does working remotely harm your chances of advancement?

A reader writes:

I graduated from college about four years ago and have been working full-time since. Over this period of time, I’ve worked my way up the ladder. About one year ago, I started a position in my field that I’d been trying to get for about two years. I started this position remotely during the pandemic in mid-2020. I’m enjoying this job and the new projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on. There is still a lot for me to learn and I feel as though I’m being challenged every day, which I love.

Since I started remotely, I’ve only interacted with my coworkers through Zoom or Webex. I never met any of them in person, plus I’m not in the same state as my employer, though we are in the same time zone. The initial thought when I first started was for me to move into the same state as my employer. However, this past year circumstances for my family have changed and led to me wondering if it would be best to telework full-time to be closer to them.

I’m wondering if teleworking full-time could lower chances of advancement for employees. Or would this all depend on the employer, work culture, etc.?

It depends on the company and the person.

There are times when working remotely in a company where most people aren’t remote can make it harder for you to advance. You might not be be at the top of people’s minds when they think about who can take on an interesting project. You won’t be in some of the ad hoc conversations that spring up spontaneously and which sometimes can turn into substantive meetings where things get decided. Colleagues may assume it’ll be harder for you to do things if you’re not in-person and so they might not ask you to be the one who manages the new hire or explains the fall strategy to higher-ups. You won’t be able to develop relationships as easily or learn things by overhearing colleagues or mentor and be mentored as naturally. (That’s not to say you can’t do those things at all, just that they won’t happen as organically as they often do in-person.) And you can end up being the first person on the list when cuts need to be made if you don’t feel as much like part of the team as people in the office do.

However, good companies and good managers are aware of these potential pitfalls and actively work to counter them. They’re vigilant about noticing when an ad hoc conversation is becoming something substantial a remote colleague should be part of and saying, “Let’s schedule time to talk with Jane about this since she should be in this conversation.” They’re deliberate about making sure remote worker’s accomplishments have visibility and aren’t overlooked. They ensure strong systems are in place to keep remote workers in the loop.

But other companies and managers are less good at those things.

There’s also a lot of variation among remote workers themselves. Some people are good about being assertive when they need to be included in conversations, and about highlighting what they’re working on, and about connecting with people who their work might otherwise not put them in regular contact with. But others are less so.

So I’d say you need to know both your company and yourself — how good your company is at creating systems and structures to help remote workers avoid these pitfalls, and how good you are at working in a way that minimizes them too.

{ 86 comments… read them below }

  1. D3*

    The juxtaposition of this one with the woman who was doing just fine until her manager saw her body is just….classic.

    1. ecnaseener*

      LOL, very true. In-person work may be better for your advancement prospects if you’re slender, conventionally attractive enough to be respected (but not TOO attractive, that’ll lose you respect), good at eye contact and social cues, etc.

  2. Dan*

    I work for a generally good company that is also friendlier than most regarding telework. Prior to COVID, you could come to HQ, work on campus for a few years, prove yourself, and then get WFH approved. HQ is is in an HCOL area, so this type of thing wasn’t unusual. Post COVID, the company said that WFH is for the taking, and we’ve hired people who have never set foot on HQ’s campus, and probably never will.

    But… the company is also huge, and some departments suck worse than others. The department I hired into hires externally a lot because it’s known to be a bad department and few people want to transfer in. The hugeness of the company makes it hard to network outside the department, even when everybody is in the office.

    Prior to COVID, my practice area liked to do department show and tell sessions. I went to one and chatted up one of the presenters. It turned out the presented really needed someone with my skillset. I started doing side work for him, did well, and transferred into that department. A year later, I got a big promotion.

    That would not have happened if we were all WFH. I still keep in touch with my colleagues from my old department. Things still suck, and promotions are still harder to get in that department than they are in others.

    I know my experience is an anecdote and not representative of the norm. Almost all of my department (including me) has chose to say WFH for the foreseeable future. (There actually is no point in returning to the office if nobody in your work area is on campus.) However, I have no plans in the near future to relocate away from HQ. I’ve got one more promotion within grasp, and the minute I think WFH is putting me at a disadvantage for it, that’s the minute I’ll be back in the office. Once I get it? Different conversation.

    1. Anonymooose*

      Agree 100%

      Sometimes it is about opportunities. When you are not around, you might miss it.

      My previous employer did what we called, “Amoeba” meetings where we needed to do quick meetings for a project that didn’t require a formal scheduled meeting but enough key people to make a decision. It was literally walking thru the office asking people to step into the meeting, we’d hash out some pretty important decisions and move forward. People who got to join those meetings definitely benefitted by spending time with higher ups, demonstrating their skill/intelligence and were noted by said higher ups for future opportunities.

      It’s an opportunity thing but being around helped get a bit of luck.

      1. Claire*

        To be honest, that does not sound like a very good way to make “pretty important” decisions…

    2. Smithy*

      I strongly agree with this. Having a high visibility in my last two offices also greatly helped me build my professional network. Being around for impromptu coffees/lunches/happy hours ended up being a valuable source of building connections at my job – but also having a stronger base to maintain networks when I left. It’s made questions around job postings, reference requests, and other engagement much easier because there was a stronger personal relationship.

      Early in one’s career, it just seems like a harder prospect to truly assess what opportunities are being missed by not being in the office. It may be that because of COVID there’s are increased efforts of being more inclusive of remote staff for a while longer….but unless it’s a team/workplace specifically designed to have extensive remote staff – I’d be worried.

      1. Dan*

        My personal guess at how this will play out… (I’m firmly “mid career” at this point, but not old enough to forget my younger years.)

