Can You Advance Your Career While Working From Home?

The initial thrill of working from home – connecting with colleagues on Zoom calls dressed in a jacket and shirt and pajama bottoms, eschewing that morning commute – is beginning to wear off.

While many remote workers report being able to spend more time with their families, or taking up gardening, or saving on gas money driving to the office, remote work does not come without a downside. You may, for example, have noticed that working from home has turned your workday into a kind of 24-hour on-call online nightmare. And the World Health Organization has determined a number of physical and psychological problems are the direct result of working remotely.

Loneliness, invisibility

The most common complaint, according to media reports (echoed by friends and colleagues, and maybe you yourself), is loneliness.

Interacting with co-workers can be stimulating emotionally and creatively. Impromptu collaboration, people to bounce ideas off, inside information gleaned from casual unscheduled conversations can encourage creativity and increase productivity and even foster friendships. The lack of such in-person fodder and information can lead to bad decisions and slow everyone down.

But another, larger, problem looms.  One which can have an impact on the future of companies.  Invisibility. A drawback far too many women in the workforce are familiar with, working from home or not.

“Out of sight, out of mind” is a problem with career progression and with getting your ideas across. Yes, your work does give you visibility but promotions, career advancement, and overall success depend on more than the work you hand in. You have to land on the executive radar screen.

Here are two examples from my own experience running a TV production company from home.

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The Busy Banker

The first example concerns a hard-to-reach banker who had repeatedly expressed his desire to sponsor our TV business show; but getting in front of him to sign the deal was proving frustratingly difficult.

The banker was active in several social-charitable organizations, whereas my own participation in such groups was limited due to time and financial constraints. One weekend, however, I did find myself at such an occasion – by chance, one in which the banker was in attendance. I walked over to say hello, aware that bringing up our contract would be hugely inappropriate.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to. As soon as he laid eyes on me, Mister Banker said, “Oh! Yes! We have some papers to sign! Please…can you leave them at my office on Monday morning? I’ll sign them right away and we’re in business.” I did, he did, and we were indeed in business for several years.

The banker liked my work, but it took getting in front of him – in this case accidentally – to close the deal.

The Fussy Fashionista

The second case concerned the VP of a high-end department store with whom I’d hoped to secure another sponsorship of segments related to fashion. Again, much to-ing and fro-ing via the Internet and online, but nothing signed or agreed.

One afternoon I happened to be at an appointment next to the store and decided to stop in on the odd chance I might be able to wave at Mr. VP. I never got that far.

No sooner had I walked in the door, I looked up and saw him — smiling at me from across the cosmetics department. We shook hands and he showed me around the store for half an hour reviewing what elements we might use in the fashion segment which he was eager to start. We signed the agreement before I left the store.

You cannot rely on phoning it in. At some critical point, you have to show up.

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A Lost Generation?

This is especially true for younger employees who have further to advance in their career than more senior workers already known to the company and its execs.

Steve Ward, UK Director of Universum (a global Employer Branding specialist helping companies in 20 countries attract, recruit, and retain the right talent) writes in HRDirector.com:

The experience of working from home is dramatically different depending on where you’re at in your career. While senior professionals have benefited from established connections in the workplace and higher levels of confidence in their ability to do their jobs, junior professionals have been reminded of the lack of networking opportunities, learning and development opportunities, and ultimately feeling less confident in themselves without the leadership shown to them in a physical workplace.

Without casual, real-time feedback, young people will miss opportunities to gain self-confidence and self-awareness. In the long run this can slow down the career growth of employees just starting out and cause significant damage to a company’s executive succession process and overall functioning. Delays in replacing senior employees will lead to delayed projects, while lack of supervision in the interim can result in a managerial crisis.

Making It Work … Remotely

Remember: employees in line for promotion are not judged solely on their quality of work, but also on their leadership skills, positive attitude, and ability to collaborate with the team.

What you can do
So, what can you do to ensure your career ladder is firmly in place while working remotely? Here are some suggestions:

  • Keep office hours; no sneaking off to the corner for an unscheduled coffee break.
  • Be visible: for example, volunteer for special projects.
  • Be responsive – communicate thoroughly, courteously, and on-time.
  • Increase your face time with your team…check in regularly.
  • Keep abreast of company news, events, and policiesSpeak up – ask for what you want, including letting your supervisor know you’re interested in advancement.
  • Network…outside your company.

What your boss can do

You can also encourage your boss/the company to support remote workers by:

  • “Democratizing” communications – make sure important info is readily available to everyone and ensure no one is left off the email list.
  • Reviewing company policies and operations to ensure every employee is on equal footing when it comes to learning opportunities, internal mobility, promotion opportunities, and the ability to find a mentor.This may mean off-site mentors for remote workers.
  • Setting up regular remote staff meetings and brainstorming sessions.
  • Making sure the company is using the right digital tools to manage and assess remote workers without their being physically present. This can increase the speed and likelihood of employees being awarded growth opportunities.

Proof that working from home doesn’t mean abandoning your career trajectory lies with tech giants Cisco and Salesforce who have embraced remote working. Not only have they recently boasted record-breaking fiscal years in 2021, they also rank in the top 10 in Fortune’s 2022 Best Places to Work in the U.S. list.

Tech workers, you may argue, are more likely to have both the jobs and the personalities to work remotely. And some of us will end up back in the office whether we like it or not. But working remotely can teach you about energy and discipline – setting your schedule, defining limits, putting on clothes! And these are skills that will serve you throughout our life. Just be sure to stake out your place on the CEO’s radar screen.