my company won’t promote people who work from home

A reader writes:

Before the pandemic, my company did not have the option to work remotely. When the pandemic hit, they were legally required to close our office because we are not essential workers. We were fully remote for a while and no one was allowed to go to the office for any reason. When the public health orders lifted and things began opening up, our office did reopen. The company owns the building we work in, but since then they have rented some of the floors to other companies and kept the rest of it for us. When things reopened, the company gave employees three choices:

#1) work exclusively remote/from home
#2) work exclusively in the office
#3) work in the office four days a week and from home one day a week (same day every week)

Predictably, #1 was the most popular option but not everyone chose it. There are many people who chose the second and third option. The company is not allowing anything outside of these three options for anyone.

It has been almost two years of the current system. Everyone who gets promoted from within is a person who is doing either option #2 or option #3. Those who are going into the office are also getting to lead projects and getting more opportunities and other perks. It seems that the company is ignoring the people who are working from home.

I have brought this to the attention of my own manager and the higher-ups and board of directors. The answer I received was not satisfactory. There was lots of talk about networking, face time with the management who are almost exclusively in office (I am not but most of my peers and the people above me are), commitment, and collaboration. HR was not helpful at all and I even had a consultation to get legal advice. It seems the company is not doing anything that’s against the law because they are not doing it against a particular demographic. But I still think it is a really crappy thing to do to remote workers.

I have heard the same concerns from other people at different companies in my industry and even from people outside of it. My husband is in a completely different field and is having the same thing happen.

My company is clear that things are not going to change. It is not affecting recruiting. We are still getting hundreds of applications for job openings.

I am not happy about this and neither are my employees who work remotely. Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated.

Your company has been really clear that this is how they’re going to handle things so … this is how they’re going to handle things. You’ve got to decide if you want to stay knowing that this is how it’s going to be, or if it bothers you enough that you’ll leave over it (or switch to working from the office, apparently).

I agree with you that it’s crappy management. Promotions and other professional opportunities should be based on merit — your skills, your contributions, and your track record of achievement. If you’ve demonstrated that you can meet ambitious goals and collaborate effectively with others while working from home, it makes no sense not to consider you for promotions or to lead projects just because you’re not on-site. And if that is going to be their policy, they owed it to employees to be up-front about that from the start when people were picking where they would work from. They also need to be up-front about it with prospective employees now.

To be clear, I’d be more fine with them saying that the bar for promotions would be higher for people working exclusively from home — that you’d need to demonstrate very clearly your ability to effectively build relationships, lead projects, and manage staff without being on-site. Those things can be more difficult when you’re working from home, and it’s not unreasonable to want to see real evidence that promotion candidates will be able to succeed at them. But it’s silly that even if you do that — even if you do it superbly, better than their on-site candidates — they still won’t consider you.

At this this point, though, you’ve escalated it to your manager, people above your manager, and even the board of directors (!). This is the way the company wants to run. You’re very unlikely to change that, absent some massive push from a large group of coworkers (including, potentially, unionization), or a significant drop in the company’s ability to recruit the candidates they want, or big retention problems among the employees they most want to keep.

{ 292 comments… read them below }

  1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    If you have a disability that makes WFH a necessary accommodation, there might be grounds for something. But you’d need to document that you made that case, and you’d need to weigh whether the cost (to you) of fighting it is greater than the cost of just getting a new job.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Along the same lines, if the policy more heavily affects one demographic than another I think it can also be grounds for something. Like if a majority of the wfh staff are women, even if the policy isn’t “don’t promote women”, a policy of “don’t promote people who wfh (most of which happen to be women)” isn’t going to(/shouldn’t) fly.

      But either way I think a new job is going to be the LW’s best and “easiest” option.

      1. Kit*

        Yeah, that would fall under the ‘disparate impact’ umbrella, legally speaking – discrimination which is not necessarily intentional or overt, but still disproportionately impacts a protected class. WFH isn’t a protected class, however, and they appear to be citing ‘job-related’ reasons for the freeze-out on promotions for those who chose it, so it would likely be a serious uphill battle to attempt to shift their thinking.

        Time to look for alternate options, LW. They’ve shown you who they are – believe them!

    2. Nikki*

      Previous AAM columns have noted that getting WFH as a disability accommodation can be trickier than you’d think. Employers are not required to give you the accommodation you’re asking for if they’re able to provide an alternative that effectively addresses the disability. For example, if you say you need to WFH because you’re immunocompromised and can’t be around other people, they can instead opt to provide you with a more isolated workspace in the office and require you to continue reporting to the office every day. There are probably relatively few disabilities where WFH is the only option so an employer this dead set on employees being in the office will probably offer alternatives in the majority of situations.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep. It’s only disability discrimination if you have gotten WFH as a disability accommodation and are not in tandem getting an exemption from the promotion freeze.

        There are a lot of disabilties that benefit from WFH, but there are many that could be accommodated in a different way and still be within ADA guidelines. You can’t legally grant yourself WFH as a disability accommodation and expect your employer to follow it without a conversation.

        I’m not saying that’s right, or ideal, but in terms of making this an ADA case it’s how it plays out.

        1. Cmdrshpard*

          “There are a lot of disabilties that benefit from WFH, but there are many that could be accommodated in a different way and still be within ADA guidelines.”

          This is true, but if a company is already allowing for work from home, the company would be hard pressed to argue that allowing someone to work from home as a disability accommodation is not reasonable.

          The company can’t say we can allow people to WFH generally, but if they want WFH due to a disability we can’t allow that and can only accommodate them in the office.

          1. ava*

            No, but they were always alowing work from home, so they wouldn’t be trying to do that anyway. If you had a disability, the options would be something like

            * Work from home, no promotions (same as everyone else)
            * Work from office, with accommodations, allowed to get promoted

            I don’t see that being an ADA violation, probably

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              Right. Working from home isn’t the issue, it’s that there are drawbacks to working from home and if someone doesn’t have any choice but to work from home they are having the option to avoid those penalties taken away. If the policy is WFH gets no promotions, you need to enter into a conversation with your employer about your disability needs before it even approaches an ADA violation.

              1. D'Arcy*

                It doesn’t sound like it’s an *actual policy*, just a de facto effect that management is either treating WFH employees as “out of sight, out of mind” or even thinks WFH employees are less committed and hard working than onsite employees.

          2. The Person from the Resume*

            This is tricky in this situation because would an employee even bother submit an ADA request to be allowed to work from home if it is allowed for anyone who asks? I doubt it. So then if they lodge a complaint that they are not being promoted because they work from home and they work from home because of a disability they don;t have the formal ADA request to back that up.

            The company can accomodate that ADA request (about an immocompromised employee) by giving them office with a door, requiring coworkers to wear masks in their vincinty, etc. Until the company processes the request you don’t know how they will deal with it.

      2. Random Dice*

        An employer doesn’t have to provide ANY accommodation that isn’t reasonable… but there is a legal recourse if they themselves are being unreasonable and discriminatory.

        “But we get feelings about it” isn’t actually enough to deny someone who works well remotely. (I mean, they can, but good luck defending that in court. Especially in California, or non-US countries with laws that care about workers.)

      3. Nobody Cares What I Think*

        I’ve had WFH as a disability accommodation since 2011. Always check the Job Accommodation Network is you are negotiating a reasonable accommodation. WFH is recommended as an accommodation for many things.