        When you’re young and broke in an HCOL area, you probably have a small apartment near the city center that isn’t big enough to really support a dedicated full time work space. You may also live with your parents, and not want to spend 24/7 under the same roof. And you’re probably a bit more social at a younger age than an older age.

        I’ve seen COVID-era studies that suggest that the younger group is more likely to want to return to the office for one reason or another. So I think you’ll get a core group from there. However, management will soon realize that those folks will benefit greatly from more senior people who are willing to show up and mentor them. Which means “we” will find ourselves in a positions where management *says* we can WFH, but then “encourages” us to be on campus. And we all know how that works out… there’s no such thing as a mere “suggestion” when it comes from management.

        1. Elenna*

          Your first sentence is interesting because as a younger person, I much prefer the hybrid schedule my company is moving towards, because it lets me look for places to live that are farther from the office and therefore a lower cost of living… I’m also not very social, and my office in particular isn’t a very social one so I’m more inclined to socialize outside work if anything, which is made easier by not having to commute every day. YMMV.

    3. Public Sector Manager*

      The government agency I work for was pre-COVID, a butts in the seats organization. Since the pandemic, we got a new agency head who has made WFH a mandate for the office. Everyone has been asking for WFH for years. Anyway, 5 of our new team members starting in the agency while working remotely and have yet to see the inside of the office. If they never go to the office, they don’t yet have the office reputation to be on a short list for promotion and I think being in the office is key to getting on everyone’s radar. But people who had been in the office for 5 years and then COVID hit, if there were on a short list for promotion before and then wanted to do WFH after COVID, they’d still be on the short list. How long they can stay there is a different story. But at least in the short term, WFH really doesn’t matter once your reputation is established.

  3. Anonymooose*

    It’s possible and definitely involves your own performance but some jobs need office presence to work- management and department leadership, most certainly. Especially if you are responsible for a larger team with multiple ranks- your role isn’t a solo producer but a supporter of producers and you need to be available to them. And virtual availability works but sometimes in-person is better; you have to deliver that if you want to advance in the traditional, “be good- get promoted to manager/director/VP” path.

    Solo or independent positions can very easily “advance” but the form will likely be more $$, better title, and perks. And many people would love this type of advancement.

    The people management element is what makes working in-person essential (not 100% in person, mind you, but some form of it is to be expected).

    1. Dan*

      The other thing is… as a rank-and-file employee, there are interactions I will have with those in the food chain above me, but “only” in the hallway, so to speak. It’s probably a quick 5 minute interaction about something relatively innocuous, but on occasion, maybe it needs to be about something really sensitive. Most of the time, these are conversations that are “nice” to have, but I don’t “need” to have them.

      I got a new boss last summer, and I’ve spoken to her… once. My old boss, I’d chat in the hallway every so often. In fact, as things were transitioning last summer, he lamented that he missed the “hallway conversations” because they were informative and insightful.

      If we can’t figure out how to have those informal, impromptu conversations virtually, I can very much see a boss that would say, “my people have to be on campus because I never talk to them otherwise.”

    2. The Price is Wrong Bob*

      My spouse and I both work for global companies, so neither of us were ever going to be in the same location as everyone by default. I have met my boss in-person twice over the past 5 years, but we do a VC once a week and chat most days. I’ve seen a couple of his bosses maybe once a year as well, because they are high up enough to travel to my country for business. It is strange to me that so many people on this site cannot envision working in an environment with multiple locations or where you rely on chat clients, email, phone calls, video calls, or asynchronous project tracking to work. Managers can and do manage people remotely, but it is a different skill that you have to develop. FWIW, most of my interactions in breakrooms in the past were just me trying to get coffee or microwave my lunch as fast as possible to avoid getting stuck talking to creepy sales guys.

      1. Æthelflæd*

        I feel the same way! The company I work for is a Fortune 100 company with ~10k employees in the US (plus more globally). Many of the people who work there have never been to HQ or even satellite offices. Most jobs are 100% remote, and even our senior VPs and some of our executive leadership team works from home.

        The company is also not some newer company; it’s old as hell and considered “an institution”. They just saw the writing on the wall, and started moving the company remote early on and were thoughtful about how they did it. So, by the time COVID hit and offices were shut down, we were able to roll with the punches.

  4. twocents*

    This is something my boss has mentioned he’s argued to his manager about why he doesn’t want to require everyone go in the office. He manages about 12 people, but half are in the same city as him and half aren’t. One of his arguments against requiring people to work in the office is that it can bias you as a manager, even unintentionally. I.e., “I see twocents every day, so she might get more opportunities because I can call her to work on something real quick, and I get more casual feedback on her, than I do on Joaquin who is in Texas.”

    1. Anonym*

      That is fascinating, and such a good observation. Kudos to your boss – we should all be so thoughtful about how we can avoid developing bias.

    2. Ooh La La*

      That’s really interesting! What a good boss. I’m at a fully-remote company and it’s definitely reassuring to not have to worry about in-office people getting professional perks that I can’t see or access.

    3. Anonymooose*

      It’s good that you boss is conscious of this but at what point is it bias versus people earning the opportunity because they are making the effort?

      We shouldn’t penalize people for the extra effort it takes to be physically present versus those who benefitting by the the perks of WFH. Now before anyone’s hackles rise, lets be clear…. WFH is easier overall to most and yes, there are exceptions. But they are the exception. WFH is harder for a few, but let’s be honest, on the whole, WFH benefits to the majority that WFH includes less cost (travel, laundry, grooming), time spent travelling is gained back, no pants.

      People who go to the office get those expenses back, put in that specific effort and why eliminate them from the perks of in person attendance? WFH gets perks from being virtual.

      This of course accounts for the workplace being in compliance with Covid safety measure, etc etc.

