Cathy Merrill, the CEO of Washingtonian Media, recently wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post saying that if remote workers were rarely around to participate in office culture, that created a “strong incentive” for business leaders to transform full-time roles into contractor positions
This caused an uproar among the firm’s employees because once staffers become contractors, they would typically lose their benefits, including retirement schemes and health insurance.
To protest, many Washingtonian Media workers went on a daylong strike after their boss penned the piece.
Merrill says her aim was to express concern about the lack of visibility that’s occurred because of employees working remotely. Still, staffers generally took it as a threat.
In any case, the incident highlights why remote-worker visibility is vital for employee success within organizations — and why managers must make an effort to recognize remote-employee contributions.
A year after employees fled offices because of the pandemic, workers are starting to get the message. About 36 percent of workers have a visibility strategy and 38 percent have tried to go above and beyond to raise their profile while working remotely, according to a survey conducted by the job-search site Joblist.
‘Stay in front of the team’
“In this new remote-work world, it’s very important to stay visible,” said Ashley Perryman, the Texas-based vice president of human resources at Spiceworks Ziff Davis, a global technology marketplace.
For employees, that might mean seeking recognition and engaging in career-development projects. Yet managers need to be noticeable too, she adds, meaning, being present for their teams.
Leaders have to “stay in front of the team” to model behaviors and demonstrate authentic connection to the team,” Perryman said. “Staying visible requires intentionality.”
For some, it can mean creating casual connections like a “lunch with leaders” or volunteering for a company committee, she noted.
When it comes to employees, HR leaders know that it’s important for them to make their impact known if they want to put themselves at the top of the minds of their organization’s leaders, she said.
“The reality is that processes for companies that used to operate in-person all the time typically reward people who are highlighted, visible and appear engaged,” Perryman explained.
Employees and managers are in a similar place in terms of the shifting tides of remote work, she says.
Driving better business outcomes
Leaders need to adjust some of their methods of managing, rewarding and recognizing employees, while remote staff need to be mindful that visibility is necessary in calling attention to their work and establishing strong relationships, Perryman adds.
“Visibility can help an employee’s career,” she said.
To be sure, there can be a downside to pushing people to stay on the corporate radar if it prevents employees from performing and hurts the company’s’ bottom line, Perryman warns.
On the other hand, workers may become more engaged if they are recognized and/or rewarded in a public manner, potentially leading to better business outcomes, she says.
Greg Samios, president and CEO of information-services company Wolters Kluwer Health Learning, Research & Practice in New Jersey, agrees that the lack of in-person office discussions means it’s imperative for remote staff to stay visible — and connected.
He recommends videoconferencing or one-on-one meetings to help engage remote workers.
Boosting employee engagement
“I think what’s most important for operating in a remote world is employee engagement,” Samios said. “Once you have a connected and engaged team, the issue of visibility becomes part of the culture — the video is always on, everyone is participating in a discussion and so on.”
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 last year, Wolters Kluwer moved from quarterly to monthly virtual town hall meetings that allow colleagues to showcase their work. Samios says that fosters visibility, while keeping others connected to everything that’s happening in the organization.
“In some ways, the shift to remote has made it more accessible for employees to participate in companywide town halls,” he said.
“This ensures transparency and inclusivity of teams and individuals,” Samios added. “While these meetings were established prior to the pandemic, they’ve taken on more importance as far as individual and team recognition.”
Being visible is more than just active participation in a meeting, which is expected, he says.
“Employees who are focused on solving business problems, testing concepts, leveraging data to uncover new opportunities … that is being visible while driving performance,” Samios said.
Blocking off time for productivity
Those efforts lead to invitations to present to your team, department or even company, and helps elevate an employee’s visibility and growth in the organization, he adds.
To help employees thrive in a remote-work setting, effective managers must be flexible and listen to their employees, Samios added.
“That will make a difference for that employee to feel visible, connected and highly engaged,” he said. “When an employee is engaged and focused on how they can have an impact on the business, visibility will follow.”
Ashley Willis, vice president at FischTank PR in New York notes that while visibility for remote staff is important, it must be done “in the right context.”
“We’re experiencing an overload of Zoom calls and Slack messages in our remote world, and it can lead to a shift in visibility that strays away from performance and quality of work to unproductive side conversations or instant replies that lack a thoughtful response,” she said.
Increasing one’s visibility in a remote-work setting is much more meaningful when it involves asking questions, providing input in solving a business problem, providing constructive feedback or meeting deadlines, she explains.
While it’s important to be engaged, having time periods blocked for no calls is just as important to ensure employees have time to work, as their productivity also can make them more visible.
“We see an opportunity to make a shift in how we approach the discussion on visibility that doesn’t focus on being chained to your desk or talking the loudest on a Zoom call,” she said.