        Using your example, I question if just being in a less populated part of the office is equivalent to working from home. The effectiveness of the ventilation system in offices is a critical factor in reducing the risk of transmitting airborne diseases like Covid.

        1. Nobody Cares What I Think*

          If denied a promotion because being full time remote, I would contact the EEOC right away since I am officially a person with a disability.

        2. MeepMeep123*

          If you’ve got maskless people breathing germs all over the office, including next to you, no amount of ventilation will save you. And it’s impossible to reason with antimaskers.

    3. JSPA*

      I was thinking along these lines; granted, some people are just risk averse, and some people are protecting a family member with a disability. But I’d bet a LOT that this functionally discriminates against people on the basis of chronic health conditions and disabilities.

      We’ve had the legal ruling that PATTERNS can be discrimination, even absent INTENT. IANAL, but it seems like there ought to be an equivalent argument here!

      1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

        Yeah, I now only work remote jobs because I’m “at risk” and a housemate is immune compromised. If a company said to me “Yeah, you can work remotely, but there will never be any promotions unless you (risk your life and your housemate’s life to) come in to the office (so we can have butts in seats and feel powerful)”, I would be looking for another job.

        IMO, that’s still discrimination on basis of disability or appearance of disability. But IANAL, and IIRC the burden of proof in those cases is absurdly high.

        1. Nobody Cares What I Think*

          If everyone getting promotions comes into the office at least some of the time, and none of them are people with disabilities, that may be a prima facie case of discrimination.

        2. Doctor Who?*

          Companies are required to provide REASONABLE accommodations to people with disabilities. Not the housemates of people with disabilities. Not UNREASONABLE accommodations.

    4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      There might be some worthwhile points to be made if the group working from home is a protected group, like if a very large percentage are women who are still struggling with childcare issues. It might not meet the legal bar, but it is poor optics and would be worth pointing out. But you would need the statistics to back it up, and you would also need a lot of info on salary and work performance to show that these employees are performing the same work to the same or higher standard and yet are overlooked for promotions and getting compensated less for the same job/work. Still, if OP can get enough data to support this, she could frame it from a “you might want to consider what the optics are for the company, since we do not want to appear as if we are discriminating” perspective. I doubt it would get much traction though, even if she could get the data she needs.

  2. L-squared*

    I have very mixed opinions on this.

    On its face, it seems crappy. The best person for the job should get it.

    On the other hand, as someone who is forced to go in (I’m in the city of the home office, so I don’t really have a choice, and it sucks), I also think its fine to prioritize the people who are going in everyday. This is a choice you and others have made to WFH completely. That is the best choice for your situation. If the company thinks its the best choice for them, for whatever reason, to promote from the pool of people who are coming in, that is fine too.

    I agree with Alison, the company should be up front about it. But if they were to tell people that when they start, and let everyone know that its a condition of being promoted, I’m actually ok with it. People working from home, in my experience, often want all the perks of that freedom, without any of the drawbacks.

    Also, before someone thinks otherwise, if I had the choice to WFH all the time with no option of being promoted, I’d likely still do that.

    1. mlem*

      I don’t object to accepting the drawbacks of working from home; I object to *artificial* drawbacks. A lot of old-school higher-ups adore imposing the latter. (My company has always subsidized lunches that are more varied than what I buy for myself, and lately they’re even giving a narrow selection of free lunches; I don’t get any of that when working from home, but I’ve decided that trade-off is worthwhile to me.)

      I get some kinds of sales, for example, having better metrics with in-person interaction. I really do want to see justification for penalizing WFH people, though. If meetings have to be virtual anyway because your team spans buildings, for example, you’re already collaborating remotely; doing so from a home office shouldn’t be considered lesser.

      1. CharlieBrown*

        I think this distinction between natural and artificial drawbacks is a really good way to frame the situation.

        1. Presea*

          I wonder how many spectacular potential leaders this company is holding back/denying themselves because they refuse to consider promoting the people who are able to lead and contribute at a high level while dealing with the natural drawbacks of working from home!

          1. The Real Fran Fine*

            This. I know my company wouldn’t be able to function at all if they had this kind of unofficial policy since most everyone in our C-suite is remote.

            1. Solokid*

              I have had the opposite experience – every place where I’ve worked the CEO/higher ups definitely spend their time onsite at least twice a week. fwiw “Function” is different than “function well enough that I want to keep working here”. I don’t know how I’d feel about working at a company where leadership is constantly remote.

              1. The Real Fran Fine*

                Our company is a software company, so remote work is common. My company has also been around for nearly 40 years and is a wonderful place to work for the most part, so they’re doing just fine, lol.

                1. I am Emily's failing memory*

                  It’s also common if you work for a company that has offices in more than one location – a mid-sized company might still try to keep each department or team located in the same office, with geographically distributed teams only starting to become more common as the company gets very large, but even at those mid-sized companies who want to keep all Marketing in New York and all Software Development in San Francisco, you can very easily be in San Francisco with all the people who fill your job function, but leadership is in New York.

                  I truly wouldn’t even know whether my org’s leadership is working primarily from our New York office, their own home, or anywhere else, because I don’t work directly with them. All I know is they aren’t in my office so I’m never going to bump into them. Beyond that, it’s utterly irrelevant/has no functional impact on me where they are.

              2. Duo*

                My leadership is entirely remote, and I find them better than leadership at my previous job where they weren’t. Indeed, function and function well… are different. And the latter is what I’m getting from my remote leadership. You won’t know until you experience it, will you? You have no reference point.

      2. RJ*

        This is an excellent post and I agree on the natural vs. artificial drawbacks. The main issue, IMO, has been old school management that impose the artificial drawbacks.

      3. ferrina*

        Exactly. As a manager, I’d be so mad if I couldn’t promote a strong performer to take on more responsibility just because they worked from home. Especially if I’m hiring for an open role- I want the best person for the job, not just the conveniently located person. I don’t want to artificially limit my candidate pool.

    2. Gracely*

      It’s the fact that they weren’t up front about it that makes it so bad. Plenty of people who just want a job and not a career would be happy to not worry about getting promoted, and people who do want to move up and get promoted would know where they need to be to make that happen.

      I would love to WFH with no option of being promoted, because there’s already nowhere for me to go unless I change jobs–and I like the job I have.

    3. Stitch*

      I’m torn here because as a trainer I do sometimes feel a lot less effective doing it remotely (my trainees are currently remote so me going in wouldn’t make a difference). I do recognize there are aspects of my job that are harder from a distance.

      1. Stitch*

        To be clear I can no longer sit with someone in their office and observe what’s going on when they’re struggling. I’ve tried screen sharing but it feels a lot more intrusive. We’re doing okay but I definitely recognize things are a bit different this way. I 100% support remote work, I also just acknowledge certain aspects are a bit more challenging remotely.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Why does screen sharing feel more intrusive than standing over someone’s shoulder? I would feel it’s less intrusive because you’re not in their physical space, can only see what they choose to share, etc. Just curious why you feel the way you do, not interested in arguing at all.

          1. Lady_Lessa*

            I’m not a trainer, but recently was attempted to be trained on a new computer program remotely. The training was over a number of weeks and I never did succeed with it. Partly I didn’t have the extensive time to spend getting my skills with it.

            Think my main job is wool dying, but I know and can groom lamas if needed. This program seemed to be designed for those who can and do groom lamas full time.

            If a person had been in person, I would have had more concentrated time, and would have worked together rather than spending some time with my questions and much more (seemingly) time learning the fancy tricks in lama grooming.

