Practical Tips for Advancing Your Career as a Remote Employee
What keeps high-performing employees engaged at work and willing to stick around? You might think a supportive manager and competitive salary are the most important motivators, but according to research from TINYpulse, what employees want most is the opportunity for growth and advancement. Employees who feel they're progressing in their career are 20% more likely to still be working at their companies in one year. And 70% of high performing employees say they'll need to leave their current employer to advance in their career. What does this mean for remote employees?
While remote employees most often want the same opportunities as their peers, they have to approach career growth more intentionally. Aimee Lucas is a Senior Principal Analyst at Qualtrics, and she's been working remotely since 2002. While she's seen success in her career, she recognizes the challenges that come for employees who miss out on the day-to-day happenings in an office.
"The hallway introductions to new leaders don't happen naturally when you are remote. The spur of the moment conversation around a whiteboard about a special project happens with the people in close proximity," says Lucas. "Or whatever dynamics like those that happen at your organization - know those moments and consider how to build relationships with the people who create those moments so that you are not "out of sight, out of mind."
How can remote employees make sure they aren't out of sight, out of mind, as Lucas puts it? Based on my experience working remotely for the past seven years, I've found there are five keys to advancing your career as a remote employee.
Tip #1: Have a Bias for "Yes"
I believe that the best learning happens when you step outside of your comfort zone. I think this is especially true when you work remotely. Employees who don't see senior-level leaders every day may not get the same number of opportunities as their peers who are in office. So when opportunities do come your way, it's important to seize them. Whether it's the chance to network, sit on an internal committee, or speak on an upcoming webinar, find ways to make it happen--even when your initial instinct might be to say "no."
Several years ago, I was presented with an opportunity to take over the product management of our company awards program. To be perfectly honest, I didn't want to do it. I had no experience managing awards programs, I had more than enough on my plate already, and I was afraid of failing. But I knew that stepping out of my comfort zone might present the opportunity to make an impact, so I enthusiastically said "yes" even though I wanted to say no. Taking that risk paid off for my career in so many ways. I added skills to my resume, got to work with colleagues and customers I might not have otherwise, and got to lead a massive transformation of our awards program. I also ended up enjoying the work tremendously. What started as a project I dreaded diving into, quickly became a passion project that helped fuel creativity in other areas of my job.
The lesson here? Before you say no to an opportunity that might seem like a bad idea first, stop and ask yourself a few questions. Do I want to say no because I can't do this or because I'm afraid to do it? What other doors might this open up for my career if I say "yes"? What's the best thing that can happen if I say "yes"? That last one is a question I learned from my friend Jenny Dempsey. Instead of going to the worst-case scenario, training your mind to think about the positives causes a powerful mindset shift. Try it!
Tip #2: Volunteer to Work on Projects Outside Your Normal Scope
This one is somewhat related to the first tip, but with a bit of a twist. How many times have you ignored the emails from corporate communications or HR? Be honest; we won't tell your boss. Before you hit delete on that next corporate newsletter, open it up, read it, and look for opportunities to get more involved! While you might not be able to chair the office Chili Cookoff, there are plenty of other volunteer opportunities up for grabs if you're willing to take them. Don't see them available now? Speak up! Here are a few examples of special projects that are a great fit for remote employees to lead:
- Start a virtual book club
- Start a companywide fundraiser to support a cause you're passionate about
- Join the beta testing group for new company product features
- Challenge your team to a fitness challenge--see who can log the most steps each week, or drink the most water
- Organize an Hour of Code event for your team
- Start a Fantasy Football League or a March Madness bracket challenge
What do all these activities have in common? They allow you to meet new people and demonstrate your leadership potential and initiative to senior leaders you may not otherwise get exposure or access to. Bonus: participating in creative, fun activities outside of the scope of your regular job can boost your creativity and productivity, breaking up the monotony and restoring your excitement for the day-to-day grind.
