Flex Basics
April 1, 2024

Staying Visible While Virtual: Building Influence and Exposure in Hybrid and Remote Organizations

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Sacha Connor
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Three thousand miles and three time zones away. That’s how I spent eight out of fourteen years as a business leader at The Clorox Company. In 2010, I asked to pioneer a remote work experiment for Clorox so that I wouldn’t have to choose between living near the people I loved (Philadelphia, PA) or the headquarters of the company I loved (Oakland, CA). That experiment changed me — as a leader, as a people manager, and as a communicator. It forced me to relearn how to lead and communicate effectively to account for the barriers and unconscious biases that distance brings.

In the era of hybrid and remote work, mastering the arts of networking, cultivating meaningful relationships, and learning how to influence across distance have become indispensable skills. The shift away from traditional, in-person interactions necessitates a deliberate and strategic approach to building connections — a skill set paramount in unlocking innovation and fostering career advancement. In this evolving landscape, where spontaneous encounters are limited, embracing intentionality becomes the key to navigating the complexities of virtual collaboration and ensuring sustained professional growth.

In this article, we’ll explore the importance of mitigating biases, the impact of strengthening weak ties, and Virtual Work Insider's five-step system for creating a personalized Virtual Influence Plan.

Navigating Influence in Hybrid and Remote Work: Overcoming Biases and Strengthening Networks

Reshaping how one wields influence and fosters connections is a pivotal challenge in hybrid and remote work. Influence holds significant sway in realizing visions and ideas, necessitating collaboration with diverse stakeholders, ranging from colleagues and decision-makers to external partners and clients. Effective influence empowers individuals to engage stakeholders, drive action, catalyze change, and amplify their impact.

Before delving into strategies for crafting a deliberate approach to influence in remote settings, it's essential to confront and mitigate the unconscious biases and other hurdles inherent in hybrid and remote work environments.

Beware of Biases

Conscious awareness of unconscious biases is crucial, as they can impede the expansion of influence across distances. Notable biases include:

  • Distance Bias (or proximity bias): Our brain's natural inclination to prioritize individuals and matters closer to us over those more distant. This bias aligns with the NeuroLeadership Institute's unconscious bias model.

  • Recency Bias: Our brain's tendency to assign greater value to individuals we have interacted with or encountered more recently.

Strengthen Weak Ties

Microsoft's extensive analysis highlighted a notable shift towards increased interactions within "close networks" amid the transition to pandemic remote work, such as interactions within immediate teams. However, interactions with more distant networks, like cross-functional team members or individuals from different divisions or regions, significantly declined.

This decline is concerning, as exposure and influence within distant networks are pivotal for fostering innovative ideas, problem-solving, and supporting career development and mentorship.

It's imperative to devise strategies to counteract these biases and fortify weak ties. This ensures that regardless of one's location, access to individuals and opportunities crucial for career advancement is maintained while fostering visibility to enable others to seek support.

5 Steps to Crafting Your Personal Virtual Influence Plan

I created a 5-step system to build influence and exposure across the distance that my team at Virtual Work Insider has taught to thousands of people over the past five years to enable them to meet their business and career goals. These are the steps to creating your Personal Virtual Influence Plan.

Step 1: The “Who”

The first step is to map your Sphere of Influence. This is a 5-minute exercise to sketch on a piece of paper all of the different people that you need to influence or gain exposure to up, down, across, inside, and outside your organization.

When I review these maps, I typically see that people do a good job mapping out peers but might have missed a number of more senior stakeholders. I often see patterns that show that people need to create exposure and influence to someone to whom they don’t currently have direct access.

Now that you've created your map, you need to prioritize. Start by picking a couple of stakeholders for whom you need to gain exposure or build an influence plan.

Step 2: The “Why”

The next step is the “why” — you need to get really clear on why you need to influence or build exposure with that person. Getting clear on that will help you create a really targeted plan. Examples of your “why” could be reasons like:

  • Influencing the thinking on the business strategy to hit your sales goals
  • Building support behind launching a new product
  • Establishing a personal connection to build trust

Step 3: The “How”

In a hybrid or remote work environment, communication methods vary widely and can significantly impact the effectiveness of interactions. It’s a common mistake to communicate with others how you want to be communicated instead of adapting to their preferences.