            We ended up not renewing the license and passing to work over to those who enjoy and are full time lama groomers.

          2. Stitch*

            I guess because if I was sitting with someone in their office I wouldn’t be right up in their screens. My trainees have a certain amount of autonomy (this isn’t a programming job, it’s a writing heavy job).

          3. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

            I would prefer to screen share rather than have someone looking over my shoulder, simply because I am very protective of my personal space.

            1. Mid*

              Same. Someone physically behind me is deeply uncomfortable in general, and reaching over me, or being very close to me, is horrible.

              I much prefer screen sharing. Then they can see exactly where I’m getting stuck without violating my personal space (like realizing I was missing a permission to access a screen in a program I use for work, which is why I couldn’t run the report I needed. It was easier to discover when we could see both screens together and notice the missing menu.)

            2. allathian*

              Yes, I feel the same way. I don’t want anyone except my husband and son to come closer than hand-haking distance, and that for only as long as it takes to shake hands. I loved the 6 ft distancing during covid lockdown, that’s pretty much my comfort zone with strangers and acquaintances, and the latter category definitely includes the vast majority of my coworkers. The only exception is that I’m fine with shorter distances when I’m standing in a queue, using an escalator, and with people sitting fairly close to me, as long as we aren’t actually touching, which can be difficult on public transit because I’m fat. But I hate it when people walk behind my back or look over my shoulder when I’m working or using a screen.

        2. ferrina*

          Part of my job is training remotely (I train people across multiple timezones- in-person is not an option). Screensharing in a 1:1 setting is totally normal. If I can, I’ll give the person a head’s up before our training session: “During this session, I’ll ask you to share your screen and we’ll go through the TPS interface together”

          At one point, screensharing let us learn that a junior level staff member had accidentally been given admin privileges to a sensitive software. He had several buttons that he shouldn’t have had- he had no idea it was abnormal, only caught it because the trainer had him screenshare.

        3. Daisy*

          Very interesting. I really like screen sharing (knowledge-based job) because I can easily see what the other person is doing on their computer. There is no leaning over, squishing into small offices/deskspace, or worrying about getting into personal space. Also, no worry about how I look, clothing, etc. I train and troubleshoot regularly and 100% prefer remote.

          1. Stitch*

            See when I’m in someone’s office I’m actually not actively reading their screen, I’m just talking them through “what’s next” with a copy of the case. I’ll only get on their computer if something unusual comes up.

            I’ve done this over the phone but it just isn’t as effective.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        It varies so much from job to job. My job benefits incredibly from in-person teams. We have figured hybrid out, but it’s just simply not as good.

      3. Riot Grrrl*

        I’m as torn as you are.

        I think when it comes to training a major part of the problem is that when people are being trained on something, they often ask lots of questions immediately and in-the-moment. Obviously this depends on the culture of the office, the skill being trained, the industry, and so forth. But it’s not unusual to be receiving near-constant feedback as you’re working.

        I have found that trainees are understandably reluctant to make a Zoom call every 20 minutes to ask minor questions. (And don’t get me wrong, getting interrupted every 20 minutes with a Zoom call wouldn’t exactly be a picnic either.) Instead they just kind of muddle through and often get things wrong or just kind of plow through, but don’t really understand the fine points of what they’re doing.

        In the office, the bar was much, much lower for either asking questions or for peeking over to your neighbor to see how things are getting done or even for overhearing things by chance to give insight on the inner workings of a process.

        1. lyngend (canada)*

          In the remote training I’ve done, I’m either constantly in contact with my supervisor (whose training me) via zoom or I’m in a virtual classroom/meeting where our trainer is constantly with us. If neither of these are true, might need to change things up a bit. I also have problems asking for help from people face to face, which I don’t when I can just type it out. But that’s anxiety for you (each person’s anxiety is different)

    4. Clobberin' Time*

      People working from home, in my experience, often want all the perks of that freedom, without any of the drawbacks

      Wow. I understand you’re not happy about being forced to go in, but it’s really coloring your opinion here.

      1. What even*

        Your response to the comment you quoted doesn’t match. Is it really that shocking? Wow? Of course humans want their cake and to eat it to. That is basic human behavior.

        It isn’t a biased opinion to point that out.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Gonna have to disagree with you on that one. Even if it is human nature to want your cake and eat it, too (and that’s up for debate), that doesn’t mean that the person’s feelings about their own situation aren’t influencing their thoughts on the matter. I think that’s why L Squared brought it up – to acknowledge that their situation is, to some extent, framing how they think about the letter. And nobody thinks it’s shocking that this is the case.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          “Humans want to their cake and eat it too” would apply if we were talking about literal cake, being served in the office, that the WFH staff are missing out on. When we are denying people the promotions to senior, lead, and management roles that they have the talent for and would be good in, for no reason other than out of spite; and promoting people who might be less qualified for it simply because they happened to make the “right” choice two years ago; we are shooting the entire business in the foot, for what? to remind the remote workers to know their place? Hope it’s worth it for OP’s company.

        3. Random Dice*

          “Wow” is a signal that someone said something quite unexpectedly negative and outside the norm.

          That seems like a reasonable response to such a bitter comment, that shoves billions of people at once into a bizarre little box.

        4. DataSci*

          “Never getting promoted” isn’t a natural drawback to WFH the way “missing the free office snacks” is, though. It’s not greedy to want to WFH and not expect to be sacrificing promotion.

      2. L-squared*

        Its really not, as I’ve had fully remote jobs before.

        But even on this site, you’ll see people upset that they aren’t getting the same things as others. There were posts in the last few weeks where people were kind of pushing back about giving additional perks to people who have to be in the office.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          That’s fair. Though my impression of the comments on that one was that the majority were OK with it, though I didn’t go through and count. I’m fully WFH at the moment and definitely commented in support of extra sick days for people who are working from a work site. It makes perfect sense to me.

        2. Clobberin' Time*

          But the LW isn’t complaining that she’s missing in-office baby showers or demanding catered lunches be sent to her home. You’re lumping her in with other remote workers whose demands are clueless or unreasonable.

          1. Subscription*

            Exactly. I might miss a baby shower or pizza party if I’m working from home, but hey, I get to do some laundry and straighten my closet during my lunch break. Hello, relaxing, chore-free evening!

            But to be excluded from promotions because I work from home? Doesn’t even begin to compare.

      3. Double A*

        I work exclusively from home, at an organization that is entirely remote (though we have some travel required for in-person events each year) and I agree with that statement. Lots of people at my organization gripe about our in-person events and try to get out of them. They complain that we’re paid less than people who do our job in-person, even though they have said they would never under any circumstances do the in-person version of this job again because it’s frankly way harder.

        There’s also a lot of people at my organization who are terrible at making themselves seen and known remotely. And maybe they’re handling their little silo of work perfectly (though we have a lot of transparency into notes about our work, and their documentation often does not reflect handling their work super well) but they don’t make connections with others. In a company where everyone is required to do this remotely and all the systems are set up to do so, many people fail to do it. I can see how people working remotely in a company that is largely in-person would have to work doubly hard at this. Is that fair? I mean, kind of? The company wasn’t designed to be remote-first, leadership isn’t super into remote work, so if you make that choice you have extra work on your plate in exchange for the perk you’re getting and you have to decide if it’s worth it to you.

