How to Advance Your Career While Working Remotely During COVID-19

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

Get more tips to advance your social impact career here

Across industries and sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the nature of what work looks like. Many of us are quarantined at home, practicing social distancing to flatten to the curve. Whether you’re waiting things out until it’s safe to return to your job, or already working remotely, we’ve sourced seven best practices to help you use this extra time to invest in your own personal and professional growth.

#1. Make sure your career is still going in the right direction

We know a lot of people are wondering if they are going to keep their job through this crisis. If we take into account experts’ predictions that unemployment rates will surge, this is a very real concern. It’s also likely one you can’t control, but you can control how you respond. Our guidance here is to first do all that you can to excel in your current job during this time. 

That being said, now is also a great time to give yourself some space to sit back, reflect, and decide if you are actually working in the job that you want, long-term. In the great book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink shares that there are three main ingredients to a fulfilling job: 

  1. It gives you a sense of belonging and impact (Purpose)
  2. It builds on your strengths and helps you grow (Mastery) 
  3. It honors the way you balance your time and tasks (Autonomy) 

Our recommendation is to build reflection time into your schedule, and put it on the calendar to keep yourself accountable. The best times are usually at the very beginning or end of your workday, or once per week during calendared reflection. When you reflect, we recommend the following prompts:

  1. Mastery: What in my job gives me a sense of Mastery, and what opportunities in the future will there be for me? (To learn more about what mastery is, read our post about understanding your strengths using SIGNs)
  2. Autonomy: What level of control do I want over the tasks, time, techniques, and team members I work with, and how much autonomy do I currently have? A great resource to guide you here is Dan Pink’s autonomy audit.
  3. Purpose: What are the peaks and valleys (the highlights where you were energized and the low points where you were drained) in the last week that made me feel fulfilled? Purpose requires a lot of introspection, and this guide to uncovering your unique purpose profile can help.

#2. Learn future-forward skills

In the book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Robert Pool and Anders Ericsson share a proven and simple 5-step process to learn new skills:

  1. Identify the skill you want to get better at, ideally something that will help you in your job and/or help you continue to grow in your career.
  2. Learn some basics about it online. Do a combination of research, reading articles, taking a Coursera or LinkedIn Learning course, and finding open-source learning opportunities. You can find a great list of free online education sites here.
  3. Practice, practice, practice. Consuming the material isn’t enough; we learn through “deliberate practice”. In other words, don’t just mindlessly do something over and over again, but rather, stretch beyond your comfort zone, set a specific SMART goal, focus on the practice, get real-time feedback, and use mental models to help you be more effective next time. Need help finding a project to put your new skill into practice? Talk to your manager about taking on a stretch project at work, or stretch yourself by supporting the social impact sector with a skills-based project.
  4. Whenever you do get the opportunity to deliberately practice your new skill, reflect on what you have learned and what you will do differently next time. The Think Back, Think Through, Think Forward framework is a great way to frame this process. 
  5. Repeat. Go back to the beginning, learn the next skill, and repeat.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to go it alone. It’s highly likely that someone else in your company or network has these skills, is also quarantined, and likely would appreciate some human connection. Reach out to set up a video call, and ask for their guidance on all of these steps. If you feel a connection to this person as you continue to develop your skills, you can even ask them to be your mentor (here’s a guide on how to do that in HBR)

#3. Get better at being strategic

When you are in the workplace, there are powerful forces that can keep you from being strategic in terms of the big picture: the “recency bias” can lead to spending time on the most recent thing you saw or heard, even though it might not be the most strategic. The “tyranny of now” often makes the latest task or assignment feel most urgent even when it’s not top priority in the long-term. In fact, there are a massive number of behavioral and cognitive traps that can influence you away from making the most rational decision. 

While you’re working virtually, there are still different forces at play that can keep you from being strategic. You’ll likely be learning new tools, using online chat tools much more, and probably checking your phone for messages more frequently to keep tabs on a constantly evolving situation.