For this step, write down what you know about how each stakeholder likes to communicate. Do they prefer formal or informal communication, and which communication tools do they use? For example, do they prefer in-person meetings with a pre-read sent ahead of time, short text messages or DMs, or phone calls?

Often I hear people say that they don't know how their stakeholders like to communicate. That in and of itself is a great insight and a prompt to go and seek out that information.

Step 4: The “When”

You’ll need to determine the best window of time for when your stakeholders will be receptive to your message. Get really specific here — think about the day of the week, time of day, and a specific window of time before a key milestone.

For example, when I worked at Clorox, my manager was based in Oakland, California. Since I lived in Philadelphia, I didn't have the opportunity to swing by his office, so we jointly decided that the best time to talk was at 7:30 a.m. PST. This was when he was in his car driving to the office, and I had his undivided attention.

Step 5: The “What”

In this step, you’ll need to decide what tactics you'll use to gain exposure or influence with each of the stakeholders you picked. Your tactics will depend on your “why” and what you discovered about how your stakeholders like communicating and when the best time is.

Here are some example tactics:

  • The “Good Morning” DM/Text: This is simple yet effective. Ask an open-ended question in the morning via message or text. The morning timing is important. It will plant a seed for people to remember you later in the day if something comes up that would be important for you to know. It also triggers people to tell you something that might have come up in a hallway conversation a day or two prior.

This tactic in action: The R&D department of a large company attended my Influencing Across Distance workshop. One of the participants later told me that she had “averted disaster” by sending a “Good Morning” message to a woman in another department. This person sits in a different office, and she doesn’t usually communicate directly with her. The message triggered a discussion that would not have otherwise happened, and they realized that urgent action needed to be taken to avoid an issue on their project.

  • The Video Message: Video can make your message more memorable and add more context than the written word. For example, if you would like to ask someone for a virtual coffee chat to get to know them better and create a mentorship relationship, consider sending a video message in advance so that they can learn a little bit about you before your first synchronous meeting. This could be as simple as using your smartphone to record a quick selfie video or using an easy tool such as Loom or the new video clips tool in Zoom that allows you to share your screen and record yourself simultaneously.


After crafting your Virtual Influence and Exposure plan, it is crucial to seek input from your manager. Their insights may offer valuable perspectives and enhancements to refine your strategy. Take proactive steps by implementing your plan and embracing an experimental mindset.

Recognize that this is a dynamic process. Networks and influencing opportunities are in constant flux. Regularly revisit your sphere of influence map, particularly every quarter or when transitioning to a new role. Adjust your plans accordingly to stay agile and responsive to evolving professional landscapes.

In the era of geographically dispersed organizations, the absence of physical proximity underscores the need for a purposeful and intentional approach to cultivating essential relationships and influence. Download our comprehensive learning aid for a more in-depth exploration of these strategies, or email me at sacha@virtualworkinsider.com to find out how to bring our Influencing Across Distance workshop to your organization.

About the Author

Sacha Connor
CEO, Virtual Work Insider

Sacha Connor is the CEO of Virtual Work Insider, which provides training programs for how to lead, communicate, collaborate, and build culture in hybrid, distributed, and remote teams. Sacha has 18 years of business leadership experience in marketing, sales, and new product innovation roles, including 13 years of experience leading hybrid & distributed teams while working fully remotely. As one of the first remote marketing directors at The Clorox Company, she led brands worth over $250M and was the first fully remote leadership team member for a $1 billion business unit. Since the launch of Virtual Work Insider in late 2018, VWI has delivered over 275 skills training workshops, executive team sessions, and speaking engagements about hybrid and remote work to audiences of 10 to 1,000+. VWI has worked with clients from a range of industries, including Toyota, Vanguard, Sephora, Under Armour, Eventbrite, and Optum Health.

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