    5. Moonlight*

      While I respect where you’re coming from, I also don’t know if this is a useful comparison. I think it is totally understandable to resent that some people get to work from home if you’re forced to go in and would prefer to work from home (or at least have a hybrid option), but I don’t think that understandable resentment should translate to remote workers being denied promotions that should be granted based on some combination of qualifications, merit and accomplishments and NOT based on the fact that some employees are (frankly justifiably!) resentful that they’re being forced to work in person – and often being forced to do so unnecessarily, as I just want to acknowledge that some jobs have to be in person due to the nature of the job (eg. many jobs I qualify for could go either way depending whether it’s fully on the backend of research OR working with clients – I might WANT to work remotely, but if the job genuinely necessitates me being there…).

      But yes, it is ultimately the companies decision to force people to be in person, even if it makes people like you resentful cause you don’t want to be there, and even if they make ridiculous decisions like not promoting remote workers, in the process.

    6. Hen in a Windstorm*

      “This is a choice you made” is not true. Employees were just given WFH options. They were not told “if you choose option A, you will never be promoted”. They are still not saying this to anyone except the OP. That is not fine.

      Frankly, you sound like you’re annoyed about having to go in, so “everyone else should have to suffer too”. Crabs in a bucket never succeed.

      1. L-squared*

        As someone further down pointed out, its not that shocking. If you are working with your manager in person, they likely have a much more complete picture of you as an employee than they do of someone who WFH 100%. So yeah, they may take that into account for what they know.

        I also haven’t seen OP mention that the people they hired were actually bad hires. And I think that makes a difference. yes, its correlation and not causation. But if you have 2 equally good employees and one works from home and management knows them better, is it surprising that it may give them a slight edge. If OP said they were promoting bad performers, I may hva different take.

        And this isn’t crabs in a bucket at all. But face time has always been, and will likely continue to be, a factor in promotions.

        1. bamcheeks*

          If you are working with your manager in person, they likely have a much more complete picture of you as an employee than they do of someone who WFH 100%

          I don’t think that’s true, actually. All my team work on site, but since we have three large sites and I only work on two of them, there are a couple of people who I only have online meetings with. I don’t think it’s the case that I know them or their work less well than the ones I see more regularly.

          1. ferrina*

            Agree, this is a scenario of It Depends.

            I’ve worked with on-site managers who had no clue what I did….even though I was literally across the hallway from the 40 hours per week (and sent regular emails, and regular update meetings), and I’ve worked with on-site managers who were acutely attuned to what I was working on. Ditto with remote managers- some had no idea, some knew exactly what was going on.

            Remote management does require different techniques than in-person. One mistake I see managers make is that they try to use the same techniques for in-person as remote. Remote often requires more explicit communication and more intentional communication around expectations (you can’t just wait for people to “pick up” on things- though honestly this is good practice for in-person, too). Remote managers need to think deliberately about metrics of success, and seek out feedback on their staff (ensuring they have strong working relationships).

            The in-person bias can be real if a manager “feels like they know Local Person better”. It’s like hiring the person you want to have a beer with- essentially you’re grading on ‘likeability’ and how much they remind you of you. A great manager (in-person or remote) thinks critically about what they know about the person and their work, and does due diligence to make sure they have the right person for the job (whether remote or in-person).
            *note that I’ve also seen this bias in a remote manager, where they had a preference for the person that shared the same pop culture references as the manager and who they exchanged gifs with. It’s more common with in-person, but remote managers aren’t immune.

          2. Not this time*

            Ok so the company didn’t provide the complete picture when asking for employees to choose their work option.

            Apparently they have done nothing illegal and they aren’t willing to change their promote from in office or hybrid only stance.

            It’s not fair, it’s not how many companies operate but it is what it is . Debating right or wrong or fair or anything else isn’t going to change the company stance.

            So now that all employees have a more complete picture then each employee does have some options, albeit not necessarily ones they particularly like.

            Mainly they can ask if they can make a different working choice if promotion is important to them. They can look for employment elsewhere. They can remain in their current wfh job knowing promotion isn’t possible.

            Yes the options suck. Yes it may be very difficult to transition into office or hybrid (if allowed), and for some it may be prohibitive. If it’s truly prohibitive then the only option left would be to job search elsewhere.

            Now that I’ve read the original letter, Alison’s response and the many comments ; I’m fortunate that my eyes have been opened and hopefully in the future if asked to pick my work option I will be reminded to ask a lot of questions I never would have thought I’d have to.

            We don’t know what we don’t know. But when we do, we always have a choice in how we can proceed next. Even if we don’t think we have any options or choices we really do. The choice to do nothing is still a choice.

            I wish all the employees at the LW company the best.

          3. Tupac Coachella*

            I think your example, bamcheeks, highlights that this is a “what is” vs. “what should be” situation. If you have remote employees, it is your responsibility as a supervisor to know them and their work as well as you know your other employees. You don’t get to say “well, they’re not here, so I guess I can’t evaluate and promote them. *shrug*” OP’s company is being lazy, and honestly deserves to lose employees over this.

        2. Parenthesis Guy*

          It depends on how promotions at your organization work. In some orgs, there are only a limited number of promotions and you’re competing for spots. But in others, whether or not you get a promotion is based on your performance and there are spots for everyone to get a promotion if they merit it.

          Frankly, I’m used to the latter. But if you’re used to the former, I can see why you think the way you do.

        3. Me ... Just Me*

          Also, perhaps, they want their managers/directors to be on-site and so are actively looking for staff who have shown that willingness to be physically present.

          In the OP’s case, there’s no evidence that the hires haven’t been appropriate or that the WFH applicants were somehow otherwise better suited.

        4. Eyes Kiwami*

          If this were true then people wouldn’t successfully manage across different office sites. Somehow CEOs and senior management are able to manage whole countries and regions, even promoting people who primarily work at a different location to them. So what is the real difference if that person is at another office or at their home?

      2. BreadNinja*

        But the point about wfh people wanting their cake and to eat it to is true.

        I am in group C and seeing all the recent posts of people being like why don’t I get a giftcard when they go out for lunch? Or complaining they arent included/feel undervalued because of non-performance related perks, etc. You don’t get the benefits of being in the office because you chose/accepted a role that isnt in the office. I often miss out on stuff as its not on my in day. Being at home in my pjs while my laundry is on and cooking my own lunch at home, no commute. Thats my trade off.

        Now I dont think that promotions should count in that. Its understandable for certain roles for that to be a thing. Thats very few though. It should in general be merit based.

        But I dont think the poster was being crabs in a bucket bitter about it.

    7. Fluffy Fish*

      A drawback is missing out on company paid lunch during a meeting because you WFH. Not you are totally ineligible to be promoted.

      1. BreadNinja*

        I agree about promotions not being a perk.

        But did you miss the post in the past from the LW who wanted their work to send remote employees giftcards or giftbaskets to compensate for them missing in office stuff? There are people who wfh who think they should get all the perks and no drawbacks.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          I saw that but that’s not what this letter is about so IMO its not relevant. The original comment stated they are totally fine with not promoting people who WFH as long as the company is upfront about it. That’s messed up and not about WFH but whining about drawbacks.

    8. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I am curious if they tell candidates “if you wfh you will not be promoted.” Since they did t tell OP I am betting they don’t.
      People come in and discover two years down the road that all the effort they put in doesn’t count.

    9. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      “This is a choice you and others have made to WFH completely.”

      But they all made a choice! Everyone was given three choices and picked one. No one was warned that one choice would be worse than the others for people’s careers in the long term. The company didn’t even seem to want everyone to choose to be in office, seeing as they had downsized the office space and no longer had enough room for everyone.

