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Working remotely my company pays me a given number of trips to the company's headquarters each year.
Each of them usually last one or two weeks.

I use these opportunities to directly talk with my colleagues that I usually hear only via IM or video meetings.

I was wondering how could I make the most out of these trips, to strengthen my connections and get an higher chance to quickly reach the top? (get promotions or any kind of work condition improvement you may think of).

The company HQ is in the United States and it's a fast growing startup with solid foundations and 200+ employees.
I'm not a native English speaker and my spoken English is probably a 6 of 10.
I'm already an high performer but I'm ambitious and I want make the most out of any chance I get.

7

Talk to people, have lunch and coffee with the team you work with, listen to conversations (that can help with your English), feel the company culture.

If there is a table tennis or table football or darts there, go and play with your colleagues. Just make sure you know company policies about this sort of entertainments - how you should log your time, for how long can you play, etc.

I work remotely as well (with new people every now and then) and when I visit the company HQ my manager will often, at the end of a meeting, suggest to my colleagues that they should go and play table football with me. It doesn't seem like much, but competing and cooperating on a non-work related field is a great way of bonding with your colleagues. While this won't get you promoted, it can lead to some improvements - if people like you and know you, you can get some things done quicker for you. You are no longer an anonymous remote worker, but an equal team member.

You can also ask your manager if there is some budget in the team for having a dinner or a drink after work. That can be another opportunity to get to know your co-workers better. And again, this isn't something that will get you promoted but can lead to better communication and small improvements in your daily work with them. This is another thing my company does (a dinner with the team when I visit) and I do notice a slight difference in the way people treat me after we've had a dinner and a conversation about non-work related stuff.

I don't think there are any shortcuts that can get you to the top quickly - for that, you have to work hard, be valuable for the company and be noticed. But getting people to know you and like you is always good.

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I am the single remote member of my team. Here's what I use my trips to HQ for:

  • Face-to-face conversations, as you noted. In particular:

    • Conversations of a more speculative nature -- design, long-term planning/roadmapping, etc. Anything that benefits from people standing together in front of a whiteboard is a high priority for these trips.

    • I make a point of having a face-to-face 1:1 meeting with my manager about goals and progress -- the sort of conversation we have at annual-review time, but there's no reason you can't "check in" at other times.

  • Knowledge transfer, in both directions:

    • I try to meet with somebody not on my team but from elsewhere in the company to learn from that person. On one trip I was (as a sideline activity) working on an application using our platform (think proof of concept or demo), just for my own education, and had a very productive discussion with the chief architect about I should be designing it. (I had some initial ideas that turned out to be suboptimal.)

    • I teach something. It might be direct skills or it might be technical background that will help my teammates in future work, but I try to teach something. This is a good way for them to see that I can bring more to the team than whatever tasks I'm working on. I also (generally, I mean, not just on trips) mentor some less-senior members of the team, so I try to meet with them individually on these trips for some higher-bandwidth conversation.

  • Social bonding with the team. So far they've always paid for a group outing somewhere, but even if they didn't, I'd try to make it happen. They all get to do this with each other on a regular basis; this is my chance to get to know them as people and have them do the same for me.

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  • Fellow single-remote person here, this is spot on. Especially the 1:1 and social bonding. I get lunch with my boss and coworkers and organize a happy hour with my extended team/former office mates. I also try to do any important presentations as I've found they benefit from being done in person. – taffy Jul 17 '17 at 20:39
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I just wrote a post about this yesterday actually. In short, there are a number of ways you can take advantage of these trips.

First, brainstorm a list of the following:

  • colleagues to meet with (existing ones, ones you don't know, ones new to the company, someone junior to you (possible to mentor them), someone at your level, someone who is a level above you (possible to be your mentor), hiring managers for open jobs within the company, your manager, your manager's manager, if possible)
  • A presentation on a company-relevant topic you could give with your team members
  • Organize a group outing
  • A meeting you normally wouldn't get invited to (just enough above your current level that it would be beneficial for you to learn from, but not so high that it would raise eyebrows)

The goal with this list is more than just socializing. It's to establish new mentoring opportunities, put feelers out for job openings within the company, and, importantly, raise some visibility for yourself.

With these trips, the key is that you don't want to be seen as separate from the group, like some random employee that shows up every now and then. You want to be seen as integral to the team, actively participating in conversations, etc. All things that any employee of any status (remote or not) probably should be doing, but with remote it's more important.

After you've identified the above, reach out to people on your list and setup your other activities. It's a great idea to make your manager aware of what you've planned for your trip, both so that he/she knows you're being proactive but also so that he/she can help identifying others to reach out to, ideas for projects you should be pursuing, etc. Don't make your manager do the work for you, but don't be afraid to lean on them for any help needed.

If you do present on a topic, and you're trying to be strategic about career growth, make sure the audience in attendance is both your peers as well as people at a higher level than you. Impressing just your peers, while great, is not strategic for career advancement. You'll also want to tailor the content to be fitting for this audience.

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