So, you’re starting a new job. Or maybe you’ve just joined a team that’s taking on a new long-term project. You’re eager to hit the ground running. Naturally, you want to make a great first impression on your new manager by demonstrating your skills, knowledge, and dazzling personality. You also want to get a quick read on your new manager’s communication style, values, goals, priorities, likes and dislikes. And very early on, you need to develop a good sense of the organization’s culture, political landscape, key players, and real influencers.
Trouble is, you’ll be working quite a distance away from your new manager and most of your new team, with few opportunities for face-to-face (FTF) interactions. How can you overcome barriers of time and distance to forge a lasting connection to your new manager and team?
In this month’s Communiqué, co-authored by my colleague and friend Beverly Winkler, we offer nine tips for making a great impression on your new manager (and the rest of the team), when you work from afar.
- Create your own orientation plan. Be prepared to take the initiative right up front. Chances are, you’ll get a list of names of people to meet from your manager. If you’re lucky, some of these meetings will be scheduled for you in advance. Review this list to find out who is missing. There may also be a critical topic that you need to learn more about that should be added to your calendar. Establish a priority order – necessary now, later, or nice to have. Are FTF meetings crucial right up front, or are virtual meetings okay for now? (Be prepared to defend your request if FTF meetings require significant travel time or expenses.)
- When making a move to a new organization or an internal department, negotiate a trip to HQ or the team’s home base within 1-3 weeks of coming on board. This way, you will create an identity for yourself with key players and can jumpstart important relationships that may otherwise take months to cement. The goal of this trip is to become organizationally savvy. You’ll get a good sense for the company culture by observing conversations in the cafeteria, seeing what’s posted in the hallways, checking out how people configure and decorate their office space, the hours they work, watching how quickly people move and how intently they work. While at HQ, make sure to meet with people with whom you’ll have frequent contact, or who sit within your immediate organizational structure, including those at least a skip level above you. Include internal clients, those in your supply chain, and anyone with whom you’ll regularly be exchanging information or passing work to or from.
- Figure out what you most want to know about the people you meet. Maybe you need to understand their business strategies, team goals or project plans. For others, particularly your direct reports and your manager, it may be their career aspirations, communication preferences, or values. Where trusting relationships are most important, you’ll probably want to find out more about their personal lives. What do they like to do when they’re not here? What are their favorite hobbies, sports or other diversions? Where do they live, and where were they born? While it’s possible to eventually discover these facts when you work virtually, it’s easier and more natural to have a meaningful social exchange FTF.
- Decide what you want people to know about you. Which skills, experience and aptitudes are most relevant to share, and with whom? What values and principles do you want to convey? What should people know about your work habits, communications style and preferences, and how you collaborate most effectively? Maybe you want to share your type, whether you’ve used DiSC, MBTI, Enneagrams, or some other “type tool.” Do you feel comfortable sharing information about your family life, outside interests, or community activities? Think about what impression you want to leave. What you want your manager’s manager to know about you may be different than what you’d like to share with your new team members.
- Bring back souvenirs. Bring back tangible items that will make you feel part of your new organization. The sales or marketing organizations might have some T-shirts, coffee mugs, mousepads, pens, pads and the like that you can take home as a visible reminder of the organization you’re part of. Decorate your office space with one or two items that feature your organization’s logo or colors. It may sound trite, but having a physical reminder of the team you’re a part of can do wonders to make you feel connected even from a distance.
- Develop a 1-, 2- and 3-month education plan for yourself. Ask your manager, peers, collaborators, clients, and others what calls you should be attending or leading, and why. Who can you turn to for a “company 101” overview or a primer on your industry? Are there certain systems and reports you need to have access to? Who do you need to contact to get on important distribution lists and join the right meetings? When you work remotely, you need to be persistent about advocating for yourself to make sure you’re not missing vital information. Out of sight really can mean out of mind, unless you speak up.
- Seek out the connection points. When you work virtually, it’s not always obvious how, or at what points, your work intersects with others. Ask people for their perspectives about how the team works as a matter of routine, as well as when they’re in fire-fighting mode. For example, when faced with an unexpected client issue or a new more ambitious deadline, how does the team come together to solve problems and then rally? How are issues escalated? Who needs to get involved, and who needs to be informed? Much better to discover this before you hit a roadblock, so you can navigate through problems more easily and quickly when the pressure is on.
- Create a communications plan with your manager. Both you and your manager need to be clear about what you need from each other. How often will you meet 1:1? What issues require an immediate call? How accessible will you be to each other via email, IM, or phone? How will you give each other feedback, and for what purposes? Establish operating norms and stick to them, until you both decide that modifications are needed. Before each meeting, take the initiative to suggest an agenda to help you get what you need from each interaction.
- Deal with the administrivia head-on. What’s your responsibility for keeping track of time? Expenses? How is travel booked? What’s the approval cycle for budgets, and what’s your role? Who does forecasting, measuring and reporting, and how often? How are performance reviews done? Who’s responsible for safety reporting (yes, accidents can happen regardless of where someone works!) Make sure you understand your role, the assistance you can expect, and how much time you’ll realistically need to allocate to administrative work.
In the first few weeks on your new team, be prepared to do a lot of listening before you start making many recommendations. Be a learner and relationship builder. Restate what you’re hearing to demonstrate that you’re absorbing new information. Ask questions to show you’re curious and interested. Follow up with people you’ve met to keep the connection going. When you work virtually, there are no serendipitous drive-by meetings. You have to take the initiative to discover what you need, from whom, and then be tenacious and methodical about getting it. Start with a well-defined task.
Navigating through conflict, virtually? See our guidelines
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