      1. Traswilihar*

        This is like saying, “I was given the choice to be highly professional or be the class clown. No one warned me that being the class clown would be worse for my career in the long term!!!”

        I have been saying from day one that most of these people touting all WFH, all-the-time, had completely unrealistic expectations that defy common sense.

        The situation that OP describes — where half the battle is showing up, and where the visible wheel gets the grease — is utterly predictable, and it is happening a lot more than you think.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Did you read my comment to the end? Or OP’s letter for that matter? The company gave everyone these choices because they did not have enough space for everyone. They needed people to choose WFH. They’d be up a creek if everyone had chosen to return to the office, because they did not have enough space.

          I’ve been saying from day one that people equating remote work to (checks notes) being a class clown have had completely unrealistic views of what a workplace is, that defy common sense, especially in the light of the fact that (like I said elsewhere in this thread) remote work has always been okay with employers IME, as long as it was on evenings and weekends and in addition to the 40 hours in the office, so I guess let’s agree to disagree /s

    10. k*

      The difference is at this company, no one was forced to go into the office, they were all given the WFH option. If there were certain people that were not given that option for whatever reason it might makes sense to allow them different perks.

    11. Nobody Cares What I Think*

      L-squared…no. The location where someone works does not make them a better candidate for anything not dependent on being in that location. It’s simple prejudice against remote workers and that is wrong.

      1. L-squared*

        I mean, whether you personally think its right or wrong, doesn’t really matter. The comapny has decided how they are going to do things, so OP can do what they choose with that info.

        But I think people are being intentionally obtuse by pretending that there aren’t relationshps formed and knowledge gained by being in person vs. fully remote, and acting like those things will never be considered in promotions.

      2. Traswilihar*

        “Prejudice” is wrong because it discriminates on the basis of morally irrelevant factors, like skin color or eye color or what not.

        “Prejudice against remote workers” is not that. It is treating a class differently for RELEVANT reasons, such as rewarding those who show up at the workplace.

    12. amoeba*

      Not sure whether it was mentioned before, but what makes it look bad for me is also the lack of any real/flexible hybrid options. I mean, I agree that networking, facetime etc. can be important (in my job, working 100% remote would actually really not fly because we need to see the technical work and the people doing it regularly!)
      But they don’t give the option to come in once or twice a week or irregularly or whatever for in-person meetings at all, right? The only choice is between at least 80% in person without any flexibility or fully at home, without a chance to be promoted.
      Now, I actually prefer coming into the office and would probably chose the 80%, but it would still annoy me because it just seems so unnecessary and just designed to annoy people.

    13. Critical Rolls*

      This is a dumb take for the company. “We will arbitrarily limit our pool of promotable people” is *never* a good policy. And it would be a tremendously unfair “perk” for in-office people to be the only ones who ever advance, especially since the company is *not* disclosing this.

  3. NeedRain47*

    I wonder what the hundreds of people who are applying are seeing in the advertisements. If it says remote is an option, people will still apply, but I question whether they’ll actually take the job if they’re told they need to be in the office four days a week.

      1. WellRed*

        Yes but for people who care about recognition and advancement, they probably don’t state their non promotion policy upfront.

        1. Miss Elaine Yuss*

          To be fair, this doesn’t sound like an actual policy. OP is totally guessing based on what they’ve observed. I think it’s just as likely people ARE getting promoted/better projects because of face time and in-office politics. If it is a policy, though, they should absolutely be up front about it.

          1. Random Dice*

            Alison said that went to the “Board of Directors (!)” – I very much agree with her “(!)” – so I’m guessing it’s a real trend.

          2. Nobody Cares What I Think*

            Unstated policies are still important for candidates to know, and they would be wise to ask questions to sus this out. Actual practices are often unstated.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I’m sure they mention the full time remote without mentioning that it kills people’s chances of advancement. I think this info would be a good use of Glass Door if that’s available.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, I doubt recruiting is being upfront about this. If they were, I think they would be receiving fewer applications. My employer decided to make my job fully remote specifically because that was the only way to be competitive.

      2. rebecca*

        This. Alison said that the company has made it clear that this is how they’re going to operate, but I don’t think that’s exactly true. They made it clear (through inaction) to OP after OP noticed and asked about the pattern. That’s not allowing people to make informed choices or being clear about expectations. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are WFH at OP’s company that are outside of their orbit who still haven’t realized that this is a defacto policy. That sucks.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, they’ve made it very clear to the OP; she has that info now and needs to decide if she wants the job under those conditions, but it’s not OK if they’re not making it clear to others.

      3. Me ... Just Me*

        The OP didn’t say this was a policy, just that when asked, the higher ups mentioned that those other employees were able to make themselves known better and had formed closer working relationships.

        Personally, this would be a wake up call for me (if I worked at home) to ensure that I was more proactive in my communications and I would purposefully contribute more in fostering excellent work relationships.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      They are told all the options. I don’t believe that they are told the consequences.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Betting that the hundreds of applicants have no idea that their future promotions are going to be conditional on them being in-office. I think it would be really helpful if someone could post a Glassdoor review with this information.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        and… i’ve got to develop the patience to read a thread to the end before replying, as this has already been said.

    4. Allonge*

      Most likely the non-promotion deal is not in the job ads. But I read on this board a hundred times that there are people who just want to WFH and do 8 hours a day and ok if never promoted. So if the salary is ok, there probably still would be hundreds of people applying.

      Which of course does not make this policy right, certainly not as an unsaid one. But still.

  4. Uncannycanuck*

    I’d ride this situation out until being promoted was a priority to me, and then I’d start looking for a job at another organization. Do what’s best for you; the company will continue to do what it thinks it best for itself.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. I know people who have moved remote to remote and been promoted. I’d take the long view — stick with it as long as it is working for you but be looking for positions that offer a step up. No rush. You can wait for the perfect thing.

    2. L-squared*

      I completely agree here.

      There are plenty of people who are very content where they are, and don’t even want to be promoted, so I imagine for them this works out fine.

      If you want to be promoted, put in the work, then when you think you have the experience, apply somewhere else.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      As a caution, if you aren’t getting assignments that allow you to improve your skills/grow towards the job you want/achieve measurable success that can go on a resume, it is time to move on. It’s not just about promotion.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*


        Promotions might be the drawback (punishment?) for working from home that they’re saying out loud, but there are almost certainly other drawbacks to your professional development that are harder to notice.

      2. learnedthehardway*

        Agreed – being deprived of opportunities to progress would be a very good reason to look for other opportunities, whether or not you are otherwise happy. You need to think ahead to what you want to be doing in a few years’ time, and to build your experience and accomplishments for that.

      3. Smithy*

        Absolutely – but the same advice still applies. And while in this case it’s a change post-COVID and with this remote work structure, people will find themselves in these kinds of workplaces all the time and still should make the same decisions. Stay as long as it works for you and then look to leave.

        Pre-COVID, I was on a team that had grown very quickly – and the assumption was that the team could be structured the exact same way it had always been as it grew and assign work that way. The reality was that on a larger team that’s growth ultimately slowed, that method of assigning work was not systematic, which made those assignments either random, based on favoritism, or whoever was in the office at a specific moment and in the sightline of a Sr Director.

