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Secrets to success as a new remote employee – Part 1: Put your best "face" forward

By Cathy Planchart, Senior Project Manager

Recently, I transitioned from working in my local community of Hancock County, Maine, to working remotely with MKP communications inc., a company based in New York City. For the last 30 years I have worked in traditional, in-person office environments where I had an office or cubicle and co-workers in close physical proximity. In this environment, it was easy to get facetime (note, all lower case) with my manager, interact with co-workers on both personal and professional levels and lead meetings around conference room tables where every seat was filled.

So, how do you build relationships with co-workers and your manager when you work remotely? How do you make yourself stand out and get recognized for your good work in hopes of getting a raise or a promotion?

I attempt to address these questions in a series of three blog posts. (See part 2 and part 3.)

MKP hosts a “daily check-in” video meeting at 10:00 AM Eastern Time, every day, Monday thru Friday via Microsoft Teams. This is a carryover from 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic when everyone was working remotely, and the company has continued having this daily meeting because of the value it consistently brings. Personally, I think it is brilliant, especially as a remote employee, and I appreciate the information exchange and enjoy the camaraderie it engenders. We are a small team of 20-25. Daily, a random handful of employees are in the NYC office and log in as a group from a conference room. Other employees log in from Connecticut, New Jersey, Nevada, Maryland, while spending a few weeks in Mexico or from their homes in New York. But everyone is on screen and face-to-face during this precious half hour, mostly with their cameras on. Everyone shows up. We engage in some personal chitchat and connect about the important work tasks on deck for the day.

As a new remote employee, putting my best face forward on screen during a video meeting is a way to make myself stand out. Here are eight personal rules I follow:

  1. Lights, camera, action! Before turning on my camera, I make sure my lighting is good, so I don’t look like a shadow on screen (since I am not in a witness protection program) or whitewashed due to too much light. I also position my (computer) camera at a flattering angle, which involves placing my laptop on a 9” stand so I am eye level with the camera. (Trust me, no one wants to look up my nose.) 
  2. Choose a background. Microsoft Teams and similar applications allow you to use a “fake” background behind your onscreen image. I choose to use a fake background because I feel it is more professional (rather than having co-workers look at the mess in my living room). MKP promotes using our branded background. But sometimes I put up something personal during our check in meeting, like a photo from a morning walk in the woods, to spark conversation and share something personal about myself. This helps me stand out and build a personal connection with my colleagues.
  3. Being on time is being early, as my college advisor used to say. I remember the days when I was the first or second person in a conference room as the team was gathering for a meeting. Those moments before the meeting were valuable for connecting with others. I feel arriving early for an online meeting provides the same benefits.
  4. Smile, you’re on (candid) camera. I always turn my camera on and put a smile on my face. Being able to make “eye contact” and see each other’s body language, even facial expressions, is such an important component to human communication. And I’ve learned that smiling makes you look more approachable. When is it OK to turn your camera off? When you feel yourself nodding off during a meeting. (Trust me, I learned this from personal experience, which was quite embarrassing personally, and distracting to others in the meeting.) Grabbing a bite of breakfast? That’s a good time to turn off your camera. And I’m sure there are other times when it is acceptable to turn your camera off, but try, if possible, to keep these exceptions to a minimum.
  5. Spend time in the dressing room. When I know I will be in a video meeting, I take the time to fix my hair and apply a bit of makeup. Personally, I am not one to wear makeup in my daily life. But with poor home lighting and onscreen viewing, a little blush and lipstick provides some “pop” to my digital appearance. I think of myself as the star walking onto a movie set.
  6. Make a good wardrobe choice. I take pride in my appearance and feel it is important to look professional in every interaction. Therefore, I choose to wear professional attire (at least from the waist up). I want to look my best, or, as they say, to dress for success. Most days I wear a nice shirt or blouse with an open sweater or blazer. Then I accessorize. I have chosen to focus on the necklace, as earrings tend to disappear in the “fake” background.
  7. Minimize food consumption. My rule is to keep on screen food/drink consumption to a minimum. No one wants to watch me putting a forkful of food into my mouth, or chewing or taking swigs from a liter-sized soda bottle. Even though I love to chew gum, I make sure to get rid of it before the camera goes on. If I need to eat or drink something during a video meeting, I do my best to be discreet about it, taking small bites or using a straw. Or, even better, going off camera for a minute while I eat or drink.
  8. Let your little light shine. During a video meeting, it is easy to let myself sit on the sidelines and blend into the background. But, when appropriate, I let my light shine by adding something pertinent to the discussion. Participating helps build relationships with co-workers and clients and is an opportunity for me to share my knowledge, experience and unique perspective. At our daily check in at MKP, I may join in a conversation, share something I did recently or ask a team member a question during the “chitchat” portion of the discussion. When we do move on to topics related to work, speaking up is an opportunity to give my teammates a heads-up about an upcoming deadline or draw their attention to an important change in a project.

I am sure you can go online and find many other pointers for remote working and video meeting etiquette, like minimizing distracting home noises by simply putting yourself on mute. (There’s nothing quite like the sound of a barking dog to disrupt a meeting.) So, whether I am in a meeting with co-workers or clients, I always make sure to be camera ready and put my best face forward in every online video interaction.

Want more secrets to success as a new remote employee? Be sure to read part 2 and part 3.

MKP communications inc. is a New-York based marketing communications agency specializing in merger/change communications for the financial services industry.