Ask Madison: How can I avoid being forgotten in a remote work world?

June 2, 2020
| ByDan Davenport

With many predicting that remote work models will grow dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, how will that shift impact my career path, my growth, and the dynamics of having a work-life where my efforts are recognized, which I, like many employees, miss?

While numbers vary, studies suggest that most workers will spend 90,000 hours of their employable years at work. During that time, relationships are formed, accomplishments and milestones are achieved, and personal and professional growth occurs. What we do for a living often defines a significant part of our lives. And the model that has been commonplace has been completely upended in a matter of months.

Work, in its traditional sense, has historically occurred outside of the home. However, in the last decade, we have seen the  remote working in the U.S. rise by 91%, where employees are able to work from an outside location in lieu of the base office. The reasons for working remotely can be many, like cost-savings for decreased facility and equipment needs, or the focus on a regional presence for employees’ convenient contact with customers, among others. During the current COVID-19 health crisis, remote work became a necessity of safety. Companies that could switch to remote did so to adhere to social distancing guidelines, stay-at-home-measures and to keep employees safe, while helping to lower the spread of the virus.

As guidelines are lifting, companies are contemplating the return to work and what that entails. And many companies are weighing their options. In a recent HRO Today pulse study of HR leaders facing COVID-19 work challenges, “respondents anticipate that 28.8 percent of the workforce will be remote, an increase of nearly three times the amount prior to the pandemic.”

This could be welcome, or not so welcome news, to many, especially when they are starting to feel “unseen.”

How will we adjust to a permanent Remote Work option?

Working from home certainly has a list of pros – but also cons. Convenience, less commuting, access to balancing some home life responsibilities can all be viewed as a positive. But in some instances, those same pros can be matched with negatives: lack of structure, home-life interruptions, and feelings of disconnect. Organizations have offered an abundance of advice about how to make it remote work manageable for all parties, particularly under the shadow of a crisis.

But what happens when remote work becomes the reality and we never “go back?”

Changing how we work may have been a viable solution during the interim, but without some measures put in place, feelings of disconnect can grow, and employees may feel left out in the cold. Companies on one-hand have a responsibility to put policies in place to bridge the gap. But it can’t and doesn’t need to be one-sided. Employees have the opportunity to self-advocate and make a concerted effort to stay engaged and continue on a path of growth. It just may be through different methods.

It sounds trite, but staying engaged is your first call-to-action to change the mindset of “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to remote work. It’s easy to fall into a mundane trap of an isolated work-day. Yes, there will be conference calls, video calls, emails, and more to stay in touch and on task. But if we are being honest, the dynamic energy of meeting someone in-person will always be different. There are things you can do, however, using the tools at your disposal to minimize disconnect.

Plan your contacts and checkpoints

“Call Jane” should become a line-item on your to-do list. Not because you have to check in on the status of a project, but because you want to check in on the status of Jane. As a potential future full-time remote worker, staying organized and on schedule will be key to mimicking a fulfilling work environment. It will be up to you to be proactive about making connections. Schedule reminders to check-in with your colleagues. A note that pops up on your phone for your Tuesday 8AM coffee call with Brian will ensure you stay in contact, because it won’t just happen by sight, or chance, any more.

Make Rewards and Recognition More Linear

Optimize usage of the peer tools in your company’s reward and recognition program. We often subconsciously view our rewards program as praise and recognition coming from corporate, or “top-down”, because after all, leadership established the program, infused funds to it and selected the parameters for which rewards are provided. It requires administrative work and there is someone in charge of that.

But a robust R&R platform, particularly with a social aspect, is built for everyone in an organization and should be looked at as linear in its action. Sending video and audio messages through your company’s recognition portal can brighten someone’s day, make them proud, and feel seen, when they are viewed across the organization.  Take advantage of it and share praise and “good jobs” across the board – up and down.