        The job worked for a while. The team leadership was not open to hearing about how the structure could be changed or how some work portfolios were ad hoc and therefore made it harder to develop strategic workplans. So while I knew this wasn’t going to be a long term place, I was also working here when COVID started, and knew I didn’t want to start a new job until my own COVID anxieties had calmed down. So I paused my own job hunt for about 6 months to meet my needs. And then when I was feeling ready, I left.

        So while this process is icky – it’s a version of one that lots of people see at lots of workplaces in different ways all the time. And how much you want to try to fix it or can fix….

      4. Michelle Smith*

        Agreed. I don’t care at all about being promoted (don’t want to be a manager) but I do care about growing and having interesting work opportunities.

  5. Richard Hershberger*

    “There was lots of talk about networking, face time with the management who are almost exclusively in office…”

    Classic confusion about the logic of the situation. It is perfectly sensible to observe that the employee who networks well will have a leg up over the one who does not, because the decision makers will be more conscious of the first one. It follows therefore that it is perfectly sensible advice to that second one to try to network better. It is utterly irrational, however, for the decision makers to consciously favor the first one on the grounds of better networking skills (unless the job they are being considered for is in sales or the like). This is just a hair’s breadth away from “Yes, you are the better qualified candidate, except that you are insufficiently sycophantic.”

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Yes, you are the better qualified candidate, except that you are insufficiently sycophantic.”

      Well at least they’d be saying the quiet part out loud. Unfortunately this is real a lot of the time.

    2. ferrina*

      Networking can be really useful if you regularly work across teams or need access to information which may not be readily available. I’m in consulting, and even small scale networking is super important.

      But I challenge those that say that the best networking has to happen in office. I’m remote, and I have one of the strongest information networks at my company. Because I’m remote, it’s easier for me to have meetings with people across time zones, and I frequently screenshare to make sure we’re on the same page. It’s also really helpful because when I get tired and grumpy and *waves vaguely* human, no one needs to deal with my grumpiness. I can more easily put on a happy face for a 30 minute virtual call, then turn it off and sigh heavily. The “fake it” days are much easier.

      But yeah, you’re spot on with “you are the better qualified candidate, except that you are insufficiently sycophantic.”

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        So true! I’ve only been at my new company for a couple of months but I’ve already amassed a decent network of people both inside and outside the company that I interact with on a semi regular basis. I was hired remotely and will continue to work remote. I’m an account manager, so establishing relationships with vendors, clients, and coworkers is part of how I do my job at a high quality level, but at the same time I think I’m doing quite well to have this many good relationships already. Quality networking can absolutely happen virtually! It just takes a slightly different approach.

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*


      I feel the same way about the belief that being in the office is always superior for bonding with colleagues. Yes, it’s probably easier when people are in the same place. There are definitely more opportunities for it to happen naturally. But that doesn’t foreclose the possibility of *doing things* to increase positive social connections among remote staff. But you have to do things and get creative.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This threw me back to the letter yesterday about the judgment OP gets for not working 8-5 because “reasons.”

    5. Random Dice*

      I work from home and would be willing to bet that I have close strong relationships with more people across the org than just about anyone. That’s not hyperbole.

      Some roles + some people pull remote networking off just fine.

    6. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

      I work remotely, and I have very good relationships with other employees.

      The company is mixed remote and on-site (laboratories) but with offices all over the country. Being remote doesn’t impede the business in any way, and some groups are completely remote. Since two offices in different states are remote from each other, even if everyone was on-site they would still have to handle many interactions remotely.

      Networking still happens, including back office chatter, etc. If your company has a lot of geographically distant offices, you are doing remote stuff anyway.

    7. Loch Lomond*

      Yeah, the onus should be on management to consciously include remote workers, not to just get chummiest with the people in their immediate field of vision.

    8. amoeba*

      Yeah, in my company, it’s also openly stated that to get a promotion, you need visibility and a good network (nothing to do with in person vs remote, luckily!)
      I mean, they acknowledge the reality of the situation – my boss does not decide on promotions by himself and if other people in the org don’t know who we are, he’ll have a hard time getting it through. So in that case, I think it’s only fair that he’s actually open about that…

  6. CharlieBrown*

    Your company sucks and it isn’t likely to change.

    My malicious compliance instinct tells me that if I’m not going to get a promotion when working from home, then there is no point for me to go above and beyond. If I get to 35 hours and all my work is done, I’m not going to go looking for more. I could use those extra five hours to job hunt.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      When I asked my old boss for telework if I had a doctor’s appointment, she said absolutely not and reminded me of the work hours.

      So I quit checking emails on nights and weekends. When she had an urgent question on a Saturday, I didn’t respond until Monday morning.

      You know, because of business hours….

    2. Mr. Shark*

      Yes, I think that’s similar to what I expect. At this point, you’d have to re-invent the wheel in order to get a significant raise or promotion.
      I’m at the point where I am happy doing my job and being done with it when the day is over, for the most part. So I’m not looking to work 60 hours/week to try and get a promotion and anything over a 5% raise.

    3. HR Friend*

      This is exactly why WFH people aren’t being promoted. If LW would spend more time developing their skills and less time complaining to the board, maybe the tide would begin to shift.

      There’s nothing in this letter that says WFO is the only way to be promoted. For the past 2 years, leadership has seen the WFO staff develop in ways that get them promoted. They’re not seeing the same development in WFH staff. And it sounds like leadership’s been very clear about what they’re assessing for — networking, face time with management, commitment, and collaboration. LW doesn’t have to *like* that those are the criteria for promotion, but they are what they are, and they are clear.

      To respond by quiet quitting is shooting yourself in the foot… not to mention all the other WFH employees who may be trying to change the minds of management on who’s being promoted.

      1. CharlieBrown*

        Well, if you say “face time” and intend that to mean in person face time, then of course WFH is going to get screwed.

        Remember when Einstein said that if you judge a fish by how well he climbs a tree…? That’s happening here.

        This is not why WFH people are getting screwed. What I posited is a hypothetical, not what is happening in LW’s experience or in the world as whole. WFH people in LW’s letter are getting screwed because management has basically decided that they should get screwed.

        The Stockholm Syndrome is strong with this one.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Fun Fact: Stockholm Syndrome got invented by one male psychologist who didn’t like that a group of women weren’t 100% on the side of the cops, who were inept and could have killed everyone involved with their nonsense.

          1. Random Dice*


            Oh a whole group of folks were convinced that there was a reasonable point, let’s call them crazy B’s.

        2. HR Friend*

          Fwiw I’ve worked 100% remote for 12 years so, no, I’m not blindly supportive of WFO, entirely the opposite. I’m responding to this particular letter.

          Management hasn’t decided to screw WFH people. They’ve decided on the performance metrics to use to recommend promotion. LW can dislike those metrics or disagree with how they’re being assessed. But like 3 layers of leadership have told LW these are the standards. If LW wants to stay with this company and progress (if!), throwing up their hands and doing the bare minimum is only going to reinforce the WFO/WFH divide.

          1. CharlieBrown*

            If the performance metric to be promoted is “Must work in the office despite how productive you are” then that performance metric sucks, and the people who implemented it are not good managers.

            Please tell me where in the LW’s information it says they are going to do the bare minimum. I am describing what I would do and you are reacting as if LW said it.

            1. HR Friend*

              We don’t know what the performance metrics are, just that they exist. LW didn’t mention if they’re a high performer. If LW doesn’t have performance reviews with their manager or some kind of career progression plan, they should talk to their manager about that. *If* LW wants to continue working there, it’s not helpful to advise malicious compliance, nor is it helpful to assume the people being promoted aren’t also high performers.