Tip #3: Never Stop Learning
Just because you can't make it to all the lunch and learns, or training that takes place in your office doesn't mean you should ignore continuing learning altogether. It's never been easier to access high-quality on-demand courses, and sites like Udemy, LinkedIn, and Coursera offer training on just about any topic you can imagine. I make it a personal goal to take at least one course per quarter. Why? This industry moves quickly, and the skills you need to excel are always changing. Complacency does not breed growth. Want to go for that next promotion? Having certifications or course completions on your resume can help you stand out. And beyond the tangible skills you'll gain, you'll also get the opportunity for human interaction, which is critical for remote employees.
If online learning isn't your thing, or you're looking for ways to get out of the home office now and then, considering going to a local coworking space. Many offer regular networking events and training courses, which will give you the chance to meet new professional contacts, combat isolation, and spread the word about the product or services your business offers.
Tip #4: Maximize Your Presence in Meetings
Again with the presence theme? Yes. If you work remotely, then you know that establishing a presence for yourself is often the most challenging part. And if career advancement is your goal, you need to find ways to maximize your presence as much as possible. One way? By being fully engaged in meetings. That means cameras on, smartphones face down, and ready to contribute ideas and give feedback. Thanks to video technology, not being in the room for a meeting no longer puts remote employees at a disadvantage. Turning on the camera gives you a chance to make eye contact, build rapport, and better engage with the meeting leaders. It's the next best thing to an in-person handshake.
Feeling insecure about seeing your face on the big screen? Here are a few quick tips for overcoming your fear of camera-on meetings:
- Take the time to get ready for work each morning. I know, I know. Yoga pants and sweats are so comfy! But as video meetings become more and more common, you don't want to be caught off guard if a surprise meeting pops up on the calendar. Take 10-15 minutes to brush your hair, put on a nice shirt, and make yourself video-ready. Not only will this help you feel more confident in video calls, but studies show this morning routine might make you more productive.
- Consider your background. Make sure you have good lighting and clear away any clutter. Don't have a dedicated office? Are you working from a nook in your kitchen? Invest in a room divider or screen, which will minimize any background distractions, and help you present yourself more professionally.
- Practice makes perfect. Being on video is a little awkward for everyone at first, but the good news is that it gets easier over time. Set a goal of turning your camera on for three meetings each week for a whole month. By the end of the month, camera-on will feel natural, and you'll probably find yourself defaulting to video more often than not.
Tip #5: Don't Be Afraid to Toot Your Horn
Growing up, most of us learned that it's not polite to brag. Humility is a virtue, it's true, but when you work from home, you have to become comfortable sharing your wins with others. I don't like drawing attention to myself, nor do I want to take all the credit. I've never been much of a fan of participation trophies, I don't expect a pat on the back just for doing the job I'm paid to do, and I recognize that most of what I do at work wouldn't be possible without the help of my team. All that being said, if you don't share the accomplishments you're proud of, they very often go unnoticed. Especially when you're working remotely. And when promotions are on the line, most bosses consider your track record of success.
So, what are some non-cringeworthy ways to toot your own horn?
Keep a file folder in your email with compliments from customers and kudos from coworkers. This folder serves two purposes. First of all, it's good to read through those positive comments when you're having a rough day. Secondly, that folder becomes invaluable during end-of-year or quarterly review season. For those who feel awkward bragging about their accomplishments, this offers a loophole. Let your peers do the bragging for you.
Share your excellent work on social media. Did you win an industry award? Get an article published? Share it on LinkedIn or your company's internal social networks. You'd be surprised how often senior-level leaders see and appreciate those posts. Sharing your best work publically also spreads goodwill for the brand you represent, so it's a win-win.
Bringing it All Together
The truth is, it's sometimes harder for remote employees to carve out clear career paths and get noticed for internal promotion opportunities. But it's not impossible. With the right attitude and a sense of personal accountability, it's possible to thrive and find fulfillment as a work from home employee. And with the right technology to help you better connect and collaborate with your peers and establish your professional presence, the opportunities have never been greater. Curious to see how video meetings might help you advance your career? Learn more in this free, in-depth eBook: Out of Sight out of Mind? Career Development Advice for Remote Employees.