Don’t be afraid to engage with leadership

Raise your hand and contribute during group calls and let your voice be heard. Follow-up with managers to set up regular dialogues, or engage them in a mentorship as you navigate work issues. Ask for help and guidance. Again, utilize the small gestures of your R&R program to recognize their help. The team leader will always, rightfully, defer to the team when there is a win. The team, however, can recognize the leader’s contribution as well. Digital on-the-spots, social recognition and thank you’s should be distributed and welcomed at all levels.

Be the company’s “Little Birdie” – in a positive way

Leadership doesn’t always see what every employee is up to, even when they are in the same building. Working from home amplifies that issue. As a colleague engaged with your peers and utilizing the R&R tool, take opportunities to prompt managers to recognize someone else’s effort. You may have witnessed a dynamic presentation by your colleague or learned of the community drive they organized in their neighborhood. Letting their boss know how effective they were could be a subtle reminder to recognize their employee’s good work in a larger setting, work-related or not. Especially in today’s current climate, using our rewards and recognition program to notice an employee’s contributions to the greater good is the ultimate-connection maker, and the spark to paying-it-forward in these trying times.

Related Read: Bridging CSR and R&R during a crisis

Work in teams and share wins

We know how sometimes it can be difficult to accomplish anything by committee. And pushing ahead on a project as an individual sometimes may save time. However, in an environment where you are working alone for the most part, make it a point to carve out projects that require a team effort. Group projects will inherently keep communication open, and will also expose you to new colleagues, which helps with networking, learning new skills and opening paths to opportunities that you may not have learned about. Plus, a group project that is successful is a catalyst for recognition – not only as an individual, but as a team, and being recognized with others is often very rewarding as a shared experience.

Related: Madison’s Judd Weisgal discusses “Spotlightiing” to help employees feel seen in the latest Whiteswan podcast.

Maximize the Performance Management portion of your R&R program

With R&R programs being employee-centric, it makes sense that such programs can be expanded beyond standard recognition items to help employees plan their futures with their managers. Programs like Maestro ONE provide employees and managers the online ability to track projects and goals, provide and receive feedback and schedule moments to “check-in” in an organized, repeatable, way. It increases alignment between managers and employees and optimizes collaboration and engagement – companywide and from anywhere – making this type of program a great fit for the remote work world.

Continue networking to avoid feelings of stagnation

  • Keep your online persona and professional profiles up to date. Highlight achievements that you have been recognized for, and acknowledge the achievements and milestones of others in your network. Remember, it’s all about celebrating wins together.
  • Know your HR contacts and inquire about training opportunities that you can take online, or even in-person as restrictions allow. Working from home sometimes does not afford the seminar and in-house training opportunities that you may have been accustomed to. You can seek out the training that you feel will benefit your skillset.
  • Plan events for facetime. As restrictions lift on gatherings, suggest retreats, off-site meetings and old-fashioned happy hours to break up routines and get together with managers and colleagues. If every third Thursday of the month, the office meets up to celebrate all the birthdays for that month, it’s something to look forward to and keep everyone top of mind.

Remote work is certainly an adjustment for employees and can be exciting and daunting at the same time. Companies will need to be committed to creating an environment where their teams can thrive, for their own growth and for the benefit of the organization as well. Employees can ease the adjustment by actively embracing those efforts, buying into the big picture and working with leadership on ideas that can make it a positive experience. If we continue to “shine a light” on even the smallest of celebratory moments, the transition to a new work life will get easier every day.

At Madison, it’s not business as usual, but instead, we are focused on support. Supporting our invaluable customers by maintaining business continuity, sharing advice about new working models and providing an opportunity to connect with others. 

While you adjust to your new working routine – whether it be at home or part of an essential service - please join the conversation. Ask Madison is an opportunity to share ideas, ask questions and help create our ‘new normal’, together. We believe that employee recognition is an essential business function and that, now more than ever, it is our responsibility to celebrate each other, recognize every milestone and collaborate together—even though we may be sitting apart.

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