No dress code. No conference rooms. No commutes. Sounds liberating, right? Working remotely grants professionals unprecedented freedom from traditional corporate restraints, and the ever-rising popularity of virtual jobs is proving that professionals around the world are ready to trade in the suit for some sweats. But will the mass casualization from mobile offices affect the workforce’s credibility?
Working from home or mobile offices may be becoming more common, but it is still far from a corporate standard. Most clients and partners still measure professionalism with traditional sensory criteria, like seeing a crisp business suit, or appreciating a firm handshake paired with confident eye contact. If you’re looking to maximize your remote opportunities and want to be seen as a credible expert in your field, it’s important that you don’t become so distracted by the freedom of remote work that you forego presenting yourself like the professional you are.
Here are six of the most common virtual blunders that remote working novices make when enjoying the new untethered lifestyle that can drain their credibility as virtual professionals:
Mistake #1: Mobile video calls
Yes, you can take a call while walking on the beach, lounging in a coffee shop, or lying in bed—but that doesn’t mean you should. Poor lighting, loud background noises, an unstable webcam, and casual environments are extremely distracting for the other people on the call and are preventing them from listening to your message.
Instead, set up at a desk or table in a quiet area. Make sure that your camera is at eye level and that the background behind you is as clear as possible (when all else fails, a blank wall works great).
Mistake #2: Ignoring or sending too many notifications
In a co-located office, seeing a colleague often triggers a thought and solicits an impromptu conversation. The expectation is very different for virtual teams: thoughts and conversations should always be filtered. The flexible and private schedule of a home or mobile office is one of the most-appreciated benefits of remote work, and the “ping” of a comment (including an email, tag in software or direct mention in a channel) is the virtual equivalent of a coworker interrupting to start a conversation.
As rude and awkward as it would be to ignore or walk away from an in-person engagement, it is just as bad to ignore a ping. You can certainly snooze your notifications to allow for some deep headspace or a meeting, but before the end of the workday, take the time to circle back and address all open conversations. On the flip side, don’t ping someone unless it’s important—you never know what you’re interrupting.
Mistake #3: Neglecting the clock
An unexpected quirk of remote workers is that they live by the minute. Without the delays of hallway meetings or congested traffic, they are notoriously punctual. If a meeting starts at 10 a.m., no one joins earlier than 9:59 a.m.—and if you’re not there by 10:05 a.m., the meeting isn’t happening.
Many onsite workers are used to meetings starting 10 or 20 minutes late so, veteran remoters, try to be patient with remote rookies who don’t yet understand this punctuality. However, if you are consistently late, don’t stick to an agenda, or fumble on your time zone math more than once, you’re sure to ruffle some feathers and build the kind of personal brand you’ll have a hard time reversing.
Mistake #4: Casual social media profiles
Imagine you’re traversing an urban slum and see a seemingly-posh storefront along the way—would the location impact how you perceive the business? Probably. People naturally utilize context to evaluate opportunities. The same logic and behavior apply to your personal brand.
The “storefront” of your website is only one part of your branding, and savvy clients or recruiters are going to search for some context to evaluate the legitimacy of doing business with you. What are the first results going to be on an Internet search of your name? If you guessed your social media accounts, you’re probably right. Any recent escapades in Vegas are definitely not the best way to communicate how “innovative” and “collaborative” you are to that big fish client you’re trying to catch.
Mistake #5: Onsite event behavior
There’s no sugarcoating it—remote work is isolating. Even if you employ strategies for preventing loneliness during your workday, you still won’t get as much social interaction as you will in a shared office. For this reason, many new remote workers get really excited when they finally go onsite for a group event like a retreat, networking dinner or conference. Finally! The cravings for gossip and drinking games can be satiated, right? Wrong.
While most onsite gatherings for virtual teams include social activities designed to help attendees loosen up and interact, it’s still a work activity. Reliving frat-party glory days will not only embarrass you, but it’s also going to embarrass your company. Please: keep it professional.
Mistake #6: Getting offended
The biggest mistake in communication is to miss the opportunity to communicate—and in virtual work environments, there are a lot of missed communication opportunities. With constant asynchronous collaboration, it’s dangerously easy to miss, misread or misinterpret any message from a long-distance team member.
With memories of unnecessary arguments, most veteran telecommuters have learned the hard way to clarify before jumping to a conclusion—or as the Help Scout team says, “assume miscommunication over malice”—but newbies often fall into the trap of getting offended and staying quiet while letting their anger boil underneath. If you read a concerning message, always clarify before reacting. Three seconds of typing can save days of delay or anger.
Overall, keep in mind that remote work is still work. Regardless of where you work from, if you want to be taken seriously as a professional, you’d better act like one. In fact, until remote work is a norm instead of an emerging trend, you may have to try even harder than ever to prove that you’re just as credible and knowledgeable in Bali as you are in Boston.
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