Swapping office life for remote working can be a great trade-off, allowing people to spend less time commuting help improve their work-life balance. However, working from home isn’t always a walk in the park.
Studies have shown that trust is harder to establish among virtual teams, with misunderstandings more likely to occur when people aren’t sharing body language in-person. And as many will attest, remote working can be lonely and make it far more difficult to switch off and detach from work — making burnout a real issue.
It can also be more difficult to level up in your career when working remotely. In April, Office for National Statistics data showed remote workers were doing double the overtime of their non-remote counterparts, yet were significantly less likely to be promoted or receive bonuses.
So why are remote workers finding it difficult to progress in their careers — and how can employers make sure they give all staff an equal chance of promotion?
As a result of the pandemic, many companies are facing financial difficulties and are freezing promotions and raises to cope with the additional costs of the pandemic. However, research suggests home-workers also experience a lack of visibility which can mean they are more likely to miss out on progression opportunities than their in-office peers.
A survey conducted in the UK this year found that the number of people promoted since the pandemic began has almost halved. Less than a quarter of those polled (24%) saw promotions on their teams compared to 72% the year before.
Ultimately, remote working can mean people miss out on the informal opportunities to get noticed by their employers. While technology allows us to communicate and collaborate easily, those working from home have fewer chances to chat to managers in-person. Often, it’s these "watercooler moments" that can lead to new opportunities and professional development.
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Additionally, research suggests it may be young people who miss out the most. According to a new survey by LinkedIn, 87% of UK business leaders say young people have been hit by a "development dip" during COVID-19 as a result of the prolonged period of working from home. Of the employees surveyed, 69% of young people (aged 16-34) believe their professional learning experience has been impacted by the pandemic.
“The loss of office small talk, while seemingly insignificant at first, could have a detrimental longer-term impact on career development,” says Anjula Mutanda, a workplace psychologist. “Trusted relationships and small talk can sometimes lead to big things in business environments, so if we’re out of practice, we could be missing out on opportunities.”
However, there are steps employers can take to ensure all workers — especially younger employees and those just starting out — are given the opportunity to progress.
First, it’s important for managers and leaders to communicate with all employees often and to make an extra effort with those working remotely. By getting to know workers personally and professionally, employers will be able to better recognise the individual skills and experience people bring to a workforce.
“Accordingly, make time to speak with others virtually — even if it’s not a scheduled call, a five-minute chat at the end of a meeting will show that you’re making a conscious effort to get involved,” says Emma-Louise O’Brien, a career coach at Renovo.
“It’s also key to remember that though preferences for video calls have increased during lockdown, this isn’t everyone’s favourite communication method. Ensuring you’re interacting with others in a way that’s agreeable to them, through zoom, phone or email, will help you to build relationships.”
If people are working remotely part-time, employers should ensure they have the chance to speak to managers face-to-face when they are in the office. Social events give people the opportunity to chat informally too. Additionally, training courses can help employees adapt to new ways of working and plug any skills gaps that may be holding them back.
“Many are naturally feeling mixed emotions about their professional development and career trajectory right now, so there needs to be a concerted effort from leaders, managers and industry to help them catch up,” says Janine Chamberlin, UK country manager at LinkedIn.
“It’s positive to see leaders recognise the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on people as they consider their future workplace policies. To help young people develop the skills they need to succeed, companies must understand where the skills gaps are, introduce mentoring schemes and bolster learning experiences that cater for a hybrid workforce to help younger workers get back on track.”