How to Have Influence as a Remote or Hybrid Worker
Being able to influence people is a critical skill if you want to increase your impact at work. Having influence means you can ignite change, motivate people, and be a better leader. But knowing how to have influence when you work remotely can feel challenging—especially if you haven’t done it before.
In this episode of the Creative Confidence Podcast, we have a conversation with Sacha Connor, the Founder of Virtual Work Insider—a consultancy that coaches organizations to work seamlessly across any distance. Sacha specializes in training geographically distributed and remote teams within companies and agencies. She shares how to have more impact as a remote worker and leader by crafting a plan for influencing across distance.
Leadership as a Remote Worker
According to Sacha, there’s an emerging expectation of employees to become an omnimodal leader, which means learning how to become successful at communicating, collaborating, building relationships, and influencing in a fully remote group, in a fully in-person group, and in a hybrid environment.
However, Sacha says that there are unconscious biases at play, especially when we're in these hybrid and remote work environments. One is distance bias, or proximity bias, which is our brain's natural tendency to put more value on the things that are closer to us than those that are farther away. Another is recency bias, which is our tendency to put more value on the people that we’ve heard from or seen more recently.
There's long-standing research that shows that exposure accounts for 60% of career success—much higher than performance, which only accounts for 10%. That’s why it’s so important to have a virtual influence plan. In order to have influence and create that exposure when you're working in hybrid and remote environments, you’ll need to adjust your behaviors to account for distance and mitigate these unconscious biases.
“There’s this emerging expectation of employees to learn how to communicate, collaborate, build relationships, and influence within a fully remote group, in-person group, and hybrid environment.”
Sacha Connor, Founder of Virtual Work Insider
How to Create a Virtual Influence Plan
Sacha sees influence as the ability to motivate and inspire others to take action. The best leaders are those that successfully influence up, down, across, inside, and outside of their organization to be able to impact business results.
Sacha realized that in order to be successful with hitting her business goals and career aspirations, she needed to make her team feel as if she was in that building every day. She needed them to feel her virtual presence, and to lead their thinking and have influence even when she couldn't bump into them at the water cooler.
Based on her past experience as a remote senior business and marketing leader at the Clorox company, Sacha designed a training program to help people create their virtual influence plan. The virtual influence plan includes five steps:
Step #1: Who
First, map out your sphere of influence. On a piece of paper, take five minutes to sketch out all of the different people that you need to influence or gain exposure to up, down, across, inside, and outside your organization. When Sacha reviews these maps, she typically sees that people do a good job of mapping out their internal stakeholders, but might have missed a number of external stakeholders. You may see that you need to influence someone that you don't have direct access to.
Step #2: Why
Now that you've got a map, you need to prioritize. Start with picking a couple of stakeholders that you need to build an influence plan for. The next step is the “why”—you need to get really clear on why you need to influence that person or build exposure with that person. Getting clear on that will help you create a really targeted plan. They could be things like influencing thinking on the business to hit your sales goals, launching a new product, or establishing a personal connection to build trust and raise awareness of your work or your team's work.
Step #3: How
How do your stakeholders like to be communicated with? Are they formal communicators? Do they want emails? Are they looking for in-person meetings where you send a pre-read ahead of time? Or are they more informal? They might like text messages or direct messages or a quick phone call. Oftentimes Sacha hears people say that they don't know how others like to be communicated with. That in and of itself is a great insight and a prompt to go and seek out that information.
Step #4: When
You’ll need to determine the best aperture with which to gain exposure or influence. Sacha says that that means determining the best window of time for when your stakeholder is going to be receptive to your message. Get really specific here—think about day of the week, time of day, a specific window of time in advance of a key milestone. For example, Sacha’s VP that she reported to was based in their Oakland headquarters office. Being in Philadelphia, she didn't have the opportunity to swing by his office, so they jointly decided that the best time to talk was at 7:30am PT. This was when he was in his car driving to the office and Sacha had his undivided attention.
