Each week, Ellevest hosts Office Hours, an Instagram Live session in which coaches answer your burning money and career questions with data, expertise, and strategies to help you get where you want to go, financially and professionally.
But not everyone can make a livestream in the middle of the day! That’s why we’re publishing a selection of Office Hours recaps here on the Ellevest Magazine. Last week, Career Coach Chelsea Johns spoke to Senior Editor Deedi Brown about navigating remote work life. Take advantage of all the hits from their 30-minute chat. (Or, if you want, you can still hear / watch it for yourself here, too.)
Editor’s note: While Chelsea’s services are no longer available through Ellevest, we’re big fans. You can check out some of her advice below.
Navigating a Remote Work Environment: A conversation with Career Coach Chelsea Johns
Should you stay remote? Or go back to the office? (If you get the choice, of course)
It really depends on where you are in your life. Consider your options.
If you’re a parent, you might want to stick with remote work for the flexibility. “As a new mom,” Chelsea says, “it would have been really difficult for me to commute two hours to New York City where Ellevest used to be headquartered and still get back to pick my son up from daycare every day. The flexibility of remote work has allowed me to remain in the workforce.”
Research has shown that people are more productive when they have the option to work remotely. When employees are given flexibility and independence, they tend to rise to the challenge. “I actually started hearing from clients that, as companies started returning to the office, or maybe going to a hybrid schedule, a lot of people felt like their independence was being taken away. People were saying, ‘So you no longer trust me to do my work at home?’”
Remote work since the onset of the pandemic has set a standard that puts more control in the hands of employees: “We all have been able to do our jobs from home for two years, and I think that has fundamentally changed the way we will work forever. A lot of people are now realizing that, and if their company is not offering them that flexibility, they’ll be able to go find that elsewhere.”
If you’re early on in your professional career, you might want that in-person experience.
Remote work makes it harder to set and maintain boundaries.
It's also a little bit harder to create connections with coworkers, especially when others have worked on-site with each other in the past.
It can be a little harder to notice when someone is struggling (be it you or someone on your team). It's just a little bit harder to know if something's going on, to really be able to see one another.
What does it take to shine in a remote environment?
Staying late, cutting exclamation points from your emails, being the first to the office / the last to leave — these are strategies of the past at this point. Some new approaches:
Establish your personal brand. Really spend some time learning what traits are unique to you, what you want to share with others. What’s really important to you and how can you get that across to other people? What role you want to play? Are you doing it already?
Start by looking for examples. How do other people show up at work? What about them stands out to you? “Someone on my team does a great job of injecting humor into everything,” says Chelsea. “So when there's a difficult situation, she's often someone I go to, because I know she can maybe make it a little bit lighter.”
Practice your virtual elevator pitch. Often in these virtual meetings, you may have to start by introducing yourself, so you want to get really comfortable talking about yourself, talking about your professional experience, etc.
Practice shine theory. In a nutshell, shine theory boils down to, “I don't shine if you don't shine.” It’s an investment in each other, helping someone be their best selves and then relying on their help in return. Of course, this requires a little bit of trust, but the important thing is that there's enough room for all of us to shine.
Camera on or camera off?
Camera on when possible — especially if you're a leader. If you manage people, you’re setting a precedent. “You’re showing up right, to let them know that you're here and ready to contribute. That's going to help you shine.”
It will also help you connect with others. “If your camera is always on, then one day I see your camera is off, maybe I should check in with you: ‘Hey, I noticed your camera wasn't on, everything OK?’ Whether your camera is on or off does make an impact, especially as we're talking about building relationships. In remote work, we're really missing that face-to-face interaction. Camera on is the closest we can get to it in the virtual environment. We need to see one another, to see body language, the things that we tend to miss if it's just audio.”
Consider the context. The on-or-off question also depends on the meeting. If it’s an all-hands meeting where someone is making a PowerPoint presentation and no one's going to see you anyway — if your role is to listen and pay attention — you might not need your camera on (or could even opt to call in from your phone and go for a walk during the presentation, as Deedi likes to do).
The more intimate the meeting, the more likely you should have your camera on. (Think one-on-ones, smaller meetings, and meetings that you might be running.) “When my camera is off, I usually will tell people, ‘My camera's off because I'm eating lunch,’” says Deedi. “I always appreciate that, when someone's like, ‘Hey, my camera's off for this very good reason.’ If you're just having a bad day at work, sometimes that's OK, too.”
On shining in remote meetings
Have an agenda and stick to it. It can be helpful to share it before the meeting so everybody has it in front of them and they know what to expect. Setting those expectations up front can be helpful to hold people's focus.
Keep things collaborative. Try to make it interactive — make use of the chat feature, if that’s your team’s vibe. Solicit input — feedback is just as critical with remote work. Try using breakout rooms if the meeting is bigger.
Summarize/recap at the end. This will help everyone walk away knowing that the meeting was productive — review the takeaways, actions to be taken and by whom, when you’ll follow up. By summarizing, you’re retaining engagement and focus, especially with all the distractions that come with working at home.
Play to your team’s strengths. Exploit all the capabilities and features that are available to you — think auto-reminders and asynchronous stand-up meeting apps that can free up people’s schedules. Lean on the ones that work best for your team. “You always want to pick a format that allows your team to shine. That also helps set expectations so people can show up for work prepared to engage in predictable ways.”
On having tough conversations
Be fully present. Turn your camera on. Try to eliminate distractions. Pause Slack notifications.
Prepare in advance. Having an agenda can be really helpful, especially if it's something awkward or sensitive. Having the facts, the bullets of what you’re going to cover, can keep you grounded when those emotions come up.
Create a safe space for the other person to respond. When you’re bringing something up with someone, they need to be able to share their side of things.
Follow up. Should you have a meeting next week to check in? Should it be an email? Make sure that there are no loose ends.
On supporting a remote team as a manager
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Set clear expectations so your employees know what their success is measured against. Schedule regular 1:1 meetings, making yourself available and setting the expectation for communication.
Lead with empathy. Get to know your employees. Make sure your team knows what additional resources are available to them, too. It’s not all on you as a manager — nor should it be.
On getting to know people when you’re new and remote
Reframe. What is the advantage to being new at the company? Use that. “You have an opportunity to start reaching out to people, to say, ‘Hey, I’m new and we’ve been in a couple meetings together so far. I'd love to schedule a virtual coffee date,’ or ‘I'd love to know what you're working on.’ Maybe there's an opportunity to collaborate or just to hear about their experience working here, especially if that person worked on-site before the company went completely remote. People love to share their experiences, so lean into that. In some ways it’s even easier to do this in a remote context.”
Take advantage of Slack’s (or Teams’) asynchronous water cooler. Participate in conversation(s). Emoji reactions are your friends! You could also join extracurricular channels that align with your interests (or create one if the thing you’re all about doesn’t exist yet). Local-specific channels can be helpful, too. As much as Slack is about collaboration, it’s also a water cooler, especially in a remote work environment.
On staying motivated in a remote work environment
Don’t break your brain. Move locales, whether that’s from your desk to the couch or out to a park. Take breaks. Work will be there when you get back.
Connect to your “why.” Understanding the impact your work has on the company, on the goals that you're all working toward, can help you stay motivated. But why are you doing the work that you're doing? It’s important to be able to connect the work you do with what’s important to you as a person, whether that’s because you have your dream job or because your job allows you to pursue your non-professional goals. If it’s not motivating you to get out of bed, you might need to chat with one of our coaches about that. If something's not feeling right, don't ignore it. That's probably your body telling you, hey, maybe, maybe it's time for a change.
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