The idea of working remotely conjures up a lot of positive imagery – a freshly brewed coffee pot all to yourself; a quiet environment designed for maximum productivity; a gasoline gauge that points to “full” for weeks on end; maybe even a laptop on the beach with your toes in the sand.
While perks like these are alluring, there are downsides to working from home that all remote employees must proactively prepare for – one of the most obvious being the social isolation that can result.
Networking and relationship-building are extremely valuable to career success. Making the right connections proves key to career advancement, and connecting with co-workers in meaningful ways also adds to career satisfaction. On the IT management side, you want your employees to have open lines of communication and your teams to collaborate, no matter where they are located. It’s a catalyst for the creativity and innovative ideas teams need to move the business forward. Networking is a win for everyone involved.
[ Read also: How to feel connected on a distributed team. ]
So how can you make networking a priority when you are working all by yourself? Here are seven tips for remote workers and the leaders who manage them.
1. Say yes to video calls
You’re not alone – but it can feel that way when you dial into a conference call, says John Watkins, CTO and VP at inRsite IT Solutions. You miss out on the nonverbal cues that are essential to effective communication. Instead, make it a policy to turn on your camera and join meetings via video.
“When working remotely, it’s easy to feel like you’re left out from the team. It can make you feel like you’re an outsider, like you’re a contractor and not a full-time employee,” says Watkins. “I find that participating in frequent (daily) video conference meetings helps to bring everyone together. Talking to a remote resource while looking into their eyes puts a face to the name, much more so than a profile picture in Slack or an email signature can do.”
2. Attend industry events and conferences
When you work from home, your company saves money. Consider asking for an annual budget to attend industry events and conferences as part of your networking strategy. Pam Kurko, recruiting partner with Heller Search Associates, suggests a few places to start.
“Events can be sponsored by national organizations or local groups. These are great networking opportunities,” she says. “One example is the Society for Information Management (SIM), which has chapters in most major cities. Ask your colleagues which events they have attended and have gotten value from before registering to avoid wasting your precious time.”
3. Schedule weekly status meetings
If you have to ask yourself, “When’s the last time I spoke to a human?” – then it’s been too long. While meeting overload is a real issue for most professionals, it’s worthwhile to add a standing weekly check-in to your calendar to keep relationships alive and lines of communication open between teammates.
“Determine a time that’s convenient across your team and schedule a weekly video meeting where everyone is given a few minutes to share personal and work updates,” says Michael Affronti, VP of product for Fuze. “This provides an opportunity for employees to interact with team members they may not usually work with and have valuable face time.”
Kurko agrees. “Check in with your colleagues once a week just to touch base, even if you don’t have a scheduled call or a project to discuss at that moment. If the majority of your communication is typically over email, instant message, or Slack, consider picking up the phone every once in a while,” she says.
4. Find peer groups outside your home
Part of the appeal of working from home is that you have nowhere you have to be – a helpful perk when rush hour traffic is bumper to bumper. But humans are social animals. For those times you crave social interaction, look to sources like Meetup.com to find like-minded peers, advises Watkins.
“For networking outside of your office, leverage sites like Meetup.com to find local meetup events that are relevant to your career or interests. These provide you a chance to get out of the house and have some social interaction with like-minded professionals,” he says.
Leaders should encourage this and support remote employees when social events overlap with work hours, suggests Watkins. “Employers should be treating these events as a required task (to a point) instead of a ‘fun’ event, which will help remote workers put priority on these events instead of skipping them to complete their normal tasks.”