COVID-19 has taught us a lot: it’s impossible to overstate the importance of family and friendship, public health should always be a top-priority, and it’s surprisingly easy to misplace your mask.
But, for as many lessons that the pandemic imparted, the last year and a half also left us with just as many questions and uncertainties. As we stand on the precipice of normalcy, many people are wondering the same thing: is remote work here to stay?
As it turns out, many employees actually felt more productive in a remote work environment. And it makes sense: eliminating two-hour commutes means more time for everything, which inevitably includes work.
Working from home provides people with a sense of flexibility that can be really appealing, especially when the alternative is a rigid 9-5 schedule that doesn’t suit everyone. In fact, in a recent Gartner survey of more than 10,000 digital workers from the U.S., Europe and APAC, respondents listed flexible work hours and lack of commuting as the top productivity drivers– rather than working longer.
It’s also worth noting that in an office setting, introverts exert energy during face-to-face interactions that they could otherwise be putting towards getting the job done. At-home work environments can better cater to the needs of employees who do not necessarily appreciate chatting about Squid Game or the Knicks game with their fellow co-workers.
Though, even if remote work can be just as or more productive than working from an office– and even if remote work is an option that could benefit many people in their personal lives– you’re probably still wondering: what does a remote job mean for my career?
The concern is a valid one, and the honest answer is it depends. The data on whether or not fully remote (and productive) workers are getting promoted at the same rate as in-office employees is decidedly mixed.
Regardless of what studies have shown, some workplaces still espouse the notion that in-person collaboration creates a better company culture and yields better results than a remote setting.
This means that if you’re trying to build your career from a remote role, you should be prepared to face some challenges and biases. Yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible to get ahead in your career from a remote role.
Promotion Gaps: Fact or Fiction
A study by Ultimate Software in 2019 showed that compared to in-office counterparts across genders, women working remotely were the most likely to report getting a raise. Both men and women limited to the office had been promoted less, and 75% remote workers said their company is invested in their career growth compared to just 65% of in-office employees.
This is clearly a sign of hope for people who are working from home and still trying to climb the ladder.
On the other hand, in 2015, researchers from Stanford University examined remote and in-office workers in China. Remote workers were 13% more productive, but the study’s lead author Nicholas A Bloom says that their “promotion rates plummeted. It was roughly half the promotion rate, compared to those in the office.”
So, again, the current data on whether remote workers are getting promoted at the same rate as non-remote workers isn’t necessarily conclusive.
But it’s not just the current data on the promotion discrepancy between remote and non-remote workers that matters.
An important consideration to make in all of this is that remote work may be more ideal for middle-aged professionals who are more established in their network of colleagues and comfortable home offices. But, if you’re early on in your career and trying to navigate your way in a new company from a tiny apartment like many 20 year-olds are, this work environment may be less suitable to you.
As time passes, these workers may find it harder to land promotions; we just don’t have a way to time-travel and conduct that research. We’ll have to wait and see.
Because the data is mixed, it’s been relatively easy for many managers to cling to the belief that people working from home just aren’t as productive; they don’t have enough supervision, and if given the freedom, employees waste time on the clock watching Youtube videos and online shopping, rather than completing a project.
As offices begin reopening, many employers are re-emphasizing this idea. “I don’t need to be wishy-washy,” Mat Ishbia, president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, explained. “I have never wavered on this. We are better together. If you have an amazing culture, and great people that collaborate and work together, you want them in the office together.”
The truth is that much of remote workers’ ability to get promoted depends on company culture. It should come as no surprise that corporate environments that are hostile to remote workers are far less likely to reward them.
And though they can be, biases against remote workers aren’t always conscious or explicit, either. A boss might be thinking about who to assign a project to when they see the perfect candidate sitting at their desk. Why pour through all potential candidates and take the time to send out an email when they can approach someone a few feet away? This can be described as the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon, and it’s a very real problem.
The most useful piece of advice is for remote workers to stay as communicative with your boss as possible. Of course, you don’t want to spam your boss with emails and slack messages, but you do want to regularly touch base. Use your voice to join more important meetings, and keep track of your completed weekly to-do’s to send to your manager: make your presence and contribution to the company known.
This next piece of advice may be less obvious, but just as it’s important to show your manager how productive you’re being, it’s equally as important to communicate when you’re being challenged. The reason for this? If you happen to be less productive on a certain day or week, they might jump to the conclusion that you were busy scrolling through Instagram or binging a Netflix show, when really, you were just struggling– and this is just as common in the office as it is at home.
What Does A Remote Job Mean?
So what is the meaning of a remote position, and how will it impact your career? The best way to gage the answer to this is by looking at the prevalence of remote work within a specific company and trying to understand the general attitude towards it.
If you’re currently looking for remote roles in a new company you should consider looking at their senior management. If not many of those positions are remote, chances are that you won’t be able to attain that position later on in a remote trajectory. Keep in mind that like Ishbia, many other CEOs and presidents have spoken publicly about their stance on remote work– my suggestion is that if you want to get promoted while working from home, avoid taking a job with anyone who is on the record opposing it. Unfortunately, productivity doesn’t mean promotion everywhere, so try to do your research.