It’s challenging, but you can keep climbing the ladder while working remotely
Typically, the Irish workplace is a hub of innovation, ideas and buzz — a place where things get done and, crucially, high-fliers get noticed.
Yet giving off that ‘high achiever’ energy via Zooms, or Skype or Google meetings has suddenly become much more difficult.
While it may feel like we’re in a strange state of suspended animation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your professional prospects should be.
“Now can be an opportunity to shine if you play it correctly,” notes Jane Downes, a career coach with Clearview Coaching Group (clearviewcoachinggroup.com). “Even in lockdown you can see those who are showing resources and resilience, and those who aren’t.
“For many businesses it’s still business as usual, even though we are in a global pandemic. We are expected to carry out tasks and do our job, and we still have to manage our careers alongside that.”
John Deely, occupational psychologist with Pinpoint (Pinpoint.ie), notes that several of his clients have noted concerns about the wellbeing of their career.
“It’s a worry point for everyone, from workers to people who are running teams,” he observes. “Previously, people would come in early, or even have vital conversations with bosses walking back from meetings. There’s a clinical nature to virtual communications which makes things very different. The opportunities to informally check in have dwindled, and the bigger challenge if getting to know or building rapport with colleagues. You’re now using virtual technology to deepen these professional relationships, and there’s a degree of being smart about it.”
The best way to safeguard, or even enhance, your professional prospects, is by showing up properly whenever you are — virtually — in front of your team.
“Operate on the basis as though you are in the office, which means acting the part and dressing the part,” advises Downes. “It’s all about how we come across. You need to have your hair brushed and you need to dress appropriately. Wear a bit of make-up if you wear make-up in the office. These are the things that you can control.”
Career expert/coach Angela Burke (theintegrativecoach.ie), agrees that networking within the company is likely to slip in a remote working situation.
“Schedule regular updates with manager and stakeholders to keep them informed on your work in a meaningful way by helping them see the impact of your work on your team, on clients, on your stakeholders and on the company,” she suggests. “Don’t underestimate the importance of informal conversation when maintaining relationships. We need to find a new method to replace those water cooler conversations. Take the first or last 10 minutes of a meeting to have a chat or schedule monthly coffee chats if more appropriate.”
In a working from home situation however, there are often several things beyond our control. It wouldn’t be unusual for a child to walk into a Zoom frame, or for a family-based catastrophe to erupt at an inopportune time.
On which, Downes says: “We’ve got to keep it real. If a kid walks past your screen, that’s not a problem. The boss needs to be aware that you are operating within a pretty surreal context at the time, and a reminder of that is not a bad thing.
“If you are handling a situation outside of your [professional] domain, let your boss see how exactly you handle that,” Downes adds. “It’s a crazy time, and often you need a strategy to cope with these variables. Don’t be passive — show some kind of active involvement.”
If the Zoom meeting is the foremost way in which you communicate with your managers or boss, that will be the time where you need to perform. And, at a time when most people are content to simply tread water professionally, going above and beyond the call of duty will yield results.
“Ask smart, good questions,” suggests Downes. “Show a lot of positivity. If you can see what the business needs right now, there’s a real gap there to shine. Say things like, ‘there’s a real gap for us here, would you like me to look at that and see how we can move on?’ Show an interest and a drive, and assume that role as a natural coach. At the end of the day, you want to stand out, within reason.”
It also helps to let your boss know what you’re doing on a weekly basis — something that we often forget to do in a remote working situation.
“Reflect on how you’ve pivoted your working style and approach during the pandemic and be sure to make your manager aware of how this has resulted in your growth and development,” Burke suggests. “Flag how you’ve adapted your projects as a result of the pandemic and remote working and articulate the impact of doing so. Perhaps you’ve discovered a more efficient way of doing things that your team or organisation can leverage going forward.”
Where asking for a raise or promotion has long been a way to advance within the workplace, this already tricky conversation takes on a whole new dimension during a pandemic. First things first, notes Downes — read the room.
“You really do have to be aware of commercially how well the business is doing at the moment,” she says. “In terms of asking for a raise, it’s the same as always; you put in the request based on what you’re hoping to achieve. What you don’t want to do is put a gun to someone’s head. You have to show a calmness. If the company isn’t doing well financially, asking for things like raises on a virtual call isn’t going to sit well.”
If you are asking for a raise or promotion, keep things impartial, and don’t bring personal elements like your mortgage or cost of childcare into the conversation.
“Instead, focus on the value that you can bring the company,” Downes notes. “It’s so tempting to bring in the personal, but the thing is, bosses don’t care. Talk about what you bring, and want to continue to bring, to the company. Make yourself indispensable. Also, remember that in a salary negotiation conversation, there are other things to ask for apart from money — like taking a Friday off every month, or finishing early on a Wednesday.”
Burke notes that staying motivated and aware can ensure our career progression doesn’t slow down while we work remotely.
“While it’s not the norm for a lot of us, growing a career virtually has been the norm for years for those who work on global teams,” he says. “It takes a little pivoting and mindfulness but you can absolutely continue to progress your career from home.
“Planning is your best friend when it comes to productivity. Before you finish work each evening, jot down a list of outstanding tasks and decide which tasks you’re going to prioritise the next day to support your progress in the short term and which tasks will support your long-term career growth.”
Workers and owners in smaller Irish businesses can also use a remote working situation to their advantage, according to Marcus O’Sullivan, co-founder/director of digital marketing agency Circulate (circulateonline.com).
“The huge thing I’ve seen this year is that a lot of our clients are much more informed about digital marketing and how to place their businesses online,” he says. “This has opened up people’s understanding of the possibilities of their businesses.
“Use this time to learn something — Udemy do great courses, and Facebook’s Blueprint course and official Google courses open up a lot of options for people. For many people, the time we have has given workers in big and small companies a huge opportunity.”