      1. introverted af*

        Sure, we shouldn’t penalize people. And sure, WFO gets some perks – like coffee in the break room, or occasional food. That’s a perk. Not, Jane Smith is first candidate for a promotion.

      2. Ooh La La*

        Perks are different than professional advantage. Free coffee is a perk. Being placed on an important project is a managerial decision that shouldn’t be influenced by physical location unless it’s actually relevant. Also, why is it a positive that someone made the “extra effort” to be in the office? This assumes that being in-person confers some benefit *to the employer* that they are not getting from remote employees, but that’s not necessarily true.

      3. hellohello*

        But that effort spent on the commute/time spent in a care/time spent putting on pants doesn’t actually benefit the employer? Unless there’s a tangible benefit to the business that comes from an employing being in office, why should people get extra consideration for putting in effort for effort’s sake? (And if there is a tangible benefit, surely that benefit should help their promotion chances, rather than just “Tom drives half an hour every day which makes him a better employee, I guess?”)

      4. twocents*

        Half the people on my team could make the “extra effort” to go in to an office and still not get these benefits because they aren’t even in the same state.

        For your second point that some people would prefer a return to the office, my boss is of the opinion that high performers should get to choose if they want to come in or not. He just doesn’t want to require it especially because he’s aware that it could unintentionally privilege half his team.

      5. SarahKay*

        As someone who would, on the whole, rather be in the office there are perks in that too.

        For instance, I don’t have to pay for heating or air-con during the day (I live in the UK so heating in winter is essential, aircon in the summer is *mostly* a luxury except for those couple of weeks when it really isn’t).
        I walk to work, 1.5 miles each way, so that walk builds exercise into my day without any mental effort.
        There’s an on-site subsidised canteen so I don’t have to put any effort into lunch and the cost is only a very little higher than if I were preparing my own food (my Dad thought it was hilarious when I started WFH last year and complained that I was having to cook *so* many meals).
        I live alone so going into the office lets me see other friendly faces daily.

        Now, all of this assumes that someone is in a job where they can chose WFH or office-based, which isn’t the case for everyone. But for those who do have a choice… well, it’s a choice. They can decide which perks are worth more to them, but those perks shouldn’t include career progression.

      6. Æthelflæd*

        I’m confused. Driving to work and basic hygiene are “special efforts” that should be rewarded more than WFH people? Yes, it’s cheaper to work from home for most people, and yes it sucks to get up every morning and go into an office. But, that still doesn’t make it a “special effort”.

  5. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    I’m currently in the interview process for my second promotion/third role at my org, with continual increases in responsibility in between, and I’ve literally never NOT been remote for almost eight years. I didn’t meet either of my first two managers for at least my first six months in each role.

  6. stebuu*

    I’ve been working remotely for 20 years now. My rule of thumb is if most of the company is in an office, you will be penalized somehow for being a remote employee. Almost always the penalty is inadvertent, but it’s there.

    1. Bostonian*

      Yes. I think the proportion of other people working remotely plays a big part.

      1. A Genuine Scientician*

        I worry about this a lot.

        My entire unit shifted online in Feb 2020. None of us are back in person yet, not even the admin. Come fall, everyone is going to be back in person….except me. The unit needs someone to handle all the online stuff for the fall — we will be running partly online, partly face to face in the fall, and then fully face to face starting in January 2022 — and I was asked to be the one to coordinate all of the online material. I don’t disagree with the decision; I’m the only logical candidate for it, and it does need to be done. Everyone else in a similar role was asked whether they’d prefer to be in person or online — we’re set up that although one person has to coordinate it, several people will be doing the work online, and it will be split up among full time people and some student workers — and every single one of the rest of the full timers expressed strong preference for being in person. Only one other of them even potentially has the bandwidth to run the online material, and that one has so many problems with computer tech that it just wouldn’t have been a good choice. My boss announced in that meeting that I had agreed to do this for the fall but that I did not want to any longer than was absolutely necessary, so it’s known that this is me taking one for the team. But we’re moving into a new building over the summer, and there aren’t enough offices for all of us, so I am not assigned one yet (with clear statements that office assignments will change starting in January), and that means that even if I wanted to go into the office there’s not a desk for me there.

        I’m going to get far less face time, I’m not going to be included in any of the informal discussions, I will probably be the only person joining the meetings remotely unless someone’s ill. And I worry that people are going to forget that this isn’t entirely voluntary on my part. There has already been a meeting where one of the senior people said that they were looking forward to how much easier it was going to be for them, me, and one other person to have informal discussions about a project once we’re all back in a shared office space in August, and I had to remind them that if all of my work is going to be done on the computer, and I don’t even have a desk, I’m almost certainly going to be doing everything from home. There have even been a couple of meetings over Zoom this summer that would have made a lot of sense for me to be at but to which I was not invited, and when I asked about it afterwards (because I found out about them after the meeting was over), I was told “Oh, yes, that would have made a lot of sense to include you in. It just got organized very last minute and we didn’t think through everything.”

      2. Tech Work*

        Agreed with both of these, as someone who has been working 100% remotely since 2006. In general I think acceptance of remote work is very industry and company-size dependent. I’ve been at my current company for 10 years and it’s a night-and-day difference with regard to remote work since I started, so these things do evolve over time in more progressive companies.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I dropped in here to say this.

      If most/all people are remote you won’t lose opportunity because of that. If you are one of the few remote employee, I am doubtful that your manager will be able to do enough to keep you from missing out on opportunities that would have come your way if you had been part of the office crowd. It’s the intangibles; the water cooler friendships and lost opportunities just because it’s easier to work with someone you can sit across at the table and the out of sight/out of mind problem.