Step #5: What
In this step, you’ll need to decide what tactics you're going to use to influence and gain exposure to each of those stakeholders that you picked. The tactics you choose will depend on what you decided as your “why,” and what you discovered about how your stakeholders like to be communicated with.
If you want to learn more about making an impact on your team, check out our online course Cultivating Creative Collaboration.
Making Decisions as a Remote Worker
Let’s say you need to influence in order to get your recommendation or your proposal approved. If you think about the who, it includes the formal decision maker as well as the informal decision makers, the people who are also going to be influencing the decision maker on your behalf. From there, you can determine when the right aperture for the influence is—perhaps it's five days before the decision meeting. If the decision maker is booked in back-to-back meetings, you might decide that the best way to prime them is through asynchronous communication.
In thinking about this, one idea would be to try something that Sacha calls video mail. When you're about to send an email with a recommendation, proposal, or idea, creating a video can make a message really memorable and sticky, and you can provide more context than writing. It can be as simple as recording yourself, doing some screen sharing with visuals to bring your idea to life, and then sending that to your decision maker ahead of time before the decision.
“There's long-standing research that shows that exposure accounts for 60% of career success—much higher than performance, which only accounts for 10%. So in order to have influence and create that exposure when you're working in these hybrid and remote environments, you need to adjust your behaviors to account for distance.”
Sacha Connor, Founder of Virtual Work Insider
Influencing as a Consultant or Contractor
If you are an external consultant or an agency working with a client on a new project, Sacha says you’re behind extra thick virtual curtains because you're on the outside of that organization. First, take a look at your influence map, and map out who you think on the client side you need to influence or gain exposure to. You may need to ask your client to help fill in some of those gaps.
Sacha recommends attending meetings and getting copied on some of their digital communications because that allows you to see who's invited to certain meetings, observe the meeting interactions, and see who's copied on communications. That can give you a sense of the formal and informal decision makers.
When you get to that last step of the what, consider how you're going to continue to add value. It could be through offering a point of view on the work that's being done. Or it could be leveraging your social media, and indirectly influencing the team by putting out thought leadership content that they will organically see in their feeds.
“I realized that in order to be successful with hitting my business goals and career aspirations, I needed to make my team feel as if I was in that building every day. I needed them to feel my virtual presence. I needed to lead their thinking and have influence even when I couldn't bump into them at the water cooler.”
Sacha Connor, Founder of Virtual Work Insider
As a remote or hybrid worker, there might be other people in other parts of the company or even externally that you want to get to know—to learn from them, to get mentored by them, or to potentially even work for them. This is where you're going to need some help to build out your network. You can talk to your manager, other senior leaders, and your peers to find out who you need to get introduced to and gain exposure to based on your career aspirations.
When you think about the what in that situation, the tactics you could choose include things like an initial coffee chat. Start to build that relationship, virtually if you're at a distance. Or you can find out if you have a hybrid overlap day in the office. It's a great use of in-person, in office time if you have the opportunity.
Additionally, when you connect with someone new, make sure you do your research on that person and determine what value you can actually bring to that interaction so that it's mutually beneficial to both of you. For example, you might want to provide a perspective on something that you know that they're interested in, or something that they're working on. Ultimately, through a virtual influence plan, you can figure out ways to continue to build relationships with your team and organization throughout your career.
About the Speaker
Founder, Virtual Work Insider
Sacha Connor is the Founder of Virtual Work Insider, a consultancy that coaches organizations to work seamlessly across any distance. Sacha specializes in training geographically distributed and remote teams within companies and agencies, and Virtual Workforce Employee Resource Group creation.
Sacha has 18 years of business leadership experience at a Fortune 500 company and also agency-side, and 8 years of experience leading large, distributed teams fully remotely. As one of the first remote marketing directors, she led brands worth over $250M and was the first fully remote member of the leadership team for a $1 billion division at The Clorox Company.
You can download Sacha’s free resource to create your own virtual influence plan at: virtualworkinsider.com/ideoinfluence
If you’re interested in learning more skills and techniques to foster creative collaboration and unleash the potential of a team, check out our online course, Cultivating Creative Collaboration.
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