Avoiding the Visibility Trap in the Remote Workplace

February 03, 2023 ·  5 Minutes

The visibility trap is a term used to describe the focus on being visible or seen as successful, rather than actually being successful. It is often seen in the business world, where people may prioritize public image and reputation over actually achieving their goals and objectives. Recently popularized by Mary McGill’s book of the same name, she uses the term as a study of sexism and online surveillance, but it has been applied to a much broader sense of the idea.

One of the main dangers of the visibility trap is that it can lead to a lack of focus on the things that truly matter. Instead of working towards tangible goals and results, individuals may become more concerned with how they are perceived by others and may engage in behaviors that are more about promoting their own image than about achieving real success.

Another issue with the visibility trap is that it can lead to a lack of authenticity. In an effort to maintain a certain image, individuals may present a false or idealized version of themselves to the world, rather than being genuine and authentic. This can be especially dangerous in leadership roles, where authenticity is often seen as an important quality. According to a study published in the Journal of Business Ethics, authentic leaders are more effective at building trust and inspiring others to follow their vision.

The visibility trap is a term that has gained increasing attention in recent years, as people have become more aware of the dangers of prioritizing image over substance. According to a report published in the Harvard Business Review, the visibility trap can be particularly common in companies, where people may feel pressure to present a successful image to the world in order to win clients and advance their careers.

Visibility and Remote Work

One of the more interesting shifts, as we move into hybrid and remote work scenarios, is that it changes your default state from “visible” to “invisible”. At BillionMinds, we’ve seen employees respond to this in two distinct ways. Some people enjoy the ability to just “get on with things”, make zero effort to make themselves known in the workplace, and effectively disappear. Others double down on their efforts to try and project themselves in the best possible light, exacerbating the challenge of the visibility trap. In reality, both of these approaches can be detrimental as you try to do great work outside of an office and manage your career.

How should I approach visibility in the remote or hybrid workplace?

So what is the balance between being visible enough, and NOT falling into the visibility trap? Well firstly, a well-run team environment should ensure that there is an opportunity for ALL employees to have some measure of visibility. If everyone is doing connected work, a daily standup meeting can be particularly useful, but alternatively, a daily check-in over a shared Slack channel can achieve much the same result – where you simply state what you did since the last checkin, what you are working on, and where you could use help. When these types of check-ins are first implemented they can seem like unnecessary work, but provided you make them efficient, they serve an important purpose.

With measures like this as a baseline if you think you may be prone to falling into the visibility trap, here are some concrete measures you can take:

  • Set clear, measurable goals: By setting specific, achievable goals, you can stay focused on what truly matters and avoid becoming too caught up in the pursuit of visibility.
  • Practice mindfulness: By being mindful and present in the moment, you can avoid getting caught up in the noise and distractions of the world and stay focused on your priorities.
  • Seek feedback: Getting feedback from others can help you gain perspective on your actions and behavior, and can help you identify any areas where you may be prioritizing image over substance.
  • Surround yourself with supportive individuals: Having a strong support network of colleagues, mentors, and friends can help keep you grounded and focused on what truly matters.
  • Take breaks: Taking breaks and disconnecting from work and social media can help you refocus and recharge, and can help you avoid getting caught up in the pursuit of visibility.
  • Practice gratitude: Focusing on the things that you are grateful for can help you stay grounded and motivated, and can help you avoid getting caught up in the pursuit of external validation.

Ultimately the way to portray yourself in the workplace to everyone’s benefit is to ensure that your visibility is an authentic portrayal of who you are, and is a result of the things you do, rather than a disconnected attempt at publicity. Ultimately, the visibility trap can be a hindrance to personal and professional success. It is important to focus on the things that truly matter, rather than becoming too caught up in the pursuit of visibility. By maintaining a clear focus on your goals and priorities, you can avoid falling into the visibility trap and achieve true success.