It will be interesting to see how attitudes to people who work from home change as we move into a post pandemic re-opening and leverage the improved communications tool we have. Companies and individuals will need to make choices informed by new considerations such as concern for the planet, problems of travelling internationally, risk of infection, illness and even risk of death. Virtual team management will become part of our lives and a skill to be cherished and valued.
You may have seen the commercial where a team of scientists and techies come up with a way to bring water to parched areas of Kenya. They are all chatting about their ideas over a program like Skype. Some of them are working from their home office. Although digital tools for communication are very convenient, they don’t allow for the same free flow of information as personal conversations. A pre -pandemic study by Harvard Business Review found team performance went up 50% when teams socialized more and limited email for operational only issues.
Relatively brief, seemingly insignificant, conversations that happen informally after meetings or in the staff restaurant cannot be underestimated. They foster trust and develop our understanding of what colleagues are experiencing in their work and outside it. Any one of them can lead to a moment of insight or an opportunity to develop new synergy around a common goal. Those conversations just don’t happen when we are working at home unless opportunities are created.
Distance can damage trust and deter crucial conversations when important issues that are potentially difficult and sensitive need to be effectively addressed. Given the chance many people will take the easier option and either not address the issue at all, or do so in a way that can damage trust and cause other problems. It is hard to assess the impact of this on interpersonal trust, team productivity and bottom-line performance. It’s reasonable to assume that it’s likely to be negative.
What about your promotion chances though? If you are more productive than your colleagues, and get the job done, you’d expect to have a better chance of promotion. But a study says that remote workers might be at a disadvantage compared to their colleagues in the office. Unfortunately, human nature dictates that those who are visible will get first consideration, and are often thought of as more appropriate for promotion.
According to pre-pandemic research done at Stanford University and reported in Talent Management Magazine, people who worked at home reported a 13% increase in productivity, but had a 50% smaller chance of being promoted.
The study showed that those who worked from home had a higher retention rate than those who are office-based, but had a 50% less chance of getting promoted. This may not be bad news. Many people may prefer the convenience of working from home to playing office politics. But what if you do want promotions?
The researchers point out that this is a small study, and company culture must be taken into account. And almost certainly the realities of life post pandemic will have altered perceptions radically. But there are some things you can do to keep yourself in line for promotions:
Keep in touch with your manager and your colleagues. Make sure your communication is required and effective, not time wasting, or you will irritate colleagues and managers. Remember the advantage your on-site colleagues have in terms of social interaction, continual access and the ability to make small talk. Your manager can get to know them and get to value their input and accessibility. You need to make sure channels are open and that you strike the right balance between personal interaction and frivolity. Look for common ground- ask about your managers’ family, holidays, health. What is happening in the office, what is on the horizon, can you offer an opinion she/he might value about office matters?
This might sound obvious, but let your manager know you’re interested in promotion. They might assume you are working from home for convenience reasons and aren’t interested in a real career path. When you have your one-on-ones with them make sure they know your goals and aspirations.
Make sure you are visible. Your manager is busy, and very often “out of sight is out of mind”. Keep your profile high by contributing in meetings, volunteering for high-profile tasks, and interacting with your colleagues. People talk, and positive talk is good. Can you volunteer to carry out some departmental administration – summarise everyone’s sales figures, or maintain the holiday rota, or run the birthday rota – something that will keep you at the front of everyone’s mind, and in the middle of events!
Keep your eye on the company, not just on your department. An advantage of working remotely is you don’t get distracted by gossip and chatter. The downside is that this is very often where you hear about opportunities, potential reorganisations and other chances for advancement. If you’re interested in more opportunities within your company, you need to know what’s going on throughout the organisation. Check the company blog, subscribe to its twitter feed and contribute to discussion boards. Chat to friends in other departments as well as your own.
Are you willing to go into the office if you have to? If a position comes up that would need you to make a change in the way you work, are you willing to make that commute or travel more for more money and promotion?