    3. Colette*

      I agree. If everyone is remote, it’s fine to be remote. If 90% of the people are in the office, it doesn’t work as well because you get left out of discussions – not on purpose, but because they happen spontaneously and it’s not necessarily something you need to know – untyil you need to know it down the line.

  7. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I’ve been a remote programmer for a decade come August. I was warned (repeatedly) that remote work was a promotional dead end before taking the position. History has borne that out… but my coworkers who have worked primarily onsite over that decade haven’t been promoted, either.

    So before worrying about this too much, I would verify there is a promotion to miss out on.

    1. Franz Kafkaesque*

      This. I’m at the highest level I can go in my organization as an individual contributor (and have no desire to go into management), so it doesn’t bother me too much. But, after almost 2 decades of working in large, household-name type corporations, I can probably count on one hand every time I’ve seen someone be promoted in this organic, right-place-at-the-right-time manner. Not that it never happens, but in my experience, it is a lot more rare than most people seem to believe. The overwhelming tendency is to bring in someone that has been doing pretty much the same job at a competitor to fill the role. The situation may be different at very small companies and startups so YMMV.
      In my industry, at least, people that really want to get promoted cycle through a handful of companies to get the experience they need to get a higher level role at the next company. It’s a pretty dumb talent management strategy if you ask me, but it is what it is.
      OP, I’d focus more on skill-building and any other feathers you can put in your cap rather than trying to get promoted through proximity (unless you are certain that your company culture is one where this actually can and does happen).

      1. Dan*

        It all depends I guess. My org has a strong “promote from within” culture, almost too a fault. There was a point where senior level positions wouldn’t even be advertised externally, which was also kind of dumb if you ask me.

        But these internal promotions are earned through demonstrable merit. You aren’t going to get one because you had a chance lunch with the CEO. You *are* going to get them because you lead a team that delivered results on a challenging project. You’ll also get them if you do a lot of client interaction that brings in business.

        The tricky part is who gets asked to lead these challenging projects, or take on that client interaction…

        1. Franz Kafkaesque*

          Yep, totally. I’ve heard of places like that promote almost exclusively from within and that end of the spectrum certainly seems to have its own set of problems. I don’t know that either extreme is good.

          But, yeah, ultimately it totally depends on the culture of your organization. I was just agreeing with Sola Lingua that the OP needs to make sure they are in a culture where that level of facetime actually matters.

  8. NotSoAnon*

    I personally really try and fight this bias on my own team. We are a mixed hybrid team currently (1-2 people voluntarily went back when the office opened, everyone else stayed remote). So I’m very deliberate in the amount of time I allot for 1 on 1s with my team so everyone is getting the same amount of FaceTime.

    We use slack so our daily office chitchat has moved there in our group channels. Quarterly performance reviews are done over zoom so it’s the same for everyone. I actually just got to promote a team member who I’ve NEVER met in person. I hired them at the beginning of the pandemic virtually, trained virtually, and they’ve been kicking butt all year.

    On the flip side, I personally have been funneled a lot less projects and work from my own boss than before. He’s a really busy guy as the president of our company and when he needs something done I think it’s a proximity thing. There are a few people still in office and because he can just call them into his office and tell them what he needs that is what happens.

    I’ve brought up that observation and he confirmed it isn’t purposeful so I check in with him a lot more via slack and phone now to ensure he has everything he needs and if he needs my help on anything. I think if you want to stay remote, it could hurt your chances unless you are really active in making yourself visible to your higher ups.

  9. Decidedly Me*

    When I was looking for a new job, I saw an ad for a company that had a hybrid set up. To try and prevent issues from this, all communication was handled via Slack (or whatever program they used – I can’t remember exactly), phone, etc. There was no walking over to someone’s desk for an impromptu meeting. They wanted to make sure that they fostered an environment where remote folks didn’t feel like they missed out on interactions due to being remote. I’m not sure how it worked in reality, but it sounded like an interesting approach.

    1. BPT*

      I mean, to me that seems like a horrible setup if you’re someone who is working in the office. You’re in the same place as someone and you…literally can’t go talk to them in person? That seems like its penalizing in person staff, and at that point, why not just have everyone work at home? If you’re not allowing people to interact in person then there is no point in having an office at all.

      1. Gumby*

        There are also things that I might say in confidence to a trusted co-worker that I would never type into Slack. I’m not talking about things no one should be saying in the first place, but there are things that it is okay to discuss with co-workers that you don’t want happening in a company-controlled, company-viewable location.
        *The guy in the llama relations department that makes you mildly uncomfortable and you don’t know why – has she had the same experience?
        *This year we seem to have fewer projects than last year – do you think it’s something to be concerned about?
        *Did you see Simone at Classic she barely even piked to pull that around? (No, actually that discussion I can and have had on Slack…)
        *Hey, I’m not spreading it around yet, but I’m pregnant!
        *Nadine and Nelson in the teapot lids group refuse to talk to each other so I am having to act as intermediary – what should I do? (In this case the issues between Nadine and Nelson are in no way a secret – they are both pretty open and blatant about it. But I’d rather discuss it w/o there being an official record of my complaining.)

        Or, depending on your position in an organization, there could be even more sensitive topics around legal issues, personnel issues, etc. that would benefit from not being in writing from the get go.

      2. alienor*

        That’s what I said to my boss when we got the news that we’d be going back to the office, but would do all our meetings over video and would not be allowed to leave our desks except to go to the bathroom or get food/water. Boss agreed with me that it was pretty pointless, but the edict came down from above and there’s nothing they can do.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      That sounds like you get the worst of both worlds – you get all the downsides of being in the office, like shared space and annoying coworkers and the commute – but are artificially barred from the usefulness of face to face communications and scribbling things on a whiteboard. I’m picturing two people at neighbouring desks having a Zoom conversation with shared screens.

