I work on a team where I am the only member who is remote. Pre-Covid we all worked together at the office, but during the shutdown I took advantage of my company’s remote-work option and moved back to my hometown to be closer to my parents who need help.
Many of our meetings are still on Zoom because several team members still work from home a couple of days a week. But other times, everyone is together in a room and I am the only one on Zoom. There are often several side conversations going on at once, as happens when people are together in person. I have trouble hearing everything, and the group often forgets I am there. This past week, two people left the room and had a conversation about a situation that I should have been a part of. I know it wasn’t intentional, but it still doesn’t feel good.
What can I do about this? I am worried I am going to start missing more important things and my contribution may start to seem less important as time goes on.
Feeling Left Out
Feeling Left Out,
Well, this sounds like no fun. You are suffering a bit from a collection of natural human unconscious biases. Primacy or recency bias, in-group favoritism, and others can easily add up to an effect that might be summed up as “out of sight, out of mind”. It isn’t personal, so the first thing you can do is try to not take it personally.
There are two specific avenues for you to consider. The first is to discuss your experience with your manager and enroll them in helping you to change this dynamic. It is incumbent on your manager to arrange things so that you feel included; but of course, they may not see it that way. So you may need to make it easy for them to help you.
To do that, you need to let your manager know that you frequently feel excluded during the meetings where everyone is face to face except you. You will want to be prepared with ideas about how the manager, the team, and you can all navigate these meetings differently. Any changes will require discipline—and your manager will need to role model any behaviors that will make a difference. If it is feasible given the situation with your parents, you might also propose coming to the office for a few days every month or every six weeks. The company may be willing to pay the cost of travel or split the cost with you.
The other thought is that it wouldn’t hurt if you could engage in regular one-on-ones with everyone on the team. The thing that happens when people are together in person is a natural water cooler-type informal connection. All the human stuff: “How are you doing? How are the kids? Is the puppy house-trained yet? Did you complete the marathon? Hey, is that a new car I saw you getting out of?” You know—just the small talk that results in people bonding. Even a 15-minute coffee break with each of your team members on a regular basis would make a difference. This practice helped virtual teams get through Covid and was naturally dropped when people felt the one-on-ones were no longer needed. But you do still need that connection, so you will need to be proactive to nurture your relationships in this “new normal” time.
You might consider asking someone on your team to be your in-room partner, who can take responsibility for actively including you in the meeting. Having an active advocate for you will always help. If that isn’t feasible, you will have to do it yourself. Don’t be shy about reminding people that you are still in the meeting when it becomes apparent that they have forgotten. This used to happen back in the days before video meetings, when there was one lone person on the speaker phone.
I can’t imagine you are alone in dealing with this situation. There are more hybrid teams today than ever before—and managers need to up their game to make sure everyone feels like part of the team. But you can also rise to the challenge by getting help, making requests, and piping up even when it might be uncomfortable.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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