Back in March, my employer reassured us they aren’t downsizing any of the workforce. But the economy isn’t rebounding and I don’t know how much longer they can afford to keep us all on the payroll. What can I do to make myself more valuable to the team and survive the next round of cuts?
– Alex N.
That’s a tough spot to be in and I’m sorry to hear about the uncertainty. You’re certainly not alone and there absolutely are steps you can take to improve your situation!
The bad news is that, along with everything else in our lives, COVID-19 has changed the way we work. Of course it’s fundamentally changed the way we think about commuting, office space, and more. But, to your question, it’s completely changed the way we gain influence and help advance in our careers.
The good news is that the same principles apply that you probably were already engaging in back when you used to go to work every day. Now, working remotely, it’s all about reimagining the way you go about achieving these objectives.
- Build connections
Advancement at work should be based objectively on merits. But we are all human being and we are more likely to reward the people we like. That doesn’t mean you have to act a certain way or try to be BFFs with your boss. But you do need to have good relationships with your boss and peers (and anyone else who will be influencing the hiring/firing decisions).
The best way to do that is to remember, as just mentioned, that everyone is human. Yes, even that annoying person on the Zoom call who you can’t stand. Everyone has anxiety because of the pandemic. Everyone has problems that you don’t know anything about. So be kind. Reach out, as appropriate, and check in about non-work things. Be honest and sincere when you ask “how are you?”.
Having these positive relationships has the halo effect of your boss associating you with positive outcomes at work.
- Sit up straight (yes, it’s that simple)
Through eons of evolution, all humans are hardwired to constantly be asking the question “Is this person a friend or a foe? Are they trying to hurt me or help me?” Being able to interpret signs and recognize patterns is how our brain adapted to keep us alive.
However, sending the “yes, I am your friend and I am here to help you” signals is harder when you’re not in person. Make sure your body language has adapted to the video-conference world we now live in:
- Sit up straight
- Dress professionally as you would if you were in the office
- Uncross your arms
- Have a genuine smile on your face
- Make eye contact with the camera, NOT the person’s face on the screen. (Here’s my personal behind-the-scenes pro tip: I have a post-it note on the top of my screen with an arrow pointing to the camera lens. That’s ensures I remember to look at the correct spot so the person on the other end of the video call can see that I am engaging and making eye contact.)
- Professional development is key
One of the major fears of Executive Leadership is that their employees are not as productive while working from home. So show your boss, and team, that you are not only staying busy with work but you are also actively seeking out ways to improve your work performance.
Becoming more valuable to your boss and co-workers relies on you continually improving your professional skills. Subscribe to (and actually read!) industry newsletters and blogs. Ask your co-workers what they are reading and what podcasts they are listening to (that also helps you bond with them to create the positive relationships I just mentioned).
When you develop your expertise in an area, you will be more sought after for your thoughts and input, making you a more valuable employee.
Also, think outside the box. Start with your industry but then expand into other areas, as well. Is there a go-to news site that your biggest client always reads? Maybe sign up for the Masterclass series, as I wrote about in a previous advice column, to help you find intellectual inspiration in unexpected places.
And remember: let your boss know that you are constantly working to improve yourself and your skills. Send an occasional email of “I was just watching this roundtable discussion on __________. They bring up a strategy that I think could be an interesting way to solve the ___________ problem on our project.”
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