      Were they allowed to have lunch with colleagues in the office, or chat in the break room, or was it strictly eating at your desk while chatting on the Slack channel?

      1. Overeducated*

        This has been my fear of what the immediate post-covid environment would look like – everyone back in cubicles, masked, not talking to each other, shoving food into their mouths in isolation and meeting on Zoom with headphones. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that vaccines came before my office reopened fully.

  10. Taco Cat*

    I think it also depends on how the team is structured. Are you the only one working from home and the rest of the team is in the office? When you are the only one, I think the impact, whether intentional or not, will be bigger because everyone is trying to work around and include one other person. If most people are remote then the mindset to make sure no one is left out is stronger.

    Also, will working remotely actually be an option. My company is going to be more generous with wfh policies but have made it very c,ear it’s not work from anywhere, you will need to be in the geographic area of the company unless you get approval for, pretty high up in the company.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Completely agree. I moved a took my job with me, and for about 6 months I was one of only two remote employees. We made it work, but there were times when I was left out of meetings and gatherings. Then everyone went remote and suddenly I was no different than anyone else. It had its cons (went from phone calls to all video), but it was definitely a more inclusive environment.

  11. Middle Manager*

    I have a TON of anxiety for this. Our office just made the decision to allow telework long term post-COVID. I had already moved to another part of the state (too far away for a daily commute) and was very relieved to still have a job. But it nags at me that I might have just killed my career growth. Right now everyone is still 100% remote, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it closely later this year when people start to go back so I can be as proactive as possible in not being forgotten from afar. I am close enough to go in once and awhile, so I think I’m going to at least initially aim to do that every other month or so, just to have that face time connection until I see how things work out.

  12. HelloHello*

    I think it significantly depends on how many people are working remotely for your company. At my last job, I switched to being fully remote at a time when a lot of staff was doing the same, so I never noticed any downside in terms of promotions/opportunities only going to people in-office (there was a general lack of upward movement available in general, but it wasn’t specific to the remote workers).

    My current job expanded rapidly shortly before/during the pandemic, and the majority of new hires are fully remote and will stay that way even after offices re-open, including a significant portion of management, so I’m also not too concerned about needing to be in person to advance.

    If I was working somewhere where *no* management was remote, or where I was the only remote worker, I’d probably worry a bit more though.

    1. Simply the best*

      I read one too, though I don’t remember where. The solution the dude came up with though was that everybody had to work from home on the same days which…. Kind of defeats part of the purpose of work from home which is flexibility.

  13. SomebodyElse*

    I think this is so hard to say with certainty one way or another. I think that you have to look at the individual circumstances to see if there are any indicators.

    Examples (some shamelessly stolen from previous comments)
    -Number of people working remote
    -Overall organization of company (local company vs. global mega corp) Is the company already spread out geographically or is there a single office/campus
    -Your general personality (are you outgoing or a wallflower by nature)
    -Type of work (does your job require a lot of collaboration or is it a generally solitary function)
    -The amount of regular travel people in the company do (a high travel company will be more used to people being gone)
    -Management structure
    -IT savvy and infrastructure – do they have the tools to support effective remote work

    None of the above is inherently right or wrong, they are just indicators to the success (if defined by promotion) that someone may have.

  14. BRR*

    It’s going to depend but I think with so many employees and employers doing work from home that have never done it before, or never done it to such a large scale, it might help the remote employees to some degree.

  15. Brett*

    In my experience, there are ceilings where being farther from HQ becomes more of a limit on how far you can advance.

    As an example, in my company there are remote workers, there are local offices, there are the division country HQs, there is the global division HQ, and there is the global HQ.
    Where N-0 is the global CEO, no one is advancing to N-2 without moving to the global HQ in-person. N-3s are all at the global division HQ. N-4s are based at a division country HQ or higher, but some are remote. N-5s are mostly in-office though a significant chunk are remote. Only at around the N-6 level and lower is remote a routine and normal thing. (Entry level roles might be as far down as N-11 I think.)
    So, you can advance, but if you keep advancing higher, you eventually won’t be able to stay remote.

  16. Anna Banana*

    I have worked remotely for 16+ years, and while I have progressed more slowly than I probably would have if I’d been in the office the whole time, I HAVE progressed (and the benefits outweighed the career molasses, imho).
    What I recommend is that you make an effort to go into the office *sometimes* (even a few times a year). When you’re in the office, prioritize FACE TIME: set up coffee dates, quick one on one meetings, volunteer to lead a training session – get SEEN. What I found was that once I’d met with someone face to face, even once, it strengthened the relationship and that carried over when I went back to interacting with them over the phone.

  17. Blarg*

    My organization has recognized through the pandemic that with the exception of checking the mail and signing checks, all our roles can be done remotely. So we’re no longer requiring applicants relocate to DC. Since we serve members across the nation, this has allowed our staff to better reflect the nation and is one part of our efforts to improve equity internally by being able to hire wonderful candidates regardless of where they live.

  18. Lucious*

    The old saying “out of sight , out of mind” is not just a boring cliche. In an ideal working world, remote and on-site employees would get equal managerial attention. Yet, unless the organization works hard at providing equal consideration, the natural human bias to value people we physically share space with will take priority.

    Thus, I think it’s safe to conclude- all things being equal- working remotely is going to hurt your chances at most organizations. The more social and close knit the office is, the more important face time & interactions with leadership becomes.

    1. mediamaven*

      This. Doesn’t matter really if it’s right or wrong. It’s just real life.

