceived as such. In our hectic everyday life, we hardly listen to the “quiet ones”. This has to do with our perception. We filter out what we think is unimportant from our surroundings. If we sit in an open-plan office, which is unthinkable in the age of Corona, we no longer hear a constant background noise – a mixture of voices, printers, coffee machines, etc. We have learned to focus our attention. In the home office, we are either lucky enough to sit in a quiet study of our own and be largely undisturbed, or we sit in the middle between distance learning families, between the vacuum cleaner and the dishwasher, between homework supervision and the ringing parcel delivery service. Here, too, we have learned to suppress the background noise in our perception, at least to some extent. Humans learn to hear only what is important for survival. Since we no longer live in the wilderness, we often do not hear the quiet noises in the background, but concentrate on the information we need.
If you belong to the group of the often overlooked, we need information. According to psychologists, the reason that someone is quickly overlooked or forgotten is often rooted in childhood. Perhaps the parents were too busy with other family members or work, so the child learned early on to simply work quietly in the background. This can be a reason, but it doesn’t have to be. It also doesn’t help to place the blame or cause for being overlooked solely in the past. Rather, it is advisable to feel the will to change one’s behavior so as not to be overlooked in the future. Without this self-motivation, there is no success. Our behavioral patterns are entrenched. If you want to be at the forefront from now on, you have to draw attention to yourself and remain visible. This is possible both in the office and while working from home:
- Networking is the be-all and end-all: Successively build up a solid network within your company. Keep in touch with your contacts. Check-in spontaneously with colleagues and exchange information about current projects, etc., even without an agenda.
- Be a welcome ambassador: In many larger companies, the HR department organizes various welcome activities for new employees. Sponsors usually seek to help new colleagues with onboarding and to introduce their departments and interfaces. If you have not yet been invited to such events, actively approach your supervisor or HR department to offer your support. New employees will get to know you and your department at an early stage and you will know about new arrivals.
- Appointment blocker: Keep time slots free in your calendar so you can spontaneously call or chat with your contacts, or even invite them to a five-minute stand-up meeting.
- Read protocol: If there is a protocol for important meetings, read it and stay in contact with the responsible persons until the next meeting. Yes, that is easier said than done. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day, but it’s worth it.
- Take ownership: Depending on your role, offer to take additional ownership of a subproject in important projects, but without unnecessarily inflating the project. Take over tasks from the moderator and demand speaking time that you are entitled to according to the agenda.
- Don’t wait for others: Everyone knows this. What if you reach a point in your work where important information, data, or decisions are missing? Even if it was agreed that the colleague would contact you, always agree on a clear deadline. If this deadline is reached, but there is still no answer, call the person responsible and remind him or her in a friendly manner about the information you need. Do not wait for the next meeting or a suitable opportunity. Stay tuned and get the information you need for your work yourself.
- Use the right word choice: The subjunctive has no success in professional life. In other words, always express yourself clearly and in the indicative in meetings: “I need …” instead of “It would be nice if …“, “We will discuss …” instead of “We could discuss …” next week. Of course, make sure that your demands and promises come across as realistic, but also binding.
- Overcome your fears: This point is the most difficult for reserved people. So far, you’ve been running under the radar, doing your job, but also not catching anyone’s eye. If you want to get ahead and are dissatisfied with always being overlooked, you have to come out of hiding and dare to present your opinion and your talents to the public. This doesn’t have to start with the board or in the grand circuit. Work on yourself after a job change, and get involved step-by-step from the beginning. Listen attentively and always make a point of actively participating in discussions.
- Self-reflection: Reflect on each meeting to see if your point of view or the points that are important to you were raised and if you were heard. Don’t start ruminating; think about a strategy for each meeting: Who is in attendance? How do I address the target group? How can I persuade them? What do others need from me and what do I need from them? The more structured you go into a meeting, the more routine the discussion will become.
- Trademarks: Even if this sounds a bit crazy, take a look at celebrities or politicians and see what trademark they embody. Think about yellow sweater vests, crazy glasses, or the maxim of never wearing black. Whatever suits you, use it consistently. In time, your colleagues will start to like which accessory, zoom background, or piece of clothing you use to express your personality. This trademark is not meant to be ridiculous, but it should make people smile. As soon as you appear, your trademark will also become visible and will be remembered – in a positive sense. It shows that you exude a strong personality that cannot be overlooked.
Managers should also pay particular attention to quieter employees. New employees are not yet able to actively participate in meetings and need time to familiarize themselves and build up their internal network. This onboarding aspect is particularly precarious in these times of permanent home offices. Managers must ensure that the thread of communication never breaks. Through daily online stand-up meetings and regular checkpoints, you can find out where new employees stand, which colleagues have already been introduced to each other, and where there may still be difficulties in understanding tasks or other aspects. As a manager, you are then called upon to intervene or offer support. Anyone who works from home with a new employer during COVID-19 naturally has a doubly difficult time if their supervisor or colleagues have not sufficiently mastered the art of remote communication. In this case, you owe it to them to actively demand regular communication: from your team leader, your colleagues, and, if necessary, also from the HR department, in order to find out about additional onboarding support.
By the way: There are various ways to strengthen team spirit when working from home. App-controlled team challenges, such as a step competition, would be a good way to keep moving together as a team and measure yourself against others, even in the home office. Here, your team can define goals and virtually hike together all the way to Spain, even in times of Coronavirus. In an app, each team member records the steps they have taken every day. The team that first virtually reaches Barcelona or another defined destination wins. Depending on the budget, the reward could be vouchers for a mail-order sports equipment company or even a future team meal. There are no limits to imagination, and you can help your employees stay fit even in the home office. There’s no shortage of fun either.
Working from home has been associated with special communication conditions that are essential for effective collaboration since before COVID-19. Instead of just popping in to see a colleague or going to the neighboring department to catch up, as you would in the office, you have to make time for a spontaneous exchange on a regular basis. You could use the time you save for traveling to and from work to call colleagues who are already online.
No matter whether you are a long-time, quiet representative or a newcomer to the job, whether you are present or online: Make yourself visible, take the initiative and never let contact with your team drop. Think about your brand, too! You will definitely not get lost (anymore) and remain present even in the home office.