How to manage optics at work

We all want to impress the right people at work.

Why? Because we know that when the people that matter have a positive view of us, the office becomes a much more pleasant place to be, we feel more secure about our job and finding opportunities for promotion is easier.

So, you’re good at what you do (if you’re not, this article is not for you! Go away, get good at it and come back). You’re putting in the hours and producing high-quality work. So, what else do you have to do to get noticed?

How do you give yourself the best chance of getting from where you are, to where you want to be?

Optics

Optics, put simply are the way things look or are perceived.

At work, managing optics is a way of shaping other people’s perceptions about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and where you are so they don’t make the wrong assumptions.

Successfully managing your optics at work also helps you highlight your value without blowing your own trumpet. You might be putting in the hours, but who knows about it? You might be producing high-quality work but do the people that matter know it’s yours?

Managing your optics at work can make a big difference to your success and future career prospects. Here are some optic-management strategies that I’ve used in the past.

1. Look like you belong

Looking great for work is a no brainer, so I’m going to assume you’re doing this already. The next step is to have a look around and ask yourself: what is the appropriate style for my workplace? Is it a suit and tie, jeans and a tee-shirt or something in-between? What’s the office norm?

Once you’ve figured out the office norm, step it up a notch. You know the old adage ‘dress for the job you want, not the one you have’, right? Well, take a look at your boss, and their boss, and emulate whatever they wear. Don’t copy their day-to-day down to the finest detail (that’s creepy), but something close will do.

Finally, make sure that what you’re wearing is on-song with and adds value to the company brand.

2. Your calendar — use it, share it

In a perfect world, our bosses would care more about what we produce than how and where we produce it. Unfortunately, bosses with this approach are few and far between. Successfully shaping the perceptions of your boss and colleagues about the way you’re spending your time and where you are can have a positive effect on their opinion of you at work.

So, here’s my tip: always default to transparency. Make it clear all the time what you’re up to and where you are. That way no one can ever assume you’re slacking off. One tactic for sharing what you’re doing and where you are is to use and share your calendar. Some workplaces have a ‘calendar-culture’ and others don’t. Even if yours doesn’t, start using it anyway.

Using and sharing your calendar will reduce the chances of people making the wrong assumptions about what you’re up to and where you are and make you more productive.

Start by booking your upcoming meetings into your calendar. From now on, use your calendar’s meeting invites whenever you’re organising meetings with anyone. You’ll look more professional and hopefully won’t have to deal with those annoying “are we still meeting?” pop-ins.

Next, set reminders and create blocks of time in your calendar for working on particular tasks or projects. This will help you plan your day, make you more productive and might stop people from booking you in for meetings during a time when you need to get something done. Keep your calendar updated at all times.

To give you an example of how this can work, I used to block out my entire Wednesday every week. The calendar entry I created said something like: “Wednesday is my admin day so I am not available for any meetings — unless, your name is (insert names of my team) because I’m always available to you”. No one outside my team ever booked me for Wednesday meetings.

Lastly, remind anyone and everyone who asks if or when you’re free that your schedule is available for them to view in your calendar. Hopefully, it will catch on and the next time someone wonders where you are, what you’re doing or when you’re available they’ll check your calendar first.

3. Get in 10 minutes earlier and stay 10 minutes later than most other people

If you want to be a big-dog, you have to show people that you’re ready to put in big-dog hours. By arriving just 10 minutes earlier and leaving 10 minutes later than most people in the office, you’re showing everyone that you’re ready for that next step without being a sucker and slaving away without appropriate remuneration.

We’ve all got a spare 20 minutes — put them to work. Use them to help manage your arrival and departure optics at the office.

I’ve written briefly before about how writing your to-do list for the next day just before going home will make you more productive — well, the extra 10 minutes you’re now spending at the office in the evening is the perfect time to get that done.

4. Schedule emails

Just because you’re not in the office all the time, doesn’t mean you can’t make it look like you are. By scheduling just a few emails a few days a week, your team, superiors and even external stakeholders or clients will see you’re working hard and committed to your job — both definitely worth communicating. Try these:

The Early Starter

It’s almost time to go home and you’re shooting off those last few emails for the day. Pick one (or two) that’s not urgent (meaning it’s not critical that the email goes out by close-of-business today) and schedule it to send the next morning, around 60 minutes before the time you’d normally arrive at work.

The Late Night Caller

It’s likely that your boss checks their email at night (I always do) and seeing that you’re consistently sending emails after close-of-business will make an impression. Start with the same approach as The Early Starter but this time pick an email that needs to be in their Inbox today but not necessarily before close-of-business. Schedule it to send around 60 minutes after you normally leave the office. If you really want to make an impression, schedule an email to send later at night, like around 9 or 10pm.

Remember that not all bosses value employees without a decent work/life balance so use your judgement. Be careful not to schedule emails for when you’re in meetings, especially if you’re in a meeting with the person you’re sending the email too. And, don’t bother scheduling emails early in the morning or late at night if you don’t have remote access to your email account. That might just look silly.

5. Carry a notebook and a pen everywhere

In addition to being a useful tool for jotting down ideas, meeting notes and keeping track of your to-do lists, having a notebook in your hand gives the impression that you’re doing something or going somewhere important, even when you’re not.

Going for coffee with a colleague? Take your notebook. Heading out for a lunch date? Take your notebook. Popping down to the post-office to pay some bills? Take your notebook. Got it?

If you can afford it, avoid standard notebooks from the office supply room. To stand out from the pack, look for something nice, leather-bound and with pages that make you want to write on them. You want to be the boss, right? Well, a nice notebook will at least help you look like one and that’s what optics are all about.

Pick a notebook that suits your professional and personal style and give it a go. If you’re not convinced go back to the office standard, no harm done and it’s only cost you $30-$40.

* * *

I’ve used all or some of these tactics in every job I’ve ever had and in every job, I’ve found myself on the fast-track to promotion. Use these tips to compliment your already awesome output, get you noticed for the right reasons and help put you in good favour in time for the next promotion round.

Do you have any tips or tricks for managing optics in the office? Sharing is caring so tell us about them by commenting below. If you found this article valuable, please share it with anyone you think might also get something out of it.


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