  19. Gregorio*

    I’ve always been overlooked anyway when working in-0ffice so it doesn’t matter to me that I am forgotten if working remotely. I’m grateful to be working remotely now due to the pandemic. I’ve never really made ‘work friends’ at any place I’ve worked at (not that I am a jerk, I’m still courteous and professional with my current/past colleagues). I’m just not good a making friends in life in general, so it’s not a surprised I don’t develop any deep professional relationships either which obviously results in stagnation at every place I’ve worked at.

  20. Bookworm*

    Thanks for asking this, OP. I’ve been wondering the same thing–because of reasons, I’ve been wondering if I’d rather just get a job that lets me work remotely because I’m too tired of all the dancing and office politics and nonsense to advance.

    My org is currently working towards a hybrid setup where people will go into the office once and then 2-3 times a week. I suspect they’re going to try to get everyone to go back at least 4 days a week if not fully sometime next year if not sooner. Teamwork and building the organization atmosphere is being used as reasons why (never mind all the concerns people have expressed about how this is supposed to work) but I also suspect that some of the reasons people have mentioned are true: they don’t see remote workers as motivated or whatever.

    So to add on to what Alison wrote (as someone who is living it): I suspect they simply do not want to try to see how well it can work. We’ve had some experience with it now in a pandemic (previously we were an mostly-in office workforce with no standardized WFH policy except taken as needed) and it seems that is being used as their baseline, although it really shouldn’t. They do not seem to be accounting for, well, the pandemic and that we’ve lost so many employees to other orgs or other career moves.

    It’s an example of a company that isn’t handling it well and isn’t interested in even trying. I personally believe it could work just fine, but there is no will because they ultimately want to revert back to “normal.”

    I am not saying this is true for all companies and that I’ll freely admit I don’t have inside information about what management is thinking (which is another bucket of worms). Just that yes, not all companies are good at this. Hope this might help in some way.

  21. Penthesilea*

    This is the kind of poor management that can happen whether you are fully remote or working in the office every day. Earlier in my career, I worked for a small consulting firm where my boss and two colleagues had offices really close to each other and my office was around the corner. My boss had a habit of walking out of his office and latching onto the first person he saw to give an assignment, talk though an issue, pass off a client request, whatever. And because I was the furthest away, he never made it to me with these ad hoc things. There were definitely other issues going on with his management style, but the out of sight, out of mind thing totally happened — while I was there physically every day! So I wouldn’t say that being fully remote will definitely harm your advancement, I do think that you will have to be more intentional about networking and connecting with colleagues and making sure that you are managing your own career if you’re remote – things that might be easier or happen more casually when you’re there in person.

  22. turquoisecow*

    My husband’s company (tech) is pretty spread out over the country so even people in offices weren’t necessarily in the same office. On his current team, he and one person are in New York, one guy is in Boston, one in Houston, his boss is in San Francisco, and boss’s boss is in Virginia, so even if he were to go into an office, he wouldn’t see most of the people he works with. Before the pandemic, his NY coworker was living in a small apartment and hated WFH so he went into the office most of the time, and my husband would go in a few times a week to be able to discuss things in person with him. But he was equally able to talk to the Texan, since he has 1:1 meetings with his team every week. The guy in Boston was hired remotely and they haven’t met in person but he’s very happy with his work.

    Meanwhile my company, which is much smaller and local, has resisted working from home so much. I am one of the only remote, part-time employees and I do feel like I’m left out of things and disconnected from the rest of my team. One good thing about the pandemic is that we did start doing video meetings, so I don’t have to drive to the office for a town hall type meeting that is kind of informative but otherwise a waste of my time. (I think/hope they’ll keep doing that for a while even after they bring everyone back to the office because they don’t want to crowd people into the meeting room where it’s usually held). I’m also in a more traditional industry (retail support) and since our store workers can’t work from home, there’s a lot of pressure to be in the office since they’re in the stores. I’ve actually had coworkers question how much work I do since they never see me in the office, but thankfully my boss pushed back on that, and his boss insisted that I work from home. I also told them if I couldn’t do the job remote, I wasn’t doing it, so I had some leverage. But if I wanted to be promoted I wouldn’t be able to WFH.

  23. anon for this*

    I have seen remote workers move from tech to analyst to senior analyst since they are all individual contributor positions. I have also heard remote workers dismissed from conversations about moving into management positions since there is an assumption that the remote worker is not willing to relocate to be at the office.

  24. MassMatt*

    One big problem is that companies don’t always describe themselves accurately re: remote work. Many like to describe themselves, and even THINK of themselves, as effective in this area and really are not. A previous employer (this was 8 or so years ago) was an early adopter of remote work, in fact they closed down locations in order to get people working from home. But decision makers continued to work in offices, and those promoted were all people working in the offices as well. And this was in a field with very measurable metrics, those in the office were by NO means the best.

    As someone above commented, bosses often just make decisions using the people they see around them.

    The pandemic has forced a lot of companies to allow people to work remotely but the policies were often haphazard at best.

  25. HR Madness*

    I had this weird situation in one of my companies where I wasn’t exactly considered remote, but my whole team worked at HQ in one city and I was the only person at a local office.

    It was not great. The only saving grace was I traveled a lot and as an HRBP, my most important relationships were with my managers/employees whom I saw often and kept me involved in everything. While I increased my responsibilities and pay, getting a promotion would have been tough. After I left, they decided to move all HR roles to HQ.

    In another role, we were mostly spread out and remote so it was no big deal.

    I am 100% in office in my job now and being 100% remote would hurt my growth opportunities for sure. But I am also now part of the leadership team so being present is much more important.

    So like many others have said, it all depends on the company, managers, your position and knowing yourself. I much prefer to be in person most of the time.