              1. Nobody Cares What I Think*

                Performance metrics should be written and incorporated into performance plans, not be unstated cultural practices.

              2. Eyes Kiwami*

                A performance metric, by definition, would be “how well do they network” not “how often do they come into the office”. This is just a metric. And a nonsense one: I don’t think a single reasonable person would object to noticing the correlation between in-office work and stronger relationships. People are objecting to the automatic assumption that WFH means weaker relationships. Workers aren’t being individually assessed on their performance, just sidelined based on their work location.

        3. Qwerty*

          You can absolutely get face time remotely! It’s just a lot harder and requires everyone to use the same communication strategies/styles.

          I’m in the unique position of having been at a company where the ICs were in the office and management/senior leadership were all remote (my role was 50/50 so I was connected to both sides). The result was the inverse of this letter where remote folks were seen more favorably by management because they could jump on calls at a moment’s notice and did a lot of video calls. The accomplishments of the in-person workers went largely unseen or the effort level was hugely underestimated. When it came time for layoffs, it was the lesser known in-person group on the chopping block that management was less attached to / aware of.

          A big part of human relationships is “we were stuck in close proximity (physically or virtually) for a significant amount of time so I guess we bonded”

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Based on the OP’s letter, it doesn’t sound like the company is being very thoughtful in assessing for networking, commitment, or collaboration. They’re using a simple heuristic that seeing someone around means they’re better at these things than people they don’t see around in person. It doesn’t sound like they’re assessing at all how well people collaborate, for example. It’s if I see you seeming to collaborate, that’s good, and if I don’t see you, I assume you’re not.

        You’re right that it’s clear. Clearly shitty.

        1. HR Friend*

          LW doesn’t actually mention anything about job performance of WFH vs. WFO staff. It doesn’t sound to you like the company’s being very thoughtful because LW didn’t mention it. All they know is outcomes, who has been promoted. If LW doesn’t have performance reviews or some kind of progression framework to work from, that’d be more than fair to ask their manager for.

          1. Random Dice*

            Though to be fair… someone who complains up the the “Board of Directors (!)” seems to have some very questionable judgment.

            I’m wondering how long they have at that company, after that stunt.

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    On a related note, I hope there is a bunch of psychological research on WFH after a few years of it being the new normal.

    My boss *HATES* WFH, and he goes ballistic if he sees it in our job ads. He doesn’t want people feeling “entitled” to it, and he insists people are screwing around at home. When I asked him about productivity measures, he said, “Measuring WFH isn’t all about productivity! I don’t care if people quit!”


    I only come in three times a week, and I have a weekly meeting with my boss in person. I take off after lunch and finish the day at home. My boss *never* notices my absence. I always show up to in person meetings when he asks.

    I supervise a team of 18 people, and most of them are WFH. Guess what? My boss genuinely thinks I’m in the office 40 hours a week and he thinks the same of my staff. He tells people I don’t telework!

    My boss seeing me in a meeting once a week and sporadically in the hall or elevator for five seconds on the other two days translates to him thinking I’m there way more often than I am.


    1. CharlieBrown*

      Your boss is using his reptile brain.

      Don’t ever play peek-a-book with him. He’ll probably freak out and think you’ve disappeared for good.

      As for a boss who doesn’t know where his team actually is…that’s a whole other post.

      1. Random Dice*

        “Don’t ever play peek-a-book with him. He’ll probably freak out and think you’ve disappeared for good.”

        I snickered hard enough to pull something.

    2. rayray*

      I’m working in office, but wish I could work at home.

      I hate this idea some people have that the people working at home are just messing around, productivity matters, not someone’s Teams status or whatever other silly metric bosses use to see if someone is working.

      Things are really really slow at my work and have been for a while. I am sure people at home are probably doing other things, but so are people in office. I spend many hours on pinterest, reading the news, or playing games while here at the office. I still get all my work done, but my point is, time can be wasted anywhere.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Most office workers are productive for at most 3 hours a day. The human brain was developed to watch out for lions, not concentrate on a single task for 8 hours a day.

        The difference with WFH is that I’m able to do laundry, dance in the living room or read a physical book rather than reading AAM and browsing social media during my downtime.

        1. Billable Employee*

          That might be true for some people, but for others (especially those who bill their time and so have to track time worked very precisely), we do manage to be productive and work for at least 8 hours every day.

          1. Swix*

            As someone who has worked my entire career and managed project budgets in companies that require time tracked in 15 min intervals to charge to clients, I promise you that most people are not productive for the whole 8 hours. We just have ways of filling the time that look productive (like meetings, or staring blankly at a screen for a while).

            1. Billable Employee*

              I just think if we’re honest (and I do this too) there’s a lot less time lost to doing non-work things when my choices are work or stare blankly at a screen/meetings or doing laundry, taking a nap, watching tv.

        2. Allonge*

          I keep seeing this argument in favor of WFH and I am just not getting how anyone thinks this will work.

          The 3 hours per day thing, if true, works everywhere (as you say).

          Now, I know very few jobs that are the binary of “deep concentration work” and “nothing at all gets done”. I am sure they exist, but in all office jobs I know there is filing, admin, reading the latest updates, emails, calling someone because X software is glitchy, talking about Big event next month and a billion other things that need to get done still for work that you can do in the other 5 hours of working time.

          Saying you could do laundry instead as it does not matter because you are not concentrating is pretty clueless if you want WFH to be considered work, as it should be.

          1. Overeducated*

            The people making this argument don’t consider all of the rest of that – meetings, filing, planning, emails, etc – to be actual “work.” Which is pretty reductive, but also tracks with people thinking that managers “don’t do any work” and people with more admin focused jobs don’t do valuable things. You can’t run a large organization on just deep focus IC stuff without that stuff, though, and the more you try, the more winds up falling on the ICs!

      2. Mr. Shark*

        The issue is that arguing that “time can be wasted anywhere” is not the best argument for WFH, or actually keeping your job for the most part.
        I WFH part time, and yes, there’s definitely some down time, even when I’m keeping up with all my assignments and even working on “nice-to-haves” in regard to other projects. But typically you don’t want to mention that to your boss, even though she has told me herself that she has that experience as well.

        1. rayray*

          This is why office workers learn quick about having fake spreadsheets open or other methods on pretending to look busy. Everyone knows that you rarely spend the entirety of 8 hours actually working at a desk job.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      This is the WFH equivalent of the company holiday party. I hate those things, but understood that it was politically necessary to make an appearance. So I would show up, make a few minutes’ idle chit chat with my boss, then with my boss’s boss, then go home. That was all that was required.

    4. Hlao-roo*

      Your boss may be using one of the two (faulty) ways of thinking about the situation:

      1) People who “work ” from home don’t do any work -> Sanrkus does work -> therefore, Snarkus doesn’t “work” from home

      2) People who “work” from home are never in the office -> Snarkus is in the office -> therefore, Snarkus doesn’t “work” from home

    5. stacers*

      I find this really interesting. The psychological aspects of it all are intriguing to watch.

      I started a new job nearly 6 months ago. My position is fully remote because I work for two different locations and happen to live right between them, so I can (and do) go in when it makes sense, but that’s not even once a month. Company policy for non-remote workers is two days in-office. Location A sets both days (Monday, Wednesday), but workers can go in more if they like. Location B left the two days completely flexible.

