Writing Challenge Day 14: Am I on Mute? Being Heard While Remote.

I’ve had jobs where I’ve been mostly in-person, mostly remote, and somewhere in-between. But I was still unprepared for 2020. In the past, I’ve relied being in-person to get the visibility I need at work. Since that’s not an option right now, and as someone often labeled as “soft-spoken,” I’ve had to make some changes this year. So here are some thoughts with the usual disclaimer that I know they won’t apply, won’t work for everyone.

Be There, Speak Up

It’s easy to fly under the radar—intentionally or not—when everyone is remote. But there’s a risk absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder but can make people wonder what you’re doing all day. Personally, I’m an introvert, and I don’t like to speak up unless I’m sure I’ll add value. I’ve pushed myself to pipe up more often, so people remember who I am and what I do. On the other side, I like to make sure I acknowledge everyone if I’m leading the meeting to break the ice.

What not to do: I got a note from my son’s teacher kindly asking if I could un-install the voice-changer on his system he was using to add some “excitement” to his class’s Zoom calls. You don’t want to stand out in the wrong way.

Use Video

I know, I know…I sometimes dread turning on video, but I highly recommend doing so. Pre-pandemic, my co-workers who worked remotely and had the most career success always used video. There is something about putting a face to a voice that amplifies collaboration and makes you seem more present. It’s also helpful when people can tell you right away that you’re still on mute because they can see your lips moving! So, turn that video on if your bandwidth can handle it. If you get distracted by seeing yourself, turn the self-view off.

Beware: A downside of turning off the self-view on video is you can’t see what’s happening behind you. One day I screamed in terror during a big meeting when my 13-year-old came in and gave me a hug. Unfortunately, I was not on mute.

Not More Meetings, But More Conversations

I was 100% in-office when all of a sudden I was 100% remote back in March of this year. Initially, I had meetings almost every minute of my workday. By now, I have a lot better balance. I still have plenty of meetings, but I look for opportunities to ping over chat to ask if I can call for a quick conversation. I also get some extra 1x1 time.

But consider this: It’s fine to take care of business over chat as well to skip both the meeting and the call, especially if your typing is better than mine.

Schedule Fun Time, Too

In normal times, we’d have plenty of opportunity for casual conversations, be it traveling to see each other in-person or generally meeting up for fun. We can still do that, just differently. The key is the same as normal times, variety—video watch parties, gaming sessions, virtual happy hours, or book clubs. One thing isn’t going to work for everyone. Don’t overlook this stuff. The good news is you can include people from other offices and locations more easily.

I’m interested learning your tips and tricks as well, so comment below if something worked or didn’t for you and your team to be present and heard in these chaotic times.


Top Comments

  •  I certainly understand your transition - this is the first time I've been "fully remote" for work. I love the considerations you offered to be more impactful and successful, over digital channels…

  •  awesome examples. Personally, had zoom been a thing when I was in school the voice changer would definitely been used by me! 

    It is really an art form when you can insert yourself deftly into a conversation…

  • Nice write-up,  . I avoid the 'someone coming up behind' issue by either sitting with my back to a wall or by having the door closed and using that I live in a 93 year-old home that doesn't allow…

  • Luckily, I have no problem making myself heard. I would never be described as "soft spoken". Generally, I only speak when I feel I have something to contribute to a conversation, though. There are times when I don't say anything in a meeting - those are times I spend taking notes and listening to others (sometimes this spawns new ideas), and there are times when I spend a good amount of time talking. My challenge to myself is always ensuring that I have something worthwhile to contribute in meetings, and otherwise I am happy to contribute (worthwhile or otherwise) to regular fun chatter. I agree that video helps so much - I love watching expressions during video calls and always pay attention to others videos while I am talking. I try to make sure I give others a chance to speak if it looks like they want to say something but not interrupt, for instance. Converse to that, when I have to take off a video call early for some reason - I can just wave and drop a note in chat.

  • Video on definitely. As much as possible I try to have a different virtual background on for each day/meeting. It is an ice breaker to get the conversation going. I use something that is of interest to me and try to make it inoffensive. The green screen also helps eliminate the background clutter that is my office. Folks don't have the visual distraction of wall hangings, books, papers, people walking past in the hall.

    To continue the conversation that  brought up, over my career I have taken a bunch of personality classification tests to get profiled. The range from communication types to leadership styles, from the vary specific to the very broad. The one thing I took away from that is no matter what the profile says today about you it will be different at different times in your life. The prime example for me was the DiSC profiles I have had assigned over the years. You answer a series of questions [way shorter than the Minnesota Mutliphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)] and you end up with a profile which ranks the 4 types. I then participated in the group exercises to demonstrate ways to communicate better with others in different profile types. Over time my profiles have varied because I have grown or the environment I am in brings out different personality traits. The point I am making is that taking any test once should not be seen as "the way you are and always will be."

    • People with D personalities tend to be confident and place an emphasis on accomplishing bottom-line results.
    • People with i personalities tend to be more open and place an emphasis on relationships and influencing or persuading others.
    • People with S personalities tend to be dependable and place the emphasis on cooperation and sincerity.
    • People with C personalities tend to place the emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency.
  •  - I love how you were able to use the data to get to a solution!    

  • I'm on board 100% with all of the above comments, and will simply contribute that telecommuting from my rural area that has low bandwidth availability became MUCH improved when my two teens moved out of the house.  

    It seems they feel full-time audio AND video streaming of entertainment media is necessary to living a normal and fulfilled life.  

    It's enough to make an old-timer like me start talking "old-people-speak" ("When I was your age . . . ").  That's nearly a guaranty of creating a sullen and resentful lecture instead of a useful and helpful conversation.

    That's when being a Network Analyst helped.  I was able to show them graphs of our bandwidth, broken down by each computer (thank you, NTA!), and identifying destination sites each was hitting.  Once they understood better how much bandwidth was available, and compared it to how much they were consuming for entertainment, versus how much my wife and I needed to do work to pay the bills, both kids moved to CD's & DVD's instead of streaming.  They regretted not being the same as (or ahead of ) many of their peers, but were completely willing to change to accommodate getting food on the table and gasoline in the cars.

    Making a situation pertinent and relatable to their situation was the key to having them voluntarily adjust their bandwidth consumption during business hours.

    Swift packets, All!

    Rick Schroeder

    In the Little Red House

    In the Saginaw Wood

  • Nice write up  

    I love board rooms, use a white board , meet up with people, get things done on the fly, no delay or latency lol 

    Things are much more worse to me these days, you are always on remote meetings, different sounds popping up over meetings, wouldnt blame anyone since everyone is working from home and it does happen and its quite expected.

    All of a sudden there is a blip in your network and this happens when its your turn to talk lol going going gone boom

    It always takes a while when your lifez upside down and now i am getting adjusted to this. 

    Video calls, more conversations, T time over a call with your colleagues and more ..................

Thwack - Symbolize TM, R, and C