  26. Alexis Rosay*

    I’ve seen this make the biggest difference with interns. Our in-person interns get assigned more tasks and hence eventually gain more of our trust compared to our remote interns.

    1. Duckles*

      I am full-time remote and definitely don’t want to go back in office, but I worked in-person (at other orgs) for the first six years of my career and would definitely recommend that because it’s so much easier to learn in person.

  27. JMc*

    I think my own advancement had stalled this year due to being remote. In the office, a VP sat in the office behind me so if he had a quick question about a database, he might pop his head out and ask me if I knew how to do ‘xyz’ – which I often did even though databases aren’t really part of my job. Because of that, he quickly learned that I was really competent and capable at more than just my defined job tasks, and I was given higher level work. Working remotely, if he has a question about the database – he’s going to go to the database team for an answer, not to me. I also got to work with several different departments because we’d be chatting at lunch and I’d mention that their project sounded interesting, and they would say “well if you have time, we’d love help!” but obviously that doesn’t happen now. I don’t mind not spending 2+ hours of my day commuting anymore, but I would welcome a hybrid return to potentially have those ad-hoc opportunities to shine that don’t just pop up while we’re remote.

  28. Violette*

    I have been loving working remotely and I do a good job of piping up if I have questions or just to say Hi to someone I haven’t talked to in a while.

    We’ll be going back to the office in August. Rumor is that we’ll be in the office 3 days and WFH 2 days. Lots of managers are upset by that, because they believe we need to be in the office all 5 days “to be able to ask quick questions and collaborate”.

    What they seem to have forgotten is how often people like me have locked our computers, gotten up from our desks, and walked down the hallway to ask those managers a question. . . only to find their office empty and no indication of when they’ll be back.

    So we go back to our desks and send them an email or an IM. . . which they reply to in-kind whenever they get back.

    Just like they do now when everyone is fully remote.

    Yet I am 100% sure that my department heads (and company overall) would choose people for promotions and plumb projects who they can see sitting at their cubes over anyone who worked remotely full-time. It’s so dumb.

  29. Tuesday*

    I have been working remotely for years. I have hit a ceiling because anything above me would require managing other people who are in the office. I’ve decided it’s worth it, but it’s definitely something to think about.

  30. Orange You Glad*

    It really depends on the company, the nature of the job, and you. I am only working remotely 100% because of the pandemic but I’ve found that I am doing much better this past year since I no longer have all the interruptions of a busy office. My company already had offices spread out across the country and a handful of departments working remotely so our meetings were slowly moving to be completely online anyway. In the past year, I feel I’ve had more face time with my coworkers than I ever did in the office and I’ve started to receive recognition from upper management – more so than the previous 11 years I was in the office.

    I do wonder how different my experience would be if I started remotely. I know meeting most of my coworkers in person at some point in the past has helped me foster relationships that now exist online. I hired a new employee this year so he has only been remote but he does a good job of reaching out to others to get to know them.

  31. hodie-hi*

    TL;DR–It depends. With the right people and attitude, you shouldn’t lose any opportunities.

    When I moved 22 years ago, I brought my job with me. (I’m an individual contributor.) They did have a massive, well-know corporate HQ campus and physical offices all over the world. But it was very possible for projects/teams to have people from all over the world who never met in person, with a mix of working from an office location or fully remote/home. I worked remotely 6 years with that company before I ended up in a traditional commuting situation.

    Last autumn, I landed a job with a company that does have some physical offices, but years before COVID most people worked fully remotely/from home. They have a great, collaborative culture with the necessary technology to support that. I have great access to everyone and everything I need. In turn, I’m transparent with them and my work is very visible. I have heard from several people, my manager included, that nobody in my role has come up to speed as fast as I have, or made such a big impact so soon.

    As an individual contributor, I cannot ask for a better work culture. There’s a great deal of trust and respect on both sides. I don’t feel that I’m being overlooked or that I’m missing opportunities. In fact, the management of my unit has made the initial investment needed to support my plan to dominate the world (well, my little corner of it).

    I’ve worked on-site in mentally toxic environments with some horrible people, on dysfunctional projects. I’m sticking with remote work, and hope this is the last job I’ll ever have.

    May we all be so lucky!

    1. hodie-hi*

      I should have included that I’d worked in the same local office with my team for 5+ years before my first remote experience. We had established good relationships before I moved away. We continued together for a couple of years, and I was then able to move among a bunch of different remote work projects.

  32. singlemaltgirl*

    i appreciate alison’s comments about what good managers will do. but at the end of the day, there are a million informal, ad hoc, spur of the moment things that happen in active and busy offices that a manager can’t micromanage (nor should they). as people have said – that chance mtg with a vp in the hallway who recognized your face from the company newsletter on a recent project completion or a quick chat at the water cooler with the head of another dept…luck and chance do play a part in opportunities that you either hear about or come upon.

    now if everyone is wfh or the majority, then it’s not the same and it likely won’t have the same impact. but if you’re one of the few that works from home, you’re really a dept of one in many ways. you’re self sufficient, you’re putting together you’re own work or pieces of a project fairly independently, and you’re working ‘alone’. people will note that in a different way from someone who’s easily available in an office.

  33. lilsheba*

    Personally being completely remote has NOT hurt my chances for advancement, I’m in the right place at the right time, so it totally depends on the company and the people involved.

  34. Aspie_Anything*

    Outside of very technical roles, I would assume working remotely would be a huge hindrance.

    I just got a promotion (like, today) because I recognized an opportunity for the organization to merge a couple of departments that have already successfully partnered and would be able to deepen their services by combining and reporting to one person (me). I wouldn’t have seen this opportunity, much less flagged it, had I been working remotely – as about half of our org is by choice. It also made it much easier to advocate for this merge because being in the office makes my work more visible, and allows me to more easily develop those relationships between departments in the first place.

