- Remote workers have often been passed over for raises and promotions.
- You need strategies to get ahead to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
- Experts recommend expanding your network and raising your profile in creative ways.
Remote workers once had a bad rap. They were portrayed as unambitious and disengaged — employees content to “shirk from home” while lolling on the couch in their pajamas. These “flex workers” were written off as less competent and uncommitted to their jobs.
Research showed that those perceptions, while false, were a career impediment.
“When it came time for raises and promotions, they were marginalized because they didn’t look like traditional, strong performers,” said Denise Rousseau, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.
Today, more and more companies are open to remote employees, and a growing number of people are choosing that route. Still, as hybrid work becomes the norm, some experts are concerned that the all-too-human bias favoring in-person workers may creep back into the performance equation and people who from work from home will be seen as less dedicated to their jobs and not as hardworking. Remote workers, they fear, could again be overlooked.
“From its very first phase, the pandemic forced managers to focus more on what people produce and what they deliver, which should benefit not only remote workers, but every worker,” said Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University. “After all, what should matter is not where you are, but what you deliver.”
While employers have a responsibility to ensure a level playing field, HR leaders said there are things you can do as a remote employee to establish yourself as a professional, boost your reputation, and get ahead in your organization.
Build relationships across your organization
Strong relationships are the foundation of any successful career. As a remote employee, you have to work extra hard at building — and fostering — them. Developing rapport with your boss and your team are essential, but don’t stop there. The more people who know you and your work, the better.
Think expansively about your network. “Look at the individuals who are not on your immediate team, but are adjacent to you and your role — the colleagues who, if you were working in the office, you’d be sitting near and overhearing their conversations,” said Jennifer Shappley, the global head of talent acquisition at LinkedIn. “Those are the people you should reach out to to collaborate with and spark ideas.”
Shappley advised looking at your company’s org chart to understand the managerial matrix of interlocking relationships. Ask your boss for suggestions about who else you should get to know. “Be curious,” she said.
Navigate power dynamics virtually
Developing a firm grasp of your organization’s power dynamics is a challenge when you’re working remotely.
“If you were in the office, you’d see who’s talking to whom, but when you work from home, that information is opaque,” Shappley said.
It’s trickier to get a handle on the nuances of your team’s social interactions over Zoom , but it’s not impossible, said Kristina Johnson, chief of people at Okta, the workplace-software company. Hone your observation skills. Watch how people speak, how they make decisions, and how they gain others’ trust.
Take note of their body language, facial expressions, and other cues. Who are people deferential toward? Whose opinion is highly valued? Who gets interrupted and talked over? “Part of this gets dictated by people’s titles, but there are subtleties, too,” Johnson said.
Your goal is to understand who has influence and how they use it to get things done.
Pay attention to how you come across
Just as you are watching others, remember that they’re watching you, too. Be thoughtful in how you come across on-screen and be aware of the energy you’re bringing (or not bringing) to conversations.
In meetings, keep your camera on and look engaged. Lean forward and nod when appropriate. Don’t multitask — it’s rude. When it’s your turn to speak, look directly into your computer’s camera, which gives the effect of making eye contact. Use demonstrative gestures. “You have to take it up a notch,” Johnson said.
Increase your visibility in creative ways
Raising your visibility within your organization as a remote worker requires a little creativity. Making virtual coffee dates and attending happy hours over Zoom are a good starting point, but they don’t help you stand out from the crowd.
Calvin Crosslin, chief diversity officer at Lenovo, the computer company, advises reflecting on your unique skills, experience, and know-how, and seeking ways to create new connections. “Think like an entrepreneur,” he said. “Ask yourself, ‘What can I do to make a meaningful impression on my colleagues?'”
For example, Crosslin said, an employee at Lenovo, at the start of the pandemic, started a veritable daily morning-show broadcast on the company’s group-chat software. He used his video show to share employee stories and provide company updates. “It attracted a lot of viewers and engagement from senior leaders,” Crosslin said.
“He helped keep people connected — and also got noticed by others in the organization.”
Double down on staying organized — and put everything in writing
No matter the environment, the basics of being a good employee are the same: work hard, be a good colleague, and show a willingness to learn.
That said, working remotely requires next-level diligence, said Meghan Reibstein, vice president of organizational operations at Zillow, the online real-estate company. “You need to be very disciplined,” she said.
Make use of every tool at your disposal to stay organized. Be explicit with your team about your ideas and plans. Make sure others know how to reach you and when you’re available.
To avoid miscommunications, put everything in writing, she said.
Finally, don’t make yourself too scarce. Spending a few days in the office from time to time could not only help you build and maintain good relationships with your manager and colleagues but also provide you with important intel. You’ll hear about new job openings within your group and opportunities for in-house training and skills development. You’ll also be able to develop a better sense of where your organization is headed.
Spend your days in the office intentionally, said Jim Hilt, the president of Shutterfly, the online photo-printing company. “Focus your time on relationship-building and those one-on-one and small-group connections that are harder to nurture from a distance,” he said.