As the pandemic has made remote work more widespread, both employers and their workers are willing to explore the potential for these arrangements to continue in some form. Even when we do get to the new normal, many employees will likely be working from home, full-time or under a hybrid model.
No matter where you lie on the spectrum of favoring remote work over the traditional office, this move can have implications beyond personal preferences. When your boss can’t even see how you do your job, what does this mean for your career advancement?
Career progress in the workplace
Everyone interested in taking their career further will have specific goals. If you do your homework, you might have a clearer picture of what’s required to progressively attain the next level in your field. But how would those plans have fit in the context of the traditional office environment?
Advancing your career is never a matter of planning alone. And you only have direct control over some aspects of its execution. You’ll need to learn new skills, for instance. But would you have received any training on the job? Are there any colleagues you have in the office who could serve as mentors in those aspects?
Aspirations and ambitions come from within. But the workplace is a significant asset that we can all leverage toward achieving our objectives. It expands our network. Informal interactions with people from diverse backgrounds, whose skillsets and experiences complement our own, help accelerate our development.
We receive feedback from co-workers and supervisors regarding our performance. If your manager takes notice, they can not only coach you for improvement in a specific area but give you opportunities to handle greater projects and responsibilities. This helps you prepare to step up and assume a higher position.
Further challenges from remote work
Even before the pandemic, many employees would have found it challenging to take the next step in the workplace. Around two-thirds of companies don’t have a clear vertical path for employee advancement. Three-quarters of managers don’t’ effectively guide workers towards higher goals. Less than half use technology effectively for training and development purposes.
Now that remote work has become the norm, things have gotten even more complicated. You might not get regular face time or quality interactions with colleagues and leaders in your team. Meeting on a video conference isn’t the same; everybody takes up a tiny square on your screen. Sometimes, it feels like your regular housekeeping or roof installation work has a greater impact on your job performance.
Communicating with other people just isn’t the same when it’s done online instead of face-to-face. The medium of the internet lends itself to disinhibition. People can behave differently when you don’t see them real-time, in person.
Over time, this can make online-only interactions feel a little less authentic. Insist all you want about judging people strictly on merits and results. It’s simply harder to build trust with someone you only see virtually, or get to know through emails, chats, and uploaded files.
With less trust in place, how are managers going to take notice of your effort and performance? What are the chances that veteran employees will perceive your opportunities and share tips for improvement?
Taking full ownership
To some extent, the burden of addressing this change rests on leadership. Creating opportunities for growth and development is a major component of better employee engagement and performance.
Managers can no longer physically observe which employees are hard at work, being productive and focused while others succumb to distractions around the house. The solution might lie in better measurements.
Explore different time-tracking solutions. Discuss and redefine KPIs so that employees aren’t judged solely by deliverables; how they achieve results should continue to matter.
But leaders across most organizations have a lot on their plate during this time of change and uncertainty. They might neglect to touch base with employees on a regular, one-on-one basis.
Employees should be understanding, but never allow this to become the default. There is a need to be proactive and ask for the coaching and feedback you need.
Find ways to impress. Teach yourself a new skill and then request an additional task to demonstrate your new ability. Your manager won’t fail to notice the initiative, even if they never see your face.
In at least one sense, however, the pandemic hasn’t changed anything. The lack of in-organization paths for advancement means that most employees were always going to have to step up their efforts in this regard. Now that the workforce has gone remote, you have to take full ownership of furthering your career.