Thanks to COVID-19, remote work has become commonplace. At the time of writing, more than 11 million Australians are in lockdown. As the pandemic emerged around the world, technology proved our saviour as it allowed people to remain connected, to communicate and to collaborate. For many of us, this meant working from home and thankfully, being able to continue working. As we return to the new ‘normal’ (whatever that ends up looking like) post pandemic, many people have been asking this question:
Can working remotely negatively impact your career?
Consider this example. Two people within an organisation are competing for one promotion. Their strengths and areas for improvement are identical. One works full-time in the office but the other, works two days remotely and three days in the office (still full-time). Would this one difference be the deciding factor?
As much as I’d like to give a clear-cut answer, I’d say it depends on a number of factors including each employee’s:
- Interest in the role
- Relationship with their direct report
- Relationships with other team members and how this comes into play in their role
- Communication skills
- The role itself (some positions lend themselves to people being in the office and participating in a creative, collaborative environment)
Speaking from experience, most people choose to work remotely for a specific reason — they have parenting or caring duties to attend to, physical challenges that makes commuting difficult and so on. Remote workers have become some of my best team members! They put their head down and focus on the task at hand. That said, keeping the lines of communication open is important. People need to be open to being visible at the right times, showcasing their work as needed and so on. Where it gets tricky is if people are working odd hours and this negatively impacts their ability to perform their role and to work with others.
While it’s hard for extroverts to understand, many people don’t enjoy the buzz and chatter of an office environment. Or mandatory face-to-face meetings that can be hard to avoid if someone arrives at your desk unannounced. For introverts, remote working is helpful and helps them to sustain their energy levels. In an office, it’s easy for time to slip away in meetings that run longer than they should or through ‘quick’ catch-ups between team members that last a little too long. Extraverts can also ‘take over’ meetings so online meetings can give everyone the chance to be heard. And then there’s the commute, which is a big sticking point for many people. Especially those who have long commutes where they are stuck in traffic for most of the trip… this energy can be better used on the job.
Mental health is also a big factor. Some people thrive around others and need to leave their house not to feel suffocated. Others enjoy having their own space and having more of an ability to control when and how they interact with others. And then there’s the big factor… boundaries. When working from home, it’s easy to get sucked into working 24/7 because you don’t leave and are always one message or phone call away. Many find that it’s easier for their boundaries to slip when working remotely.
At the end of the day, everyone has a different take as to whether remote working enhances or inhibits their ability to perform at work. We are all individuals. We have different needs and preferences. I am a big believer in helping people to work in a way that best supports them as an individual and the key milestones they need to achieve in their role. Working in the office isn’t perfect and neither is working remotely. Blending both is likely the most ideal option for most businesses and employees.
As for leaders, there is no one size fits all approach to managing people. It’s best to prepare yourself to lead hybrid teams. Managing people remotely is different to doing so in a face-to-face setting. As always, it’s important to adjust and adapt as needed.
Deborah Wilson is a Thought Leader and a Career Strategist. She takes a personalised approach to strategic career coaching and career transitions, mentoring and leadership development. Deborah provides expert guidance for individuals while supporting organisations through change and connecting people and purpose. Call Deborah on