Q: I love working from home, but I fear it’s a bad career move.
At the start of pandemic when our employer required me to work remotely, I didn’t think I would handle it well. I was used to having our administrative assistant come to my workstation to help me fix document formatting glitches. After she was laid off, I found it difficult to learn to do all that on my own.
Now I wouldn’t have it any other way. Without the commute, I have an extra 40 minutes a day to exercise and can do so midday instead of after work, when I’m dragging. I’ve lost nine pounds.
I thought our company’s general manager was pleased with the results I produce as a remote worker and would recognize how it benefits our company for me to remain remote. Because coworkers don’t barge in with questions and personal chat, I get a lot more done. Since I’m the senior member of our department, I thought I was the logical choice when our supervisor retired.
Last week, I learned I wasn’t being promoted; instead, he promoted “Jacob.” When I asked my manager why he promoted “Jacob” over me, his answer made no sense to me. He said, “Jacob shows how committed he is every day. He’s always the first person here to help others out.” I gave the only answer I could and said, “But I don’t know that they need help unless they tell me.”
My manager and I talked for a short time after that, and I came away from the discussion thinking that working remotely was going to kill my career advancement. Do I need to find a new employer? Or do I need to return to the office? About half of our employees and all of our managers work on-site.
Career risks remote workers face:
While many employees prefer working remotely for at least part of their workweek, many organizations want employees, particularly supervisors, to return on-site. A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed the likelihood that employers with both on-site and remote workers will develop into a two-tier workplace, with on-site workers getting the bulk of the promotions and raises.
In a Stanford University experiment, researchers tracked two groups of travel agency personnel, remote and on-site. The researcher discovered that although the remote workers were 13 percent more productive, because they put in more hours, made more calls per minute, took fewer breaks, and had fewer sick days, their employers promoted them only half as often as their in-office peers.
Employers generally want supervisors and key individuals to work on-site so they can be easily accessible to employees and peers. Says one theorist quoted in Time magazine’s “2030” research edition: “The verdict is clear: For many jobs — particularly collaborative, high skill level, high-value roles — working from home simply doesn’t work, and we shouldn’t confuse a temporary abnormal with a new normal.” Further, some managers have biases against remote workers, viewing them as less connected to and thus less loyal to their organizations.
What remote workers can and need to do
Here’s what this means to you and other remote employees focused on career advancement. You have three options. You can search for an employer more attuned to remote workers, return to on-site work for at least part of the workweek or prove your commitment.
Combat out of sight, out of mind
Managers promote employees whose value they see and who demonstrate leadership and other positive qualities. Employees who relate effectively to their managers and informally and knowledgably chat with managers regularly during the workweek often have a leg up over their off-site peers.
You view your manager as pleased with your results. Are you sure? Performance and results speak volumes, but only if they’re seen and heard. What can you do to ensure your manager doesn’t overlook your hard work and commitment?
Plan how you’ll get on and stay on your manager’s radar with regular check-in meetings. You’ll want to track your wins and discuss the results you’ve achieved. If you sense you’re being overlooked, ask your manager how he plans to recognize a remote employee’s outstanding performance.
Next, consider how you’ll overcome the barriers remote work creates. Not only won’t you see opportunities to help and collaborate with your peer, but your coworkers may forget to ask you to contribute when it’s easier to walk down the hall into an on-site coworker’s office. Develop opportunities to collaborate on high visibility projects so your manager can see your leadership skills and ability.
Finally, remember to override the myth that you’re disconnected. Prove you’re not zoned out in Zoom meetings by keeping your camera on. Contribute ideas. Keep your dress and presentation professional. Proactively address challenges and participate in team events. Demonstrate you’re the ideal choice for the next promotion.