Congrats, you have landed your dream Work From Home job! It is now Week 1 and you are getting thrown into onboarding, your first team meetings, and client calls. You want to come out of the gates quickly but need some help. Instead of panicking you think about why you were hired in the first place. You are capable. You are smart. The firm wanted you. Yet you feel like the new kid on his or her first day of school. You don’t know the schedule. You don’t know where the lockers are. Heck, all you know is that you are on the right campus.
You take a deep breath. And you think about how to make your new colleagues like you. Some will have interviewed you, others will have not. You care more about fitting in than about standing out. This short list is your new best friend and acts as a concise, fun, and somewhat playful way to think about how you speak, sit, interact with colleagues, and ask questions. This advice will serve employees ranging from novice to expert. We can always brush up on these traits – which will make us more effective communications, listeners, and contributors. You need to take time to learn about your company, role, peers, manager, and tools. But this guide can help with the rest. As my mother always said, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Use Greek and Latin when explaining data during virtual meetings.
Let’s look at the basics: you want your peers and colleagues to find you smart and thoughtful. You have different levers to pull but the words you leverage to articulate thoughts and observations are big players in how you are perceived. When explaining data to colleagues, utilize the best of Socrates and Aristotle. The key to a proper articulation of numbers is to cloak them in terms only recognizable to members of fraternities. Say things like: the delta reveals a change in user behavior. The stock has a small beta. Or: the company’s alpha is too small, I don’t think its risk adjusted performance is worth it. Likewise with latin: I can provide evidence, prima facie, that the money was well spent. At this point, people will think you are a statistician. More importantly, they will respect your liberal arts understanding of important mathematical concepts.
If you forget rule #1, use words associated with Albert Einstein.
Few (if any) of the people that you work with will remember high school physics. This is good news for you, especially when explaining trends virtually from the comforts of your home office. Firstly, defer to rule #1. In case Latin and Greek escape you, think like Einstein. Utilize the words he spent his life measuring to explain data: velocity, acceleration, rate of change, and step-function growth. Also, it’s ok to have theories, and many of them. Einstein did. The use of his concepts (and quotes) will add a delightful nuance to your perspective. Afterall, he did say: Imagination is more important than knowledge.
If you forget rules #1 and #2, use mountain climbing metaphors.
Nobody you work with has climbed Mt. Everest. It is highly unlikely that anyone you work with has even climbed a medium sized mountain. Nevertheless, people will love when you refer to “the trek,” “base-camp,” and “the summit,” to describe different stages of a sales cycle or business growth. Be wary of others that try to one-up you and say “let’s get a view from 30,000 feet.” Remind them confidently that at that altitude you would either be in a plane (and presumably sleeping) or outside (and nearing death as a result of high altitude cerebral edema). Stick to mountaineering themes and reject false metaphors. Mountain climbing is a great metaphor because many people can relate to climbing, even if the distance covered or altitudes are short. People enjoy stories and more often than not find stories memorable. Think about your favorite TED talk or lecture from college. Do you remember the details? Most likely you do not. But do you remember the “point of the story?” Likely you. You are wired to remember broad narratives.
If you forget rules #1, #2, and #3, write things down. Make lists. Like this.
A sharp memory is key to success. At school you learn to memorize facts and figures, but not necessarily processes. If you can’t remember the first three rules, memorization is an area for acute improvement. Make lists: nobody finds a forgetful colleague a smart one. Take a piece of paper in your home office and write things down that you need to do, want to do, and will make time to do. Lists that are rooted in broader narratives are particularly powerful. Steve Jobs is famous for making all of his lists in groups of three. If you watch any of his product rollout videos (the iPhone, iPad, etc) he talks about how each product can do essentially three things. Three is not just a number he is pulling out of nowhere, randomly. We are wired to remember stories and short, concrete lists. If you want people to remember what you are saying, making it easy for them to follow your logic.
Learn how to say hello, goodbye, and thank you in at least 10 languages.
Make clients, colleagues, and partners feel welcome by greeting them in their native tongue while simultaneously impressing your boss and colleagues. If you are working from home and taking calls with clients, peers, colleagues, and staff in different offices/countries this is a nice way of extending a warm greeting.
Make sure that your silly trinkets and very personal belongings are not viewable by others during remote work.
This should be common sense but is often overlooked, and an amateurish mistake. I work with other remote workers that have created well decorated home offices. Many of these office spaces are fun to look at. Sometimes people get sloppy and forget that their personal belongings are exposed via video calls. Do your peers a favor and keep these items hidden please!
When taking video conference meetings place one hand under your chin.
This posture shows strength, reflection, power, and curiosity. Your colleagues will respect this stance. You are in great company as many strong leaders (including President Lincoln) place one hand under their chins when reflecting.
Ask open-ended questions?
This is particularly important during meetings. The following questions can be asked during any meeting, on any topic, at any time: Can you explain the why behind this behavior? How does this scale? What are our action items? When can we expect additional progress? Rules #1, #2, and #3 can come into play here as well. Infusing Greek/Latin, physics, or mountain climbing metaphors can spruce up questions.
Follow advice, but only some of the time.
Be prudent and thoughtful about what advice to follow. Not all guidance is great. Iterate quickly and build things people need and want. That is certainly advice I try to follow.