We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”  

William James, Psychologist and Philosopher Tweet

If you’re like me, you’ve felt pretty separated from your colleagues over the past year. It feels like each of us is our own island, loosely connected in an archipelago chain, but scattered on distant shores. Changing winds and an unpredictable climate have made it more difficult to navigate toward where we want to be next in our careers, or to connect with the people who can help us figure it out.

After all, connection is vital to moving up the ladder. Young professionals are coached to develop “visibility strategies” such as finding mentors, attending industry events, and ensuring their work achievements are seen by leaders around the org. Making their great work visible is important for these individuals’ careers, but it’s also helpful for senior-level people, too. When budding leaders show us their hustle, it means they’re assets whose success we should invest in.

But if you read my last post, you see the problem: In a WFH world where young professionals can’t catch us at the water cooler, can’t rub elbows at conventions, and routinely speak only to their immediate team, it’s like they’re trapped in coastal fog. How can they dissipate the fog and increase their visibility so they can demonstrate their impact and rise through the ranks? And how can executives help those individuals develop deeper connections and help turn them into influential leaders? Here are three strategies:

1.      Help them grab five minutes with a leader. As I’ve written before, run-ins at the watercooler are vital for relationship-building. With those gone, it’s time to get creative. I love the example a good friend of mine, the director of engineering for a large organization, has set: He announced last year that he would be five minutes early for every call. No agenda—he just wanted to let everyone know he’d be enjoying a cold drink before the meeting. His results? “I’ve met the coolest people and learned the most interesting things in that five minutes!”

2.      Get people out of their silos: The best way to open doors for people and give other leaders a chance to see them is to give them work outside their normal team. It’s not uncommon for leaders from different teams to discuss the skills and potential of their up-and-comers—so it seems only fair that those up-and-comers get a chance to display their talents in other areas for other managers.

Where possible, consider creating cross-functional opportunities for individualsThis doesn’t have to be full-time; short projects, committee work, or chipping in on a high-demand deliverable will serve just fine.

3.      Define the new open-door policy: I’ve always been a little skeptical of the old “Door’s always open” claim. For a long time, my experience was it usually wasn’t (figuratively or even literally). I remember a time when I knocked on my boss’s “open door” to a greeting of: “You think you can just waltz in here anytime you want?!” Over many years, I’ve learned that leaders who genuinely encourage and endorse an open-door policy have healthier cultures, with more people who feel seen, get better feedback, and have more professional development opportunities.

In virtual times, think about a 30-minute block once or twice a week that you proactively communicate as first-come, first-serve “office hours,” where anyone can book 15 minutes to address questions, concerns or ideas with you. Or, host an “Ask Me Anything,” an open forum where anyone can, well, ask you anything, and cover a bunch of the questions you often hear from ambitious, thoughtful, diligent people.

navigate the office archipelago

As you consider how to increase visibility and access in your office archipelago, here are some guiding questions based on the recommendations above. 

  1. How can you build the bridges people need to reach influential people in your org? 
  2. How can you help your team members chart their course and tack in new directions? 
  3. What beacons can you put out to signal your accessibility and desire to connect? 

Let’s create new channels and rediscover our connections however we can. Tell us in the comments what’s working for you! 

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