I get it. It’s likely you’re already in the working world. Maybe you’ve even established a great name for yourself. But if you’re new (in your first job) or simply interested in learning how to enhance your ability to work smart, I invite you to continue reading the first installment of my working smart series: Welcome to the Working World, Where Working Remotely is Currently the Norm.
Everyone remembers their firsts. Their first day of school. Their first car. Their first love. How about their first job? Of course! The feeling of excitement and anxiety you never felt before as you opened the door to your career.
How about we rewind to that day and, like Family Feud, ask: What is one thing you wished you had in your first job that you didn’t? I’m confident the No. 1 answer would be “the ability to Welcome to the Working World, Where Working Remotely is Currently the Norm work smart as I walked in the door (or knowing all the valuable things I know now that I didn’t learn in school or the employee handbook), as I likely would have been successful even sooner.”
So how do you learn how to work smart? By observing and listening to everything around you in your workplace and then executing what you’ve learned at the right time and place.
While it’s true that working smart often has different meanings in different employers, 25 years working in human resources for 10 different companies, reporting to 17 different managers has helped me develop a blueprint of working smart opportunities that reasonably fit in any company.
The first opportunity to work smart is effectively performing in your remote workspace (assuming you are there). The workspace where no one knows you outside a computer screen. Wonderful. Here is an excerpt from my book, Hello, Career – What You Need to Know to Be Successful in Your First Job — Work Smart in an Office of Remotely, that highlights ways to work smart in a remote environment as an employee in your first job.
“Mary, you are on mute.”
“Felipe, are you still in North Carolina?”
“I need an ergonomic chair.”
Welcome to the world of remote work where laptops and internet connections rule the day. Remote work is not a new concept, but it’s become more prevalent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early 2020, many companies had to shut their physical workplaces. To carry on business effectively, employees were transitioned to a remote work environment. Given demonstrated employee productivity and company cost savings in 2020, some companies decided to permanently move to a remote work model. I think we’ll see more companies move that direction for their employees who can reasonably work remotely.
As a new employee, you may be asked to temporarily or permanently work remotely in your job. So instead of your welcoming party being held in the conference room, it will be over a virtual meeting, and instead of chatting with employees in the hall, you will be chatting with them over instant messaging.
It’s naturally going to be more challenging to showcase who you are and what you’re capable of as a new employee in a remote work setting as many colleagues don’t know much about you and haven’t seen you around the office. However, using the work smart tactics you’ve learned so far, coupled with additional opportunities outlined in this chapter and beyond, you’ll make everyone think they truly know you.
Whether working from home or remotely (perhaps in a coffee shop to escape the distractions at home) is part of your job description or a short-term or temporary arrangement, working smart in a remote work environment takes effort. As such, focus on executing the following.
Follow the Company’s Remote Work Policy Rules
You’ll likely have many reading materials as a new employee. Make sure this one is near the top of the pile because you’ll be working remotely on day one, and the last thing you want to do is violate a remote work policy, especially with an audience of people who only know you through a computer screen.
Use Your Work-Issued Computer for Work
You are going to have breaks, lunch, and maybe even some brief downtime during the workday. Minimize the use of your work-issued computer for personal interests during this time. Let’s start with the simple premise that there’s a good chance your company has access to see whatever you are doing on your computer. Constantly checking out your Instagram, playing games, or sending personal emails may seem like a nonissue to you but not to your company who will not only have security concerns about what sites you are visiting but how much work time you are spending on personal interests. Don’t get on your company’s radar for this reason. Use your cell phone or personal computer for personal interests.
Also, don’t download anything personal to your work computer. Sure, anything you download or upload may be completely innocent like pictures from your vacations or holidays, but remember two things: you are going to give the computer back someday and you may forget to remove whatever you’ve downloaded or uploaded, and if you download from internet sites, you run the risk of getting a virus on your work computer and then having to deal with potential policy violations, lost data, and being without your computer for a while. It’s not worth it.
In addition to following the company remote work policy, make sure you don’t give your manager a reason not to trust you in your remote environment. At a minimum, this means being available during your scheduled hours, ensuring your work performance, including deliverables, meets their expectations, and avoiding temptations like watching Hulu.
Distractions are inevitable, wherever you work — at home, in a coffee shop or in your car. However, distractions in a remote environment differ from those in an office environment. What comes to mind are children, siblings, parents, pets, coffee shop customers, and doorbells.
To the best of your ability, find a quiet location for the hours you are scheduled to work or take actions to make the environment quiet by wearing headphones. I know that’s often easier said than done, but making the effort will be noticed and appreciated by your manager and colleagues as they will see a positive difference in your work productivity.
Respect Everyone’s Work Schedules
You will have your schedule. Your manager and colleagues will have their schedules. You want everyone to respect your schedule so make sure you respect theirs. They don’t want to work 24/7 either. Consider colleagues in different time zones because their schedules will have the time zone component to them too. Working in California, I know my New York colleagues don’t want to hear from me at 5 p.m. my time, and I don’t want to hear from them at 5 a.m. my time. First impressions mean everything, and this one is especially important.
One of the cornerstones of working smart is ensuring you develop relationships throughout your workplace. This doesn’t change in a remote environment, but it becomes more challenging as you won’t be getting to know Christy at the water cooler and Wes in the breakroom. That said, I recommend showcasing yourself in as many situations as possible. This doesn’t mean getting up and doing a song and dance nor interrupting your CFO during a virtual meeting; it means engaging whenever you have the appropriate opportunities. Whether that’s making it a point to introduce yourself at the beginning of virtual meetings or putting a unique decoration behind you that is bound to generate interest and questions while on camera, your colleagues will have a chance to get to know and understand you.
Learn and Understand Mental Health Benefits
Lack of in-person socialization may cause you to become lonely or depressed and negatively affect your work performance. Research and take advantage of the mental health benefits available to you (check your employee assistance program or medical insurance plan), which may include virtual or in-person psychologist or psychiatrist visits.
So, as you can see, life is different in the remote working world.