By Christina Lewellen, MBA, CAE
Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and not necessarily held by Workplaceless itself.
Like many career-minded individuals, I had professional development and advancement goals for climbing the corporate ladder long before I had heard of the concept of “telework.” As my career has unfolded, I’ve had several opportunities to work virtually but I never lost sight of the trajectory I envisioned for myself. As it turns out, you can have the best of both worlds—but it does take planning, focus, and a willingness to pedal a little bit faster than everyone else.
VIRTUAL STRENGTH TRAINING
I started my career in journalism, working for daily newspapers, television, and magazines. Looking back, I now realize that these jobs were my virtual employee strength training program. I worked when the stories broke, but the deadlines were firm and constant. I experienced a boot camp, of sorts—I had flexibility in my schedule but I had hard deliverables and plenty of people watching to make sure I met them.
Years later, while I was working as a magazine editor, I had the opportunity to pursue my MBA while working in what we then called a “telecommute” situation. This further defined my virtual muscle tone as I had to learn to remain an integral part of the team in the absence of yet-to-be-commonplace video calls, social media platforms, and cloud-based work platforms. I refined my email communication style, spearheaded my company’s philanthropic efforts from a distance (shaping the organization’s culture from 400 miles away), and made a point to be at HQ for critical meetings. I ensured that being out of sight did not equate to being out of mind for my employees or my supervisors.
Without a doubt, to stay on leadership’s radar as a virtual employee, I had to pedal faster. Not only did I perceive that my work product was held to a higher standard (I had to prove, naturally, that I wasn’t doing laundry and napping all day), but I also prioritized my professional development to stand apart from my peers. I went back to school for my MBA and I pursued multiple professional certifications. I took an active role in shaping my career, and the nature of my work environment at any given time wasn’t going to stand in the way of my aspirations.
Somewhere along the way, I also figured out that working virtually is a unique skill set that can be incredibly valuable in today’s economy. So I made it a priority to be really great at it. I became a consumer of virtual work-focused books, educational programs, and blogs like workplaceless. I highlight my virtual work experience on my resume and I communicate in job interviews my ability to easily navigate both traditional and virtual environments. It’s a strength, and I’m proud to tout it as such.
My career thus far has been a hybrid of traditional and virtual environments, and I’ve been able to focus my efforts in a way that has landed me on the executive team of a global professional association. First, I focused on becoming the best virtual employee I could be, and later focused on becoming the best virtual staff and volunteer leader I could be.
No doubt, it takes strong communication and personal discipline to climb the ladder in a virtual environment. Stay focused on your personal goals and don’t be afraid to step into the spotlight when the opportunity presents itself. Believe me, with hard work, it will.
Christina Lewellen, MBA, CAE, is the Vice President of Business Development and Operations for the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP), a global association with an entirely virtual staff. She lives in Virginia and works from her home office, airports across the country, and coffee shops with reliable Wi-Fi.