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How To Show Up For Work When No One Is Showing Up For Work

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at August 16, 2021

For well over a year now, the global pandemic has been altering the meaning of ‘going to work.’ When early summer’s falling infection rates provided what looked like hopeful news, a return to the workplace began. Now approaching summer’s end, a combination of the Delta variant and less support for public health measures makes that hope for a more typical fall seem premature.

As the pandemic continues to wax and wane, one thing that seems likely to persist is momentum towards greater availability for hybrid or entirely work-from-home arrangements. It is impossible to know just how lasting employer support for these arrangements will be. Whereas some trusted minds insist that things will never be as they were, it’s also the case that leaders like JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon insist their business requires a return to the office

All this will be sorted out eventually as different employers experiment and provide evidence that reduces the current uncertainty around the viability of new operational models. In the meantime, it is clear that the sort of hybrid work arrangements that used to exist primarily as informal one-off arrangements with a boss will be more widely available.

Recognizing this reality, leaders are grasping for policies and practices that will help them effectively direct, mentor, and support newly distributed teams. This effort is critical because leaders will face challenges in managing performance that has become hard to observe

For their part, employees are celebrating newfound freedom from the grind of a commute and the distractions caused by coworkers. However, remote work also presents employees a challenge. Though they may be basking in the afterglow of receiving greater autonomy; employees must understand that autonomy comes at a price. Specifically, as visibility decreases, so too do opportunities to build a personal brand. While managers may struggle to ascertain the value produced by remote workers, employees will have lost a valuable tool in their toolkit. That tool is face time (the material world version, not the iPhone application). 

While celebrating their autonomy, employees should also be planning how to manage their brand while becoming less visible.  In other words, what are the keys to showing up for work when no one shows up for work?

Some employees have likely already found it difficult to demonstrate just how ‘all in’ they are at work. Soft ways you influence your brand will be diminished when you are less visible. It is true we should bid good riddance to some of these techniques – specifically those that emphasize ingratiation with a supervisor while lacking even a whiff of performance relevance. But there are job-relevant actions the newly remote should pursue to continue building and protecting their brand.

1.    Develop a plan to manage your scarcest resource: face time. Just as any business has to take care not to squander finite resources, an employee’s chance for face time with leadership must be strategically leveraged. Be ready by understanding what to accomplish at every in-person meeting – even anticipating serendipitous encounters – to derive the greatest value.  

2.    Be professionally memorable in your public moments. Anyone who settles for metaphorically answering ‘present’ when the role is called is begging to be forgotten. When in the office, a desirable brand is built and reinforced when an individual looks more professional, is better prepared, actively listens, and demonstrates greater empathy than expected.

3.    Be professionally memorable in your online presence. This involves everything noted in tip two above, along with a warning to show you are 100% engaged by turning on your webcam and providing coworkers with the most professional view you can create. Employees who turn an online meeting into a way to demonstrate low engagement are engaged in brand self-destruction. This isn’t hard to understand. What conclusion should a coworker reach when someone refuses to fully be ‘in’ the meeting other than that individual does not value the meeting or its attendees as much as they cherish the chance not to get ready to be seen?

4.    Look for ways to be noticed for solving problems. Being co-located with colleagues naturally provides daily opportunities to be a problem solver – from the simple (have you tried rebooting?) to the more complex (here’s a tool I learned in my MBA program). When you are not physically around others, you likely miss these chances to demonstrate your capabilities or offer wisdom. Of course, part of the challenge here is that you aren’t necessarily going to have a way to know what problem is plaguing a colleague. What you can do, though, is create a schedule for touch points with key members of your professional network. These might involve sharing a relevant article or inviting a conversation by asking them for help with a question of your own that allows you to demonstrate your appreciation for them and your commitment to the work. These are brand-building efforts that will help you create a reputation for engagement.  

5.    Plan days in-office around others. To the extent you can control your scheduled days in the office, be strategic. It might be tempting to chose days when work friends are available for lunch, but that’s likely a weak strategy. Instead, be sensitive to what leaders have going on and find ways to be at work on the days that offer the best visibility. If the leadership team has its weekly in-person meeting on Tuesdays, then Tuesdays is a great day to be in the office.  If a high flyer from corporate will be in town Thursday, then be in the office Thursday. After all, while the calm and quiet offered by an empty office floor might be tempting, there is little strategic value in being in the workplace when no one else is there to see you.

No matter what the pandemic holds for the future, challenging assignments and promotion opportunities are always limited. The individuals chosen for these opportunities are those in whom leadership has confidence. Remote work – particularly for those inexperienced with it – or those toiling under a leader inexperienced with it – creates a risk when it comes to building such confidence. Taking steps like those outlined above can help proactive employees ensure they are still perceived as fully in the game even if they aren’t in the room.

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