    My husband on the other hand works in IT and has been promoted twice since working remotely. He’s negotiated a permanent remote position – but his technical work is very visible (either the company’s IT processes work or they don’t), and speaks for itself. I have to promote my work and myself as a leader; it’s much easier in-person.

  35. mediamaven*

    So, I don’t think it’s exactly fair to chock negative results related to working completely remote as simply inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of a company, or good companies vs. bad. Sure, that’s a component, but realistically depending on the industry, if you are driven for career advancement and growth it’s absolutely possible that you will be held back by constantly being out of the office – and that’s not necessarily unfair. Technology has been a fine replacement, but it hasn’t in anyway been ideal in replacing face to face interaction. As managers we’ve been tasked with spending unproductive time trying to bridge that gap and it’s still never going to be 100 percent. I’ve found things like brainstorms to be completely ineffective on video. Relationship building is a lot more challenging. Not every company is fine with good enough. If it’s a fast growing company with high expectations and those touchpoints are critical to success, then we’ll find out this year how it affects remote workers. Right now in my industry, we are seeing massive turnover, people with second jobs conducted on company time, people calling in from Cabo in a swimsuit when we thought they were home, technical issues and lack of connection. I caution those who don’t want to return to the office it’s just as much on you and it is your bosses. This year will be measured in results not survival and if the boundaries are being pushed this work from home phenomenon will be a fading memory. But of course, it depends on the industry. For us, there have always been completely remote companies alongside in-office set-ups. Realistically the growth for remote only environments has been slow going and they stay small and non-competitive. Again, I’d really base it on your short term goals. I definitely don’t recommend people in their first five years seek out this route.

  36. ItsAFullMoonKindaDay*

    Even well before COVID, working onsite, for several years I would frequently go 3-4 weeks without a single in-person interface with a colleague. My spouse and I used to make a game of it every night, marking off the calendar for every day I didn’t have any in-person contact. (It wasn’t exactly a fun game.) For some reason no one thought it was weird that I was almost completely physically isolated from the rest of the staff.
    I moved to a different building a few years ago, and being able to personally interact with colleagues hasn’t changed my career prospects, but it has done wonders for my mental health.

  37. Roci*

    I already experience this being at a different location/timezone than the head office. Often forgotten about, hard to get attention paid to my projects, not involved in meetings I should be at. In this way, large companies have always had these kinds of problems, but now they impact an even broader number of people.

  38. ToodlesTeaTops*

    I am a shift worker and there is something to people getting promoted who work 1st shift vs other shifts. So I imagine working remotely is the same too. Have one on ones with your boss and express what you want in career development and set a plan to achieve that.

  39. Allonge*

    May I just say I am super grateful to have this conversation start here and I am looking forward to more of it? As a person whose calendar is mostly meetings on most weeks, I see no advantage of WFH long term – if I am talking to people all day it might as well be in the office once that is reasonably safe.

    As a manager, I am concerned about this. We are 100% remote still and will be for some months yet, and a lot of people want to continue, which is fine. I would love to hear more and more about what exactly a manager can do to balance things out as it does seem a bit mission impossible to me – there is no way I can fill in all my reports on the random bits and pieces of information that they would get by having coffee and lunch in the office with others (nor can they fill me in on what’s cooking apparently in some other department). I am onboarding a new person now and it’s really a lot more difficult than in person. We are a highly collaborative team, so there is that – nobody does their work on their own here.

    So, yeah, hybrid will be tough in many ways. Which is ok, but, again, good to have this conversation, thanks Alison.

  40. EgyptMarge*

    The Harvard Business Review just came out with an interesting article about this. While I have less sympathy for his point about the difficulties in managing a hybrid team, the point he makes about the potential for harm to diversity and specifically to disadvantaging women in the workforce are pretty valid. We already know that women have been disadvantaged by being the primary childcare sources in addition to working full time – something that’s only been heightened in the pandemic. But now if we choose a more flexible schedule while men choose to be in the office more, what promotions or opportunities might we miss out on?

  41. Ruby*

    I think this answer is going to be drastically different post-COVID than it would have been two years ago.

  42. Project Problem Solver*

    Among the other things Alison mentions are 1) the proportion of remote workers in the company (or department, for larger companies); and 2) your tenure with the company.

    If you’re not the only remote worker – or one of just a few – the company is more likely to have the infrastructure in place to support remote employees, and managers are more likely to have managed remote employees before.

    Likewise, if you had a demonstrated track record of achievement (which doesn’t sound like it’s the case here), managers are more likely to keep that in mind.

    In my case, this works out to having had 10+ years with the company and then moving to a role where roughly a third of the department is remote, so it doesn’t have much of an impact on my involvement or likelihood of being (accidentally or otherwise) left out of discussions or promotion considerations – after all, a significant number of my coworkers are also remote. In OP’s case, though, it sounds like that might not be the case, and I’d be a little more nervous without a culture of supporting remote workers prior to the pandemic.

  43. 1234*

    Caveat: I worked at a company where there were only 1-2 FT remote workers out of about a total of 20-25 people. The higher ups had a “butts in seats” mentality.

    I had 3 managers, all with the same title. One was Jane, remote from 2 time zones away. When it came time for promotions, in-office managers Mary and Bob were promoted ahead of Jane. Mary had less experience than Jane and had been at the company for less time time than Jane.

    Of course, by the time that I had started working there, I also noticed that Jane seemed checked out. She ended up getting a job in the city she lived in and announcing her departure shortly after. Jane also left shortly after Bob and Mary had been promoted, so I’m sure not getting promoted was a sign to Jane that the company valued face time.

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