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Executive Corner – Promote or Remote: Working at Home Hurts Your Chances for Advancement

Michael Clegg | 04/13/2022

Call it unconscious bias or “out of sight out of mind.” The data shows that your boss views people in the office more favorably than your peers who work from home. I know, I know. I get it. You are more productive at home and work longer hours since you don’t have to commute to and from the office. You can throw a load of laundry in during your lunch break. You are happier and more committed to your employer because you are home to see little johnny off the bus when he gets home from school. All these things are true. Stanford University study shows that you are 13% more productive when working from home, and as recently as March 2021, data shares that 6 out of 10 people report being more productive working from home.

The fact remains that remote workers get promoted ½ as often as their in-office colleagues.

Summary: I will share tips on things you can do to stay relevant while being remote.

The world changed in the Spring of 2020. COVID caused the Great Reshuffle. Now that the workforce is starting to get back to the office, there is something to consider. The leveling factor of COVID was that most were working from home with few exceptions by those classified as “frontline” workers. All of us were in the same predicament and 100% remote. Today, things are closer to normal than in the previous two years. Some workers are still remote. Some are hybrid, and some organizations require their employees to be in the office 100% of the time. Therefore, all things are not equal any longer.

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I’ve written many times before about “Image and Exposure” and the nine ways you can increase them. Things like your reputation matter. Performance is only a small reason that you get promoted. What other people think about you is essential in your professional life. Imagine how many non-verbal cues your co-workers don’t get to see when you are working from home. Considering that over half of how we communicate is non-verbal. It is vital to be aware of the data that influences our professional lives. Something as simple as a smile or acknowledgment while walking to the restroom at the office impacts how others perceive us. What if your strength is active listening? Does your co-worker or boss see that when you are working from home? How many times do conflicts arise due to miscommunication over text or email? Those events will increase as the volume of texts and emails increases from a remote worker.

When you are a remote worker, your boss most likely only sees the result or outcome of the project that you were working on and not the efforts. She didn’t observe the tasks or collaboration required to get those results. George Costanza, the character from the sitcom Seinfeld talks about sitting around and “looking busy.”  Jerry asks, “how do you pull that off?” George says, “I look annoyed. When you look annoyed all the time, people assume that you are busy.” George says that his non-verbal cues give his co-workers vibes that he is busy working hard. Simply put, others see the efforts of the office workers.

Visibility plays such an important role. Working from home can be a career disadvantage. Unfortunately, parents are a group of people that will suffer the most. More specifically, women. They tend to be most often the caregivers. If women are getting the short straw due to working from home, we need to identify solutions to these challenges, or we will continue to lack diversity in leadership. We already know that companies with female executives perform better than companies without female leaders. It is in our best interest to set a framework that these “remote moms” aren’t penalized for being caregivers.

To fight the “out of sight, out of mind” dilemma in a hybrid workforce, as leaders, we must set up all employees to be successful. We need to invite them to unscheduled meetings. We need to give them a voice on scheduled ones. Below are some other ideas to help remote workers.


1.    Make sure you have a regular 1×1 with your boss

a.     The occurrence should be no less than twice a month

b.     Share your concern about “out of sight out of mind” and ask them if it’s ok to share the steps you took to get to the project results. NOT JUST the outcomes

c.      Produce a regular report that details the tasks that you are completing

2.    Communicate your schedule regularly to your entire team

a.     Share your calendar with your team so that they have access to your schedule

b.     Help your team develop a framework for asynchronous communication

3.    Express your emotions more in meetings than just plainly using your words to describe your thoughts/feelings

a.     If you are excited about something happening, be sure and express it

4.    Find a friend in the office

a.     Sounds like a no-brainer? It would help if you had someone that you could trust and who would give you insight into what’s happening in the office

5.    Plan to have some face time

a.     Making it into the office once a quarter is a good goal

b.     Attend coffee’s/lunch with co-workers

c.      Have virtual coffee breaks if you are not in the same geography

6. Find a mentor or an ambassador

a. This person will help to introduce you to a network outside of your daily inner circle

b. Finding new relationships is significant if you cannot get to the office

7. Focus on building new relationships

a. Identify areas of opportunity to collaborate with employees outside of your division

b. Get comfortable being uncomfortable – Your career success is worth it 

c.  Spending time with people dissimilar to you and your environment will help you learn and grow new skills

d. Take a genuine interest in the value that someone new can bring

8. Give and expect nothing in return

a. Avoid “what’s in it for me.” Find ways that you can help at least one person. Trust me. If you start building a mindset of helping others without expecting anything in return, you will begin to enjoy it. “You can have everything you want in life if you help others get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar

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