As we stare down the end of working in an office as we know it, the workplace is poised to undergo more change — this one more thoughtful than the remote work plunge we took a year and a half ago (yes, it’s been that long). With the surge in Delta and other variants putting off workplace return plans indefinitely, many high-profile companies recently announced plans to change their workplace forever, leaning into remote work completely, or going hybrid. And this is going to change how people build influence across their organizations.
My recently released book, "Sway," focuses a lot on building influence internally in order to gain success as an individual contributor by elevating your company's opportunities to meet its goals. But one question I get over and over again is, “How the heck do I do that now?” How do you build rapport when your teammates are spread all over the world? How do you build influence with executives you have never, and potentially will never, meet? Even more difficult: what if you were hired during the pandemic and have never met another living soul at your organization in person?
Influence building certainly was easier pre-pandemic, but it’s not impossible now. After all, people throughout history have developed meaningful working relationships from afar, even without the use of cell phones and Instagram. Despite zero face-to-face time, Napoleon and Jefferson were able to organize the Louisiana Purchase. I have no doubt that with a little forethought (and Zoom), we can build influence, even in these bizarre times.
But first, why do you even need to build influence inside your organization?
For starters, having influence upwards helps when negotiating for resources, budget and personnel, as well as salary, promotions and bonuses. Having influence with your team allows you to ensure you are meeting your goals and objectives. Having influence across the rest of the organization helps you implement your programs more easily and fluidly, as well as allows you to share your results and impact in context. And selfishly, at the end of the day, it helps you take control of your career and its trajectory.
In the New, New, New Norm, How Do You Build Influence Remotely?
How can you build influence in general? First, identify touchpoints that allow you to align with the overall company go-to-market strategy. What are the goals and how does what you are doing fit in and align with these? Then identify the key stakeholders within your organization that you need to influence, especially as it relates to meeting your go-to-market objectives. For example, if you need to increase the conversion rate of your leads to closed wins, who on the sales side of things could you be building trust with and trying to influence? Or if you are on the customer success team and need to have a feature re-prioritized, who on the product team should you consider building trust with? Make sure you build your results communications to address the overall concerns and goals of those stakeholders.
That’s all kind of common sense. Build trust and influence those you interact with, need help from or have goals tied to. But how has this changed due to remote and hybrid work environments? I have been hearing from a lot of people that they actually have MORE meetings now. So technically more “face-time,” however, the dynamic has changed. Your face-time is now reduced to a 2x2 Brady Bunch style image, propagated with blurred backgrounds and fake sunsets.
The other interesting phenomenon we’ve seen is that while the number of meetings has increased, the number of strategic meetings seems to have decreased. This means your opportunity to be invited to participate in critical meetings where you would be able to show your results and impact have all but gone away. These were the large quarterly and annual planning and kickoffs meetings to strategize for the future, that very few have figured out how to do effectively yet.
3 Strategies to Build Influence While Working Remote
All of that sounds like we’re screwed. But there are some things you can do to begin, or continue to, build influence in remote environments. Three key strategies include: Build relationships, be intentional in meetings and find ways to show your impact and the value you bring to company stakeholders.
In order to build relationships, you need to identify the key stakeholders throughout the organization and across the customer journey. If you are on the customer success team, that person might be the product manager. Or if you are in marketing getting ready to launch a new product feature, you might want to get chummy with the engineers.
Once identified, set up a quick call with them, literally to just check in and see how they are doing. Start to build a relationship. Help them understand things in context, and develop empathy for each other. You can do a call, a Zoom, set up a Slack channel, go out for a virtual (or maybe even in-person) coffee or beer. Send them a postcard from wherever the heck you actually are. Find ways to become a sounding board for each other. Then when you are in those larger, Brady Bunch rooms, you will have a stronger connection and you’ll start to see (and give) more support.
Be Intentional in Meetings
Now that you have some work buddies and allies, show up to ALL meetings prepared. Have a slide ready or at least something significant to share. Participate in the conversation, even if it’s asking clarifying questions. Ask to be part of the agenda. And to that point, if it’s your meeting, please, have an agenda. The more you show up with insightful information, results and impact, and the more you can truly participate in the meeting, the more influence you will have across all levels of the organization, including leadership and stakeholders.
Show Your Impact and Value You Bring to Shareholders
And speaking of stakeholders and executives, even though there isn’t a lot of in-person interaction, you can still make sure they know what you are doing and how you are contributing. Take the meeting preparation for example. Another thing you can do is create brief reports that share out only the most critical information, specific to that audience. It could be a slide showing progress, quick hits or wins. Or maybe there are critical campaigns and events that you want to update people on. Maybe you set up a Slack channel specific to sharing out results. Regardless of the medium, make sure you set a cadence for it, whether it’s weekly or monthly, so people get conditioned to receiving your updates. Make sure you know your audience, are speaking their language, and understand the key issues of these folks. And definitely ask them how you can help them.
By doing these things, whether you have been at the company for a while now, or if you were hired during the pandemic and have never met a single co-worker in person, you should be able to gain trust and influence. And from there begin to conquer the world like a scurvy pirate, able to navigate treacherous waters, be clever and strategic, be prepared for “battle,” and show up with a can-do attitude. And don’t forget, ahoy matey simply means “hello friend.” How easy is that?