In this segment of “Office Optional with Larry English,” Larry shares four important approaches to help you build influence in a hybrid workplace.
The debate is over: Hybrid work is the new normal. The 2022 Microsoft Work Trend Index found hybrid work up seven points from last year (to 38 percent), with an additional 53 percent considering making the leap in the months ahead.
As organizations create detailed hybrid workplace strategies, individual employees also need to think about how the change affects their work, including the influence they can wield to shape projects, their career and the culture of their workplace.
Influence is a powerful tool. It allows individuals to build loyalty and trust, lift morale, earn recognition throughout the company, earn buy-in for ideas, achieve career goals and effectively lead. (It’s worth noting that influence and power are separate concepts — influence can be a tool for anyone, no matter their position.)
While building influence is important, it’s also one of the more challenging aspects of remote and hybrid work. Here’s a guide to get started.
Relationships Are Key to Building Influence in a Hybrid Workplace
To build influence in a hybrid setting, employees must intentionally work to build relationships with people they may never or rarely meet face-to-face.
Relationship-building, however, can be difficult in an office optional workplace — the Microsoft Work Trend Index found 43 percent of leaders say this is the No. 1 challenge in remote and hybrid work, and only half of remote workers say they have strong relationships with their team, let alone with others in the organization.
In digital settings, relationships can become transactional and less trusting. Without water cooler or lunchroom chats, you mostly see coworkers on a small square during virtual meetings. Digital platforms such as video or chat can strip away the subtle communication cues you get from in-person interactions, leading to more misunderstandings and a lack of emotional connection. These platforms can also mask your personality, making it harder to stand out.
As the leader of a remote company for more than 20 years, I know these issues are easily fixable with intentional action. Here’s how:
1. Get vulnerable to build trust.
Trust is the cornerstone of positive hybrid relationships. Trust can motivate people to work together to solve hard problems and is the currency of all work relationships, whether virtual or face-to-face.
It’s a two-way street: You must be trustworthy and also demonstrate trust in your teammates. The most effective way to do both is by practicing vulnerability. Apologize when you’re wrong, admit when you don’t know an answer and let others get to know you on a human level at work.
Show an active interest in getting to know others, too. What are your coworkers’ passions outside the office? What are they struggling with? Celebrate their wins and support them during difficult periods.
Additional tactics to build trust include assuming good intent, communicating regularly and often and being consistent and reliable. Be that team member who others can count on to be direct, honest and get the job done and done well.
2. Build a strong network throughout the organization.
Even without intentional effort, you probably have some sort of relationship with your team members. Cultivating a network beyond that requires some extra effort, but you can’t have influence if no one outside of your team knows who you are.
To build a strong organization-wide network, get to know individuals at all levels who can provide mentorship or fresh perspectives. Informational interviews are an effective way to build these relationships — put time on people’s calendars for an informal chat about their roles, challenges, wins, goals and more.
The extra effort is well worth it. According to the latest Microsoft Work Trend Index, employees with strong work relationships outside their teams tend to get more career opportunities and — bonus — be more satisfied and fulfilled by their jobs.
3. Raise your hand often.
In a hybrid or remote setting, it’s all too easy to bury your head in individual work priorities. To build influence, however, you need to regularly take advantage of other opportunities to help out in the organization. Join high-profile teams or committees, volunteer for special projects or help connect employees to resources, others within the company or groups.
Raising your hand not only exposes you to new people within the organization, helping you build more and deeper relationships, but it also helps you become a trusted employee (see tactic No. 1).
4. Sharpen your listening skills.
Influence isn’t about ruthlessly pursuing your own agenda. Your influence extends only as far as you understand the goals, priorities, motivations and challenges of others. In other words, you must listen.
This can be a challenge in a virtual setting. These days, everyone suffers from an overload of information and the rapid-fire pace of digital life. Our attention spans are short and getting shorter. Resist the temptation to multitask during virtual interactions — giving people your undivided attention will likewise encourage others to be more present during conversations, fueling greater understanding and deeper relationships.
Working on your relationships at work is the best way to build influence over your projects, career and company culture. While this is more challenging in a hybrid or remote setting, it’s still very possible with intentional effort and learning to be a trustworthy, vulnerable member of your organization.