Keep your career on track: Staying visible as a remote team member
We take a look at the career impact of remote working, and what you and your employer can do to keep your career on track.
Will working remotely hurt my career?
Remote working can be a great way to find a job that lets you keep your career on track, without endless commuting or the upheaval of moving. It’s also true that remote working brings its own challenges. According to the UK employment advisory body ACAS, research suggests that working remotely can have some negative impacts on career prospects, unless both employers and remote staff make an effort to avoid this.
Particularly for companies employing only a few remote staff, there’s a risk of what ACAS calls ‘professional isolation’ developing. According to the ACAS report Homeworking – a guide for employers and employees, staff who mainly work remotely may be overlooked for promotion because they are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for senior managers. Some remote staff may even avoid putting themselves forward for more responsibility because they fear loosing their home-working privileges. The opportunities for mentoring may also be fewer for remote employees, while plum projects may be given to office-based staff if managers feel more comfortable when they can supervise people more closely. Remote staff may be left out of the loop of team discussions, making it harder to contribute effectively.
These issues can be much less of a problem for companies where all or most staff work remotely, because everyone is then in the same situation. But in all teams, a little effort by both managers and remote workers can go a long way towards levelling the playing field and keeping remote careers on track.
While this might look gloomy, it doesn’t have to be this way. ACAS makes clear that many remote workers thrive in their organisations, in part because they are often “particularly motivated and ambitious.” There are also a number of simple steps that can help level the playing field between remote staff and in-office team members. In it’s Homeworking guide, ACAS recommends that, where possible, remote workers periodically work from the office as a way to re-connect and raise their profile. Remote workers also need to put effort into communicating regularly with colleagues and managers – and not just by email; picking up the phone, and making good use of any company social media channels (such as Slack or Yammer), can all help.
Training to help line managers work effectively with their remote team members is also key. Companies should not assume that even experienced managers will find it easy to switch to managing a remote team member; goal setting, performance management, communication and handling conflict all need particular care. In its Homeworking report, ACAS also suggests that companies put clear remote-working policies in place to ensure that both sides understand their roles and responsibilities.
Managers can also look at their own behaviour. Are they really making sure that opportunities for development, such as training and mentoring, are extended to all staff, whether they are in the office or not? And while many remote placements work out well, remote staff – like everyone else – may occasionally face illness, stress or other problems. It’s particularly important that managers check in regularly with remote colleagues, and follow up any concerns or signs of stress as soon as possible, as it can be harder to pick up the signs that someone is struggling, if you aren’t spending regular time face-to-face.
Remote workers themselves can help by making extra effort to take part in workplace activities and contribute to the life of the team. Don’t toil away in isolation; get comfortable using the communication channels and technologies preferred by your team, and use them often to make sure that you join in meetings and discussions, even when you aren’t in the office.
Don’t overlook the little gestures; if you can’t sign someone’s birthday card, a text or friendly emoticon is all it takes to send your good wishes, and you can join in with office charity fundraising activities even if you are hundreds of miles away. Don’t just complain that you are being left out – put yourself out there; offer to get involved with a new project, organise a lunchtime webinar, or mentor a less experienced colleague.
Both managers and employees need to think through how to keep a remote-working relationship ticking over. But good communication, clear policies, and a little thought and effort on both sides will go a long way towards ensuring that remote staff remain visible, productive team members, and their careers remain on track.