What Will Working Remotely Mean for Your Career Trajectory?
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Pre-pandemic, your promotion prospects as a work-from-home employee weren't great. What has changed — and will working remotely harm or help your career trajectory?
A 2015 study by the Stanford School of Business showed that in one large work-from-home (WFH) experiment, worker performance and satisfaction went up while employee churn rates were reduced by half.
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Great, right? The only problem is, WFH employees also saw their promotion rates plummet.
According to the BBC, the promotion rate discrepancy between WFH and in-office employees can essentially be chalked up to one major issue: "Out of sight, out of mind."
Managers considering promotions at review time are more likely to have an unconscious bias in favor of the people they actually see working every day.
Even workers with poor performance get a perception boost by being physically present at the office, while WFH home employees who go above and beyond may be overlooked.
The Pandemic Changed Some Things
During the pandemic, we got to see the WFH experiment executed on a global scale. All non-essential workers who could do their jobs remotely packed up their laptops, donned their sweatpants, and made it all happen from their kitchen tables.
As a result, perceptions about remote employees have shifted positively: working from home is now a norm, and not an exception.
Companies know that flexibility is the new deal-breaking work perk, and most are adjusting accordingly. For example, Amazon recently announced that it would let employees work from home indefinitely. Other companies like Upwork, Facebook, Verizon, and Ford Motor Company are offering similar flexibility.
The number of remote workers is projected to double by 2025, with fully remote employees making up nearly 30% of the workforce.
If you plan to be one of them, what can you do to make sure your career stays on track? Here are six important strategies, according to hiring managers.
Pick the Right Company
Companies are still trying to iron out their WFH wrinkles as they learn to manage employees from afar. Some are doing better than others.
It's hard to succeed as a remote employee without the right support, so it's important to ask a lot of questions about company protocols for measuring employee productivity and creating a healthy WFH culture.
Some good interview questions for a WFH position:
- How do you ensure that everyone is getting the same promotion opportunities?
- How does management support and develop relationships with remote workers?
- What steps does management take to keep remote workers top-of-mind?
- How is my performance assessed?
- How do you provide feedback to remote employees?
If interviewers ever say something like, "We install tracking equipment on your computer to make sure you're at your desk all day," that's probably a real bad sign.
Find a Mentor
When you're starting a new career in a new role at a new company — but you're all alone at home — it can be really challenging to plug into the organizational culture and know what managers prioritize. You need a guide.
"The biggest challenge is how hard it is to make professional connectionsfrom home," said marketing director Alina Clark. "And meaningful connections are key to moving forward in your career."
Hiring managers advise keeping your eyes peeled during team meetings for people who might make a good mentor: someone who has been around awhile, can answer your questions, and can give you feedback.
Ping potential mentors with a simple ask, like:
Hi! I'm eager to get to know the inner workings of this team and make sure I understand how everyone operates. Would you be willing to schedule a casual chat to touch base and go over some of my questions? Thank you!
Don't Slack off on Slack
It's hard to find organic opportunities to socialize from behind a computer screen. Your company's messaging platform is a good place to remind your colleagues that you exist, and that they like you.
While you don't want to annoy teammates with constant online chatter, it's important to find ways to connect throughout the week. The power of Slack and other messaging platforms is that they let you connect privately and directly with other people.
It's also a good practice to use general messaging channels to call out and celebrate the accomplishments of your co-workers. When you make other people feel seen and appreciated, they will be excited to return the favor.
"Do what you can to generate good will and boost morale," said Hill.
Manager Todd Ramlin says that remote workers who are concerned about the negative impacts of working from home should ask for meetings with their boss to discuss the issue.
"Lay out your concerns and get some definite answers from management about what, if any, drawbacks there are to working fully remotely. I'd advise you to ask for a commitment to ensuring equal opportunity from your supervisor — preferably in writing," he said.
One-on-one meetings can be a powerful tool for establishing relationships and community within your organization, as well. Don't wait for people to come to you; commit to setting a meeting with at least one teammate a month in order to increase your sense of belonging and improve internal networking opportunities.
Record Your Accomplishments and Send Status Updates
One of the biggest things you can do to advocate for yourself as a remote worker is to make your manager's job easier: Keep careful track of what you do each month so they don't have to work too hard to see the value you bring to your organization.
"Keep a running list of all the projects you have directly contributed to and how your accomplishments have made an impact in your department or organization. Create a presentation with these results and share them with your direct manager every 6 months, if possible. Taylor this presentation for your annual review," advised Career Expert and Content Outreach Manager Liz Hogan.
Your default should be over-communication, Hogan said, whether that means sending regular status updates on your projects, touching base about expectations, sharing your wins, or proposing ideas. "You want to create a reputation of an employee who is engaged and reliable."
Grow Your Skill Set
While the majority of remote workers use the time they save commuting on leisure, childcare, and housework, some hiring managers suggest setting a little extra time aside each week to develop new professional skills.
Be sure to notify your manager of any upskilling efforts you complete, and explain clearly what value your new knowledge adds to your team.
The wide new world of remote work opportunities is still going through some growing pains. But if you are intentional and strategic, you can reap all the rewards of working from home while at the same time ensuring a strong upward career trajectory.
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