Business school taught today’s executives many things, including finance, operations management, and marketing. But something that wasn’t in the curriculum has now become critical: working virtually.
Yes, working remotely was already on the rise; about 3 million US workers were already doing it last year. But as everyone knows, the coronavirus pandemic has forced tens of millions of people out of their usual workplace environments, turning kitchens, patios, and bedrooms into corporate offices. But experts say there’s a big difference between working remotely and working well remotely. Indeed, it’s a skill that some employers are even asking about during job interviews. “Companies are now seeing the power of the virtual world,” says Hamaria Crockett, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.
Here are three ways anyone can fine-tune their virtual-work skills.
Create a pre-work routine.
As a remote worker, you’re likely to use a slew of tools day to day—videoconferencing platforms, messaging apps, and project-management systems. Don’t wait for your next big presentation to improve; create accounts on each platform and familiarize yourself with their ins and outs so that there’s no learning curve there. “You can also watch YouTube videos on each tool if you’re not an expert,” says Crockett.
In addition to knowing the software, there are a few habits to ingrain. Experts recommend checking your surroundings to make sure that the room you’re in is quiet, neat, and embarrassment-free. Then ensure that your computer, speakers, microphone, Wi-Fi connection, and any other technology are in working order. Also be sure to position your camera well—angling it slightly above the face is generally seen as better than angling it from below.
Talk less. Smile more.
The best remote workers, experts say, demonstrate great communication skills and a willingness to listen. “Those are the two biggest skills in the remote world,” says Crockett. In a remote work situation, many of the nonverbal cues and body language are limited, which means you need to pay special attention to verbal and written communication. Make sure any correspondence with colleagues and business associates are polite, concise, and prompt.
At the same time, anticipate your colleagues’ needs wherever possible. For example, if you’re about to hop on a video call and haven’t been asked to prepare anything in particular, you might still want to have a link handy to a presentation or document about the related topic to send around. Or if your connection gets wonky, be ready with a backup plan that shows you can be nimble and solutions-oriented in a pinch.
Make other people comfortable.
Virtual connections create emotional distance, and there’s no need to ignore that, experts say. Ask how people are doing and how their friends and family are handling the current situation. It’s OK to spend a few minutes just checking in. It’s the virtual equivalent of a watercooler conversation. People will appreciate the show of empathy as well.
At the same time, it’s critical to get everyone in a meeting involved. Experts warn that it can be very easy for people to feel lost or excluded in virtual meetings. If you are leading a presentation, encourage participation using your words, voice, and energy.