Influencing in a Virtual Environment

When so many people were launched into working from home due to the “stay at home” orders that arose from the COVID pandemic, some of the common questions we heard from Core Leaders everywhere were:

  • What do I do about the meeting after the meeting?
  • What about those spontaneous hallway conversations?
  • What’s going to happen when there’s not an opportunity to grab coffee or catch up with colleagues in the breakroom?


The theme underlying each of these questions was really about building influence and relationships in a virtual environment. And while the core principles for influencing in and across our organizations haven’t changed, the ability to influence in a virtual environment requires deliberate focus and developing new ways of working.


The Foundation of influence

Whether we’re working from home, at the office, or within distributed teams, four principles of influence apply across the majority of situations. These are the tickets to entry, and how we show up every day builds the foundation for our ability to influence others:


  1. Demonstrate competence. Doing an excellent job in our current role and delivering with excellence builds confidence in our abilities and increases commitment from our colleagues, teams, and organization.


  1. Focus on building relationships. Knowing who our stakeholders are and being deliberate about learning what matters to them is an essential element of building influence. When we know what motivates other people and what they value, we can find a common framework and spark innovation and ideas based on our shared values.


  1. Be consistent. Most of us have experienced the frustration of working with a person who doesn’t show up in an emotionally consistent way. Not knowing what version of that person we’re going to experience on any given day is a roller coaster ride that can quickly erode trust. Showing emotional consistency and demonstrating a high “say/do ratio” helps build confidence and earns the trust of those around us.


  1. Time it right. They say timing is everything for good reason. Even if you’re fully prepared to make your big pitch, take the time to assess the situation and mood before you move forward with your request. When an idea isn’t accepted when it’s presented, don’t give up the first time. We can always count on things to change—people change roles, markets shift, and business plans evolve. Sometimes it pays to put your idea in your back pocket and wait for the window of opportunity.


The Adjustment

So, while the foundational rules of engagement haven’t shifted, what has? What do we need to do to build our influence when we’re not able to bend the ear of an executive in a hallway conversation, or take advantage of “the meeting after the meeting”?


Here are some ideas to try:


  1. Be even more deliberate about building relationships. If you were able to get to know your team members, colleagues, and leaders by virtue of being in the same physical location, it’s time to evaluate who you need to stay in touch with and the best way to do that. In a virtual environment, it may mean setting up a cadence for connection that wasn’t necessary before. It may be a simple meeting to touch base each month, every other week, or a meeting each quarter. Think about what cadence makes sense for each person, and tell them you would like to stay in touch. Get their input on how often you could connect and set up a recurring meeting. It’s usually easier to reschedule the meeting if the time doesn’t work out one month than it is to remember to put a follow-up meeting on the calendar every time you meet.


  1. Own your own visibility. If you’re looking to gain visibility, it’s even more challenging to get those opportunities in a virtual environment. While our work should speak for itself, it doesn’t promote itself! That part is up to us. With this in mind, identify a few key leaders from whom you want to learn and build relationships. Rather than having that awkward “will you be my mentor” conversation, schedule some time with each leader to get their input on your goals and ideas. Ask them who else you need to connect with to learn from or build influence with. Thank them for their time and follow-up with them to share your progress.


  1. Utilize the virtual group meeting to springboard into a follow-up conversation. While the “meeting after the meeting” is a bit trickier to pull off in a virtual setting, it’s still doable with some minor adjustments. Sometimes, seeing a person at a meeting reminds us that we needed to have a quick conversation with them about something, and a virtual meeting shouldn’t stop us from making the most of that opportunity. Take advantage of the gathering and ask the person you want to connect with if they can stay on the call or video conference for a few minutes after the meeting. If the meeting runs long, you can always ask if they have few minutes to touch base later in the day.


What do you do to influence in a virtual environment? We would love to hear from you! Share your stories here.