There’s no shortage of arguments against working remotely, most of which I wouldn’t agree with. But, one point that has always stuck with me is that it’s harder for remote workers to get noticed—and eventually get promoted—than it is for those who are putting in physical face time.
I know from personal experience that it can be tough to build the relationships that are important to your career advancement when you’re not in the office every day. But I also know that, with some strategy and a little extra effort, you can definitely do it. Here’s the process that I’ve used to build meaningful relationships with people at my company from afar, which, in turn, has helped me get noticed (and even work my way to a promotion!).
Be a Connector
Your first priority is to get to know your co-workers—both those on your immediate team and others with whom you may have no specific reason to liaise. The goal: understand what makes people tick. While getting to know people in general is great, knowing their personal motivations is even better.
For instance, I followed my co-worker Jim on Twitter and saw that he won an amateur wildlife photography contest. After calling him to congratulate him, I learned that he was also a volunteer at the Wildlife Research Institute. He’d even been using our company’s technology to help capture video of the bears during hibernation. A lot to learn about one person? Yes, but when you get to know people—when you’re able to associate their work with their own personal “why”—you’ve created a competitive advantage for yourself.
Here’s why: Once you’re tapped into personal motivations, you’ll be able to send relevant inspiration and ideas to your team members—or even get them involved in projects that they care about (I asked Jim, for example, to write a series of blog posts on technology used to track animals in their natural habitats). This is a great way to build relationships and to let people know that you care about what they’re doing.
But what’s more—as you build more relationships throughout the organization, you’ll be able to act as a connector, bringing people and projects together in meaningful ways. Before you know it, you’ll be creating relationships with and connecting everyone on the team. And being a connector as a remote worker is pretty novel—and very impressive.
Strut Your Stuff, Strategically
While you’re listening to and learning about others, you’ll also have the opportunity to pitch what you’re all about. Remember that your personal brand within the company is just as important as it is externally—especially when you’re working remotely and people don’t see what you do every day. You must establish a relentless message around what your role is, never giving people the opportunity to question where you add value or what you spend your time on.
The best place to start? With those personal relationships. Have passionate conversations about what you do and what you’re good at, and follow up with content that supports your personal brand. For example, a co-worker, Brad, and I have had in-depth conversations about his passion, user experience, which I was able to relate to my experience in community management. After passing articles back and forth on the topic, we decided to create a program around customer experience together. Our company and customers are seeing a positive impact—and the higher-ups are seeing that I’m collaborating with other team members and adding value, even though I’m not in the office.
Capitalize on In-Person Events
While you’ll be picking up the phone or typing an email to do most of the ground work for these relationships, don’t ever underestimate the value of face time. Whenever possible, find opportunities to make an in-person appearance—and not just in the office. I actually try to focus my in-person time on events, so that I can interact with many co-workers and customers at a time. Events—especially those that involve a company booth—give you the opportunity to exhibit your knowledge of the company, meet new contacts, and find new ways to connect co-workers with other interesting people.
While they’re not for everyone, I also suggest taking on speaking opportunities, which provide another highly visible opportunity to articulate knowledge of the company and your work, show passion for what you do, and spend time with your peers and higher-ups. Since you’re not in front of people all the time when you're working remotely, you definitely want to make the most of the times when you are face-to-face with your colleagues.
In the end, this process of building relationships and getting noticed is less about you and more about everyone around you. The goal is for your peers to feel supported by you. Help people understand that you’re interested in what they do—both inside and outside of work. Let them learn through experience where you bring value to the company. Make suggestions and get people involved in things that they enjoy doing. Build trust, and people will see that you're a valuable asset to the team—no matter where you are physically.
If you’re able to accomplish this, you’ll create your very own group of internal advocates. And, as with the very best marketing, organic advocacy speaks louder than anything else.