How to stay visible while working from home
Remote working has now become business as usual, and this a re-thinking of how we work. The shutdown has fast-tracked remote working for everyone, not just working mothers or fathers. The newness and unchartered territory raise essential questions about how we respond to the situation. Dame Helena Morrissey, chair of the Diversity Project and founder of the 30% Club describes the challenge: “We are not working from home—we are at our homes during a crisis trying to work.”
The flexibility of remote meetings is buffeted with the highs and lows of working from home. While we are adjusting to the new ways of working—frequently named either flexible or remote working—working, visibility is one of the areas that needs attention during this period. Within the diversity and inclusion agenda, more flexible approaches to working is a constant discussion. Research by Laura Jones from King’s College London for the Government Equalities Office mapped out areas to progress more women in leadership. One area of significant attention in the recommendations is the need for organizations to reform culture to include alternative working policies. In understanding the challenges faced by women when they hit the glass ceiling, Jones highlights the paradox of flexible working: “Flexible and part-time work are important factors helping women to maintain their labor market position following the transition to parenthood, but need to be combined with efforts to reform organizational cultures to truly accommodate them.” A key challenge in culture change means addressing what Jones describes as “the flexibility stigma” using senior role models as well as line managers who support flexibility in their teams.
While the technology has been in place for years to enable flexible working, in reality, the culture sticks between the negotiation of comfortable and reliable presenteeism and aspiration flexible working. Morrissey states: “The technology has actually worked surprisingly well for most, suggesting we were underutilizing the tools for working from home before.” Presenteeism has steadily and silently eroded the culture in the workplace where employees spend longer hours at work than necessary, valuing face time over outputs, even when colleagues are sick and still turn up to work. The United Kingdom has experienced a serious rise in presenteeism with research from CIPD in 2018, showing a sixty percent rise in eight years, from 2010. In 2018 86% of 1000 respondents in the CIPD Health and Well-being at Work Survey described presenteeism in their organization.
The current situation of working from home has placed flexible working as a necessity for organizations to function. Flexible working creates a new set of rules for women at work to ensure they retain their visibility. Organizational culture is a blend of hard-policies along with the soft-wiring–how people interact and work together. Women need specific resources to navigate the institutional barriers that impact their careers. In most cases, the soft-wiring needs to be addressed to promote more effective diversity policies; how leaders create teams, opportunities for informal interactions–water-cooler moments. Women thrive in situations where ambiguity is minimized, this is not to be confused with women not being risk-takers, but they need to understand the rules of engagement. Our current chaotic and rapid transition to flexible working means everyone is adjusting or even re-writing some of these rules. This period of flux creates an interesting opportunity for women to shape the new normal in teams and organizations to focus on outputs rather than face time. This situation also means addressing the issue of visibility, which is a particularly challenging area for women and where we risk taking the biases that exist in the face to face meeting environment into the virtual meeting environment.
Rebecca Hill, a principal consultant at Hasler Hill, consulting, and previously, a Global Director of EY including leading the EY’s global Women Fast Forward Programme, shares top tips based on her extensive experience of setting up and leading global virtual teams to help you prepare for meetings and ensure your visibility and impact during remote meetings.
- Set yourself up to be part of the meeting. Despite the fact that the current trend focuses on reminding women what to wear for remote calls, the more critical elements need to focus on knowing how to use the technology. In particular, to assist your impact, including; camera positioned for easy eye-contact, microphones enabled so can be heard clearly.
- There is a tendency for teams to assume their typical behaviors as they transition to virtual meetings. The transition creates a need to set clear expectations with teams about engagement, cameras on (as the default unless there is a specific reason why not), muting microphones until more extensive group discussions, using chat functions. Recording the meeting can be useful for colleagues who are unable to attend, but you need to ensure everyone is aware the session is recorded.
- Recognize participants need a clear framework. If you are hosting, your role is to ensure all voices are heard; you will know your team well; the extroverts who will jump in, and the introverts who take some more nudging to share their thoughts. Design and run your meetings accordingly and encourage colleagues to use chat functions–raise a comment indicating they have something to share.
- Participating in virtual meetings requires a different set of skills for engaging. Non-verbal communications make up just over half of our interactions, and reading these cues in meetings is critical to the dynamic in the meeting. Virtual calls are host to different dynamics, including numerous side-bar conversations and private messages among the team. Going into the meeting with a clear view on what you want to get out of the meeting and how you want your voice to be heard, if necessary, using the chat function or the wave type functions to draw attention can make a difference.
- Just as you would with in-person meetings, set up conversations in advance with key stakeholders to help you gather insight and build consensus. By doing this, you will make for more constructive discussions, especially in larger meetings where the team needs to reach decisions.
Some of the assets in face to face meetings still help women, Hill emphasizes successful tactics deployed by women to help amplify their voices at in-person meetings, which can be successfully replicated in the virtual space. A key element is supporting other women or those who are struggling to have their voices; when they make a valid point (either in person or via chat) step in reconfirm or acknowledge the point, they have made. If this happens consistently, there is more chance that a broader reach of voices and opinions will be heard in meetings.
Remote working doesn’t mean losing visibility but with the right resources it can demonstrate more effective approaches to remote working over the longer term.