Tips

How to Stay Relevant When Working Remotely

Sooner or later everybody slips up and forgets to mute the conference call.

If you’re a remote employee—where every meeting is a call—the odds go up exponentially.

I’ll never forget the time our entire company heard me microwave my oatmeal. I had a particularly old microwave at the time, complete with hideous alien beeping noise. And it was pollen season, so it was a melody of sneezing and sniffling and beeping. All for lack of a pressed mute button.

Sigh.

But, besides remembering the mute button, working remotely can bring more pervasive challenges that may be more detrimental — to the call and to your credibility.

Having worked remotely for three years, I’ve learned many lessons the hard way.

All of those lessons boil down to one idea: People who don’t talk get forgotten. You have to be assertive and present. Have to. The tough part is figuring out how to be assertive and present. With that in mind, I’ve compiled five phrases you can use to assert yourself.

1. Scenario: Two people are talking at the same time
    Solution: “I have one thing to add, but go ahead.”

This situation has always reminded me of a time during volleyball practice when the ball dropped because two teammates were being too polite. It can be awkward to jump in and talk over someone. But letting others know you have a point to add will help facilitate conversation. Subsequently you’ll find yourself being invited to speak rather than preparing for a noise battle over mic-turf.

2. Scenario: Verbalizing your non-verbals
    Solution: “Let me make a note of that.”

In real life people can see you writing things down, smiling, nodding your head. When they can see that you are engaged, you can feel like a contributor even if you’ve technically been silent during the entire meeting. Stay silent as a remote employee? People will forget you were there at all. So, verbalize your non-verbals. Find ways to be present. Laugh out loud. Tell people you’re taking notes. Say little things like, “good point,” or even an audible “yes” rather than just nodding. It will feel forced at first (because it is) but it will help you.

3. Scenario: Considering the attendee list, you may not get a word in
    Solution: “I read the agenda and have some thoughts I’d like to share.”

You’ll never get a word in if you wait your turn. When the meeting is first starting—when they’re checking to make sure you’re on the call—say something like this. Whoever is running the meeting will take note of it and make it a point to include you.

4. Scenario: You have extensive thoughts to share with attendees
    Solution: “The last thing I’ll say is…”

If you have a lot of thoughts to share, it may be difficult for meeting attendees to know when you have reached at the end of your commentary. To help people follow along, conclude your commentary with phrases like, “The last thing I’ll say is…” or, “In summary…” This will help people keep track your feedback, and help you avoid the dead, awkward sound of people wondering if you have anything else to say.

5. Scenario: Rover is getting antsy and he needs to go out
    Solution: “I’m out walking the dog.”

Okay, we’re cheating a little bit here. This isn’t anything to be said out loud; this is for updating your status on whatever chat technology you use. In an office you can look over and see someone grinding on a project. Your co-workers can’t see anything like that. So, let them know what you’re doing. Verbalize your space. Let them know if you’re out walking the dog, taking lunch, or working from Starbucks.

No matter what phrases you use, just remember that you have to be assertive and present. If you don’t, you’ll get left behind. It’s amazing how a few little phrases can help establish your presence and increase your credibility. Now go out and use them.

(And for the love of all that is good: mute your phone when using the microwave.)

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  • Love it. One problem with conference calls, aside from the crowded environment, is the lack of context without you seeing the participants and they seeing you.
    I saw a great presentation by a woman who was a military pilot who showed that such an environment is “no context” environment. What you say has to be 100% assumed that it’s verbal, and not face-to-face verbal.
    Perhaps something to keep in mind during conference calls, lest we crash the microwave 🙂

  • Love it. One problem with conference calls, aside from the crowded environment, is the lack of context without you seeing the participants and they seeing you.
    I saw a great presentation by a woman who was a military pilot who showed that such an environment is “no context” environment. What you say has to be 100% assumed that it’s verbal, and not face-to-face verbal.
    Perhaps something to keep in mind during conference calls, lest we crash the microwave 🙂

  • Mike Pacchione

    For sure. I’ve actually heard – and maybe I’ve done this too – people say things like “I wish you could see how triumphantly I’m holding my hands right now” as a means of expressing the context. I can’t imagine how annoying that would be if someone expressed every non-verbal though 🙂

  • Mike Pacchione

    For sure. I’ve actually heard – and maybe I’ve done this too – people say things like “I wish you could see how triumphantly I’m holding my hands right now” as a means of expressing the context. I can’t imagine how annoying that would be if someone expressed every non-verbal though 🙂

  • Great article, Mike. I’m a first-year part-time remote worker (75-85% of the time) and the tips you mentioned are great reminders. I agree with what you said in being present and assertive. Working in a lean/agile startup, it’s easy to get left behind if you don’t speak up. A startup is also a great place to learn and work with management-level colleagues — resources at your fingertips! Not speaking up will only hurt you in the long run.

    I work for Voxeet, a conference call application, and I think we can help you with your microwave problem if it happens again in the near future ;). Not only can you mute yourself, but other people that don’t want to hear your microwave beeping can also mute you too. With Voxeet, everyone can have their own conferencing experience without disrupting other callers. Try it out and let me know what you think!

    Best of luck,
    Reyna

  • Great article, Mike. I’m a first-year part-time remote worker (75-85% of the time) and the tips you mentioned are great reminders. I agree with what you said in being present and assertive. Working in a lean/agile startup, it’s easy to get left behind if you don’t speak up. A startup is also a great place to learn and work with management-level colleagues — resources at your fingertips! Not speaking up will only hurt you in the long run.

    I work for Voxeet, a conference call application, and I think we can help you with your microwave problem if it happens again in the near future ;). Not only can you mute yourself, but other people that don’t want to hear your microwave beeping can also mute you too. With Voxeet, everyone can have their own conferencing experience without disrupting other callers. Try it out and let me know what you think!

    Best of luck,
    Reyna

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