However, while you’re working remotely you will be more in control of your schedule and work than ever before. Use this as a time to practice discipline and strategic thinking in how you prioritize tasks. Not sure how to start? Check out this TED Talk from John Doerr about setting the right goals and measuring what matters. Try grabbing a friend or coworker and creating your own goals using John Doerr’s OKR (objectives and key results) framework – here’s the public-facing MovingWorlds training slides on this).

Want more guidance to build your strategy skills? Check our free TED Talk MBA.

#4. Improve your time management

When was the last time you procrastinated? Was it a couple minutes ago when you opened up this article? Contrary to popular belief, procrastination doesn’t come from laziness, it actually comes from a desire to manage our emotions. This episode of Work Life with Adam Grant has some great insights into the roots of procrastination, and effective strategies to counteract it. Working from home is a great opportunity for you to experiment with ways to get better at time and task management. 

#5. Manage your mind

Working from home gives you the chance to intentionally build a healthy mindfulness practice. Keep in mind that you don’t have to do this alone… ping a partner, friend, or co-worker to be your accountability-buddy in adopting better “mental hygiene” to remain present and calm.

A good place to start is with Greater Good Science Center’s mindfulness quiz to determine which type of mindfulness practice will help you the most. Then, you can use free tools like UCLA’s mindfulness podcasts or 10% Happier’s FREE Coronavirus guide and meditations for support and guidance to build your practice. 

#6. Improve your collaboration skills, and help your teammates do the same

Collaboration is hard, and virtual collaboration is even harder. As George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. These 10 TED Talks are a great place to start learning more about how to be a more effective communicator.

To help you show up as a teammate through effective communication, you can also use this time to get better at using tools that foster virtual connection. MovingWorlds has been working virtually for years, and we keep experimenting with how we use shared documents, real-time chat, and video calls to collaborate. Everybody has different preferences, and what is most important is that you take time as a team to align on expectations so everybody understands how to best work together. Try tactics like having a call to discuss everyone’s work preferences, creating guides about how different tools will be used, and/or even bringing in a trainer or facilitator to help your team align on needs.

The world is increasingly connected, and increasingly reliant on collaboration tools to operate. Being forced to use these daily can either be annoying, or it can be seen as the learning opportunity you needed to embrace the future state of work for those in your profession. 

In addition to taking the time with your team to create a shared language on how to collaborate, here are some of the best practices to be effective at working with digital collaboration tools:

  1. Online documents that allow for sharing and editing (like Google Docs or Office 365) are a great way for multiple people to give feedback on a particular project or proposal
  2. Chat tools (like SLACK and Microsoft Teams) allow team members across locations to collaborate in real-time, which you can learn more about in this guide to using chat tools to organize your work life and this guide to using channels effectively
  3. Virtual calls allow for meeting-style collaboration across locations. There are so many great guides on how to have more effective virtual calls — you and your team should read through a couple (like this from Slack, this article in HBR about running great meetings, and this from the Project Management Institute) and then discuss as a team what your own standards are. It’s also a good idea to record and share the agreed-upon standards so that you have a resource to stay aligned.

#7. Improve your management skills (and get better at being managed)

Working virtually inherently requires more effective management of yourself and others. Even if you are not a direct manager, you will likely still need to play that role sometimes. This is a great opportunity to start practicing some of the skills that managers need to succeed. For starters, try taking this free quiz to see if you have any “diminishing” behaviors that may stand in the way of you being an effective team member. Managing relationships goes both directions, and this article from HBR shares tips to bring out the best in your boss by “managing up.”

We also recommend trying these 8 other ways to up-level how you manage, and how you are managed to bring out the best in yourself and others during this time.

In uncertain times, control what you can

Truth be told, there are an almost infinite number of things you could work on developing, too – but the 7 areas above highlight key development areas that are critical to career advancement and satisfaction. By using just a fraction of the time that you’re saving by not having to commute, you can make big leaps in confirming your career trajectory, and building the skills and perspective you need to reach your goals.

Looking for more personalized guidance on connecting the dots between your current experience and a fulfilling career that makes the world better? Check out our Social Impact & Career Growth Global Fellowship for professionals. 

Get more tips to advance your social impact career here.