      In practice, Location A is completely flexible — if you have to take a pet to the vet or a repair worker is coming or, from what I can tell, any other reason at all on a Monday or Wednesday, not a big deal to skip going in and work from home. You don’t have to ‘make up’ an in-office day. Location B, however, has now had to mandate one day in-office (Wednesday) because people weren’t complying, and has issued a strict warning that the second day is still flexible unless people don’t start making it in on a day of their choosing.

      And at both locations, many people are like you and may start or end the day at home and spend a portion of the day in-office, which seems to ‘count’ toward their in-office time.

      Just an interesting difference in human nature. I will say that Location A is just slightly bigger as an operation but quite a bit more productive. But hard to know whether that’s a management advantage, just a good mix of efficient employees or … what exactly.

      1. know a guy who knew a guy*

        I think a lot of people find benefits from being in the office and around their coworkers so having the two days set (but with flexibility/treating people like adults) means more people get more value out of being there those days.

        If people come in to an empty office, going in feels pretty pointless.

        1. stacers*

          I think that’s exactly it — people are treated like adults and they do, in fact, find real benefits to being in person to some degree. Having a schedule helps them plan, knowing there is flexibility should something arise.

    6. Yvette*

      Because to think otherwise would shatter all his preconceived notions and he would be forced to admit that WFH works. “He tells people I don’t telework!” because it would make him look like a hypocrite.

    7. A Simple Narwhal*

      It’s dumb that 5 seconds of facetime can somehow convince people you’re in all the time but I’m using that to my advantage. I’ve found that if I make sure I’m in the office on meeting-heavy days and say hi to everyone I see, going in once or twice a week is plenty of facetime for people to think I’m in way more than I am.

      1. CheeryO*

        Absolutely. I’m on a 50% hybrid schedule but made sure to align my office days with my boss’s office days and our biweekly team meetings, and you would not believe the brownie points I get for it.

      2. kitryan*

        Yep, I have a somewhat informal accommodation to be 99% remote, because of health issues, so I try to go in once or twice a month and will make sure to say hello to people and take varied routes to the watercooler. I preferentially select days when I think I’ll be able to meet up with my boss / team for a check in, to encourage the idea that I’m physically around on a regular basis and keep relationships going.
        I don’t want anyone to perceive that I’m unavailable (I’m always up for a voice or video call anyway but that’s not as ‘real’ to people, as this whole letter/comment thread shows) and revisit whether the accommodation should be revised or withdrawn

  8. ThatGirl*

    My company made this huge fuss last year about returning to a 4/1 schedule for everyone, but we also do have full-time remote employees in a handful of positions, some of whom have been full-time remote for a very long time. And one of them was promoted to be my manager in December.

  9. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

    I’ve come to accept that staying fully remote will limit my upward trajectory. I may be promoted a few levels but at a certain point, working in office on a regular basis would be a job requirement to move higher. I’m totally fine with that trade off. I value fully WFH more than career progression.

    1. Tiffany In Houston*

      Same here. Fortunately, I’m at the tail end of my career and not the beginning, where going into the office would be advantageous to my upward mobility. As I can get paid well, do good work and never have a see a cubicle again, I’m good.

      1. Malarkey01*

        This is me too. It works because I’ve hit a point in my career where I’m very happy with the money, it’s very stable, and the next rung up is an insane amount of overwork for not enough extra money. I can comfortably sit here for 10 years.

        However, the way I got to this level was by going way above and beyond and right or wrong a lot of that was being present when the Director stuck his head out the door and yelled Malarkey get in here we need help with x or y or being the person in the room when the meeting after the meeting happened. If I was just starting out I would be more worried about being full remote.

      2. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

        Me too. Because I’m AFAB and neurospicy, I have zero promotion prospects at most companies anyway (tech is still bro heavy, ableist and anti-older people.) Knowing that, I don’t worry about promotion prospects. It’s more important to keep myself and my household safe.

  10. Anecdata*

    It sounds like they are allowing work from home, but don’t want to invest the time & energy into making it a “truly doesn’t matter where you work” situation – eg. Are fine with “more leadership facetime” being a benefit of being in office. I might be wrong but it sounds like the actual outcome has been no one fully remote has been promoted, but there’s not an official policy of requiring in office for promotion?

    I get why is frustrating, but I think this is going to be the reality at a lot of hybrid schedule workplaces… From their perspective, it’s more “remote is permitted” not “we’re truly neutral to where you work”. If you are committed to wanting both career growth and remote, I’d be looking for companies that are fully remote, not a mix

    1. DEJ*

      “I might be wrong but it sounds like the actual outcome has been no one fully remote has been promoted, but there’s not an official policy of requiring in office for promotion?”

      I feel like this is what I’m hearing too. I’m wondering if it would be better for the OP to focus on herself and her work and ask ‘can you tell me what you need to see from me in order to give me a promotion or lead the next project’ instead of the general ‘no one fully remote has been promoted.’

      1. Anne Elliot*

        “Can you tell me what you need to see from me in order to give me a promotion or lead the next project?” The subtext of a lot of responses here is people really not liking the obvious answer: “You need to be in the office more.” A lot of commenters seem to be saying “Welp, OP, you’ve got two choices: stay and never be promoted or quit and try to move up someplace else.” They are entirely overlooking Door No. 3, which is “align your behavior with the company’s apparent expectations to make yourself a more desirable candidate for promotion” — IOW, start working from the office. Don’t get me wrong — valuing WFH very highly is perfectly fine, but it’s not like the OP doesn’t actually know what she probably needs to do here; she knows, she just doesn’t like it and doesn’t think it’s fair.

        The frustrating thing is that if she DID ask your question, she is probably NOT going to get the honest answer of “you need to work from the office more.” The office is paying lip service to permitting WFH but clearly, based on what she already knows, do not value the employees who WFH as highly as those who are in the office. I don’t discourage her from asking the question you pose, but I feel like she already knows the answer.

    2. Hen in a Windstorm*

      “It sounds like no women have been promoted, but there’s not an official policy of requiring a penis for promotion”… how do you imagine it being an unofficial policy changes anything?

      It is the policy – it doesn’t have to be written down for it to be policy. It’s frustrating because they’re not being upfront about the choices.

      1. goducks*

        There’s a huge difference between a person’s sex–a characteristic that is intrinsic and is also a legally protected characteristic, and a person’s WFH status–which is not only not protected, but in this case is also a choice that employees are free to make for themselves.

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        (I think the comparison is disingenuous because OP can pick in-office or WFH whereas someone in your example cannot pick their gender.)

        I wonder though. What if it was only WFH people up for the promotion. I suspect they would promote someone. I doubt it’s as nefarious as people rubbing their hands and actively excluding promoting WFHers. It’s upon reflection that when considering promotions, they notice they’re putting a lot of emphasis in facetime interactions that are elevating some people ahead of others.

        This ISN’T to say that this shouldn’t change. If people who merit promotions are not getting them over people with less merit, it absolutely should.

        However, if it’s a case that there are two very qualified people, often those with the power will rely on other, less tangible considerations to make the final choice.

        Case in point: We hired in December and our top 4 candidates were all amazing on paper. They all were completely qualified for the job. What made us decide on who to hire focused more on soft skills, references who, while talking about their work output, also mentioned how great they were to get along with, and someone who we thought we could get along with well in meetings and committees.

        I don’t think in OP’s company that it’s necessarily that unqualified in-office people are getting promoted over qualified WFHers