When working remotely -- or working onsite with a reduced team -- it can be difficult to navigate interpersonal relationships with your colleagues or bosses.
The casual interactions throughout the day, the meetings where general announcements are made and all the dozens of other ways that you learn and grow your career are gone for now.
While this is difficult for seasoned workers, imagine how hard it must be for newbies. Whether they were hired just before the pandemic lockdown began, or were hired remotely during the pandemic, all those little opportunities to find a way to fit in are eliminated.
Or are they?
When thinking about all the great career advice that experts have given me over the years, I believe there are still ways to navigate office politics successfully when working remotely or in a reduced team environment.
Here's some of the advice to help newcomers whether working onsite or from home:
1. The last word. When meeting in person, it's always important to observe who everyone looks at when it comes time to make a decision. It's not always the boss. Even if everyone looks at the boss, the boss may be looking at someone else -- and that's the real power in your workplace. This is someone you want to get to know, because he or she has the key connections and understands best how things get done. When working remotely, this person will often be the one on the Zoom call who has the final word, or the person who writes the final email that resolves a problem. This person has garnered respect from others and the boss, and learning from that person is worthwhile.
2. Be resourceful. Everyone is overloaded right now, so as the new person you may be afraid to ask too many questions and make a pest of yourself. That shows emotional intelligence, but could be your downfall in the long run. Your new colleagues and your boss expect you to ask a lot of questions in the beginning, but will be frustrated if months down the line it becomes evident that you didn't ask questions and made assumptions that turned out to be wrong. The best course is to be resourceful -- consult company handbooks for procedural information or even Google to help you become more familiar with jargon or other industry terms instead of asking a co-worker. That way, when you need to know something more specific, you can frame it as: "I read the company handbook on how to file this paperwork, but it didn't mention this specific form. Can you tell me how to do that or who to ask?" Then, make sure the person sees you writing down the information as it shows you won't be asking the same question over and over, something that will be truly appreciated in these stressful times.
3. Do your homework. You don't want to just sit in Zoom meetings and never contribute anything or propose an idea that a competitor has already done. Now is the time to really study what is happening in your industry and your company. What is the competition doing? What are the top three challenges for your company right now? What are the trends in the industry? In Zoom meetings, you don't want to talk just to get attention, but do want to offer opinions or ideas that have merit because you've grounded them in facts and research.
4. Make individual connections. It can feel awkward to just chat in Zoom meetings, especially when you're the new person. To help alleviate some of that, try connecting one-on-one with colleagues via email or text. For example, you might text Nathan that you heard him mention that he's looking for a better exercise app -- you can mention a new one you've been using and really like. Or, Sue might be frustrated that she can't get someone has XYZ company to return a call, and you might email her to let her know you read the company is having money troubles and send her the online article. All these "watercooler" moments are now taking place virtually, but they still help you bond with other team members.