Sure, there are many benefits to working from home.
You have no commute, you can work in your sweatpants and slippers, and hearing your dog snore during Zoom meetings can be surprisingly soothing.
But for those who work remotely, many things are likely missing from your traditional in-person work environment. There are no more spontaneous water cooler talks or coffee breaks with your co-workers that often led to new ideas. Gone are the visual cues and consistent feedback from peers and leaders that help us understand how we are performing. And those opportunities for growth and career advancement seemed to have stalled.
Three PPL leaders recently offered great advice on these topics during a virtual meeting with PPL employees. The event was hosted by PPL’s LEAD business resource group (Latino Employee Alliance for Diversity).
These types of discussions are held regularly at PPL to promote professional development and growth for employees.
Below are five tips on how to advance your career in a virtual environment from PPL’s David Arthur, vice president of federal government relations; Marlene Beers, vice president and controller and LEAD executive sponsor; and Angie Gosman, vice president of Human Resources for PPL Electric Utilities.
1. Drive your career growth
In the typical work environment, mentors appear. You hear them on the phone, see how they work, and they can become a source of inspiration for you. In a virtual environment, observing mentors doesn’t happen as often.
That’s why it’s important to reach out to others virtually and ask advice on how to handle certain work matters or ask for feedback to help discover areas where you can improve.
“Don’t wait for mentors to appear and tap you on the shoulder,” Gosman said. “Go find them. Your career is something you should own. You’re the driver of where you need to go.”
Gosman said employees should find trusted individuals that they can form informal mentorships with and talk with them about how to perform tasks at work that they’re most passionate about – how to be happiest at work.
“You have to do things that make you happy,” Gosman said. “If you’re passionate about your job, it doesn’t become a job. Find mentors and ask them what else you could explore in your work environment.”
Gosman also noted that advancing your career at a company doesn’t just mean moving to a higher position – it can include lateral moves. Lateral moves help employees learn new functions, see things more globally and develop more of a breadth of experience.
2. Create your own opportunities
Beers said one of the best ways to advance your career in a virtual environment is to perform excellent work and display leadership, and employees should be deliberate in creating new opportunities in this virtual work environment.
“One way to do that is to move something that hasn’t been moving,” Beers said. “Take something off your manager’s desk, with their permission, and do it yourself.”
Taking the time to learn new tasks and take on more responsibility can help you grow into new roles with your company, Beers said.
3. Create time for virtual water cooler talk with fellow employees
Impromptu conversations with other employees don’t exist as much in a virtual world. Most conversations are focused on business topics during virtual meetings. That’s why it’s important to take time to reconnect through virtual happy hours, lunches, or even unstructured discussion times with fellow employees to network or just share small talk.
“You have to find ways to mimic running into someone and winding up having lunch with them unplanned,” Arthur said. “It might be out of your comfort zone but reach out to other employees and schedule 30 minutes to just shoot the breeze.”
4. Carve out “me time” to create balance
In many virtual work environments, the structure of a typical workday no longer exists. While most virtual employees probably don’t miss their commutes, those drives did give workers a chance to clear their heads and transition from work to home life. The line is much blurrier now.
Arthur said exercising or taking part in enjoyable activities after work can help create a good balance.
Gosman said employees should also look to take breaks during the day to break up the monotony of a workday. Taking a walk during the day can help employees reenergize and refocus. Ask your manager for guidance and flexibility. For example, Gosman said, “If the weather is good at 10 a.m. and not good at noon, consider taking your lunch hour at 10 a.m. It doesn’t have to be structured like a traditional workday.”
5. Ask for feedback
With less face-to-face time with your boss and other employees, you might be unsure about how you’re performing. But if you’re unsure, it’s important to seek feedback about your performance.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback,” Gosman said. “It might be difficult to ask for and difficult to receive, but if you’re unsure about how you’re performing, it’s important to ask, ‘How am I doing? How can I do a better job? What other initiatives can I take on?’”