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How to Not Get Fired While Working from Home

Anyone lucky enough to be working from home is at risk of vanishing into obscurity.

Day 40.

I still have a day job. None of my colleagues or staff have been laid off.

We’re the lucky ones. Even if you hate your job, be thankful for your paycheque.

Right now there’s an unspoken expectation that as long as everyone holds on tight things will go back to normal in a couple months. Back to daily coffee trips with the team. Back to conferences and staff meetings. Back to lunch in the foodcourt.

But I don’t think we’ll get back to normal. At least not anytime soon.

I know some of you would love to get packaged out of your job but – unless you’re set for retirement – now is not the time. You don’t want to enter a job market with a 30% unemployment rate. While you might be a rare unicorn, you also don’t want to start a business when 50% of existing small businesses are collapsing. Hey, if it came to it I’m sure you could make it work. But it would be more ideal to enter this situation after the economic shit-storm has passed.

Those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home might find ourselves in this predicament for much longer than originally expected.That means we need to virtually manage our careers.

The best case scenario for a vaccine is roughly 12-18 months. The reality is that vaccines for many viruses are extremely difficult to produce. For instance, in the mid-1980s some researchers thought they’d have an HIV vaccine within a couple years. No dice. It is possible that the hope for a vaccine is false, leaving treatment and social distancing as our remaining defences.

We can manage through this, but life might need to change for a while. Those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home might find ourselves in this predicament for much longer than originally expected. That means we need to virtually manage our careers.

It’s very easy to slip into the darkness when working from home.

While you might keep in regular contact with your primary network – your boss, your staff – people in your secondary network no longer run into you in hallways, meetings or elevators.

If you’re not great at spontaneous small talk, this is your time to shine.

Your secondary network includes people who have an indirect influence on your success or failure at an organization. They may be senior leaders or people in other teams. While in the office you might never really need to work with these people, they are reminded of your presence because of serendipitous encounters. These encounters are neither planned nor necessary, but they help to shape your personal brand in the office. That 30 second conversation in the elevator creates a lasting impression. We lose that when working from home.

If you’re not great at spontaneous small talk, this is your time to shine. With everyone stuck at home, we now must pre-plan and manufacture those serendipitous encounters. Very few do this, so it is a fairly easy way to stand out from the crowd.

It can be a challenge because it might feel forced. Personally, I think people say this because they don’t want to look like they’re trying too hard. This is where the art of relevance comes in. To manufacture serendipitous encounters, you need to create relevance. You don’t simply email the CEO to ask a random question.

Instead, here are some quarantine-friendly ideas for building your personal brand within your primary and secondary networks without coming across as a blatant ass-kisser:

Ask questions during conference calls.

Make sure people know you’re on the call and still work at the company by asking questions. Usually you know the agenda in advance so you can prepare a few before the call. Try not to sound stupid or like a shit-stirrer. Try to make your questions additive to the conversation.

You never know who might be on these calls. Imagine your next boss is on the call and you want to make a good impression. You do this by appearing engaged in the content and interested in using it to further the business.

Take initiative.

After a while of #quarantinelife, it’s easy to sit on your ass and wait for emailed requests to come in. Some eventually do, but as visibility fades and many of your colleagues disappear into the darkness new requests can slow to a trickle.

Use this to your advantage. Lead, don’t wait. Big or small, think of new tasks and projects and propose them to your boss(es). Better yet, think of an initiative that would benefit people in your secondary network and propose it to them.

Even if your ideas don’t all get executed, your initiative demonstrates that you’re not just sitting at home or in the park twiddling your thumbs. Show people that you can drive the business forward no matter where you are.

Book calls.

As unnecessary as many conference calls seem, they are a way of communicating “hey, I’m still here”. Participating in calls is one thing, but setting up calls makes people think you’re a mover and shaker. I know it’s bullshit, but corporate drones tend to believe meetings = progress. While in the regular face-to-face environment you can get away without setting up useless meetings, when working remotely you might have to suck it up and join the party.

Send updates.

Gone are the days of someone casually passing by your desk to see where something is at. Many will forget what you’re doing, some can’t be bothered to email you. Like I mentioned previously, others will have faded into the background and simply stopped caring.

If you want to remain relevant in this environment, let people know what you’re doing. Send updates to those who might be interested – your boss, stakeholders, clients, whoever. And when a task or project is completed stand on the rooftops and tell everyone about your amazing success. Yeah, many people don’t care a shit what you’re working on, but you’ll create the impression that you’re a producer. Indirectly, you’ll also be feeding your boss soundbites to use in his/her updates with his boss. Remember, there’s always a bigger fish.

Create solutions.

The new work paradigm comes with it’s own set of complexities. How do you interact with clients? How do you deliver content? How can employees collaborate remotely?

As these and other new challenges arise, instead of sitting back and letting your boss figure out workarounds and solutions why don’t you get off your ass and help? In some companies, you’ll be put on a pedestal if you know how to setup a meeting using Zoom. After 40 days, I’d hope most companies have already figured this out. But the longer this goes, the more unique challenges will arise.

Be the person that solves these new challenges and watch your personal stock price rise.

Final thoughts.

I hate to say it but we’re in some kind of economic depression right now. Income is super-valuable.

If and when the layoffs do sweep across the corporate world, you want to be last on the list (unless you don’t want to be last on the list…but I’ll save that discussion for another day).

It is very easy to lay off the person you barely know exists. It is very hard to lay off the person who you know and who contributes to the organization. In the current situation, many people will fit into category 1, simply because they’ve been treating this ‘work-from-home’ situation as a quasi-vacation.

It is easy to set yourself apart and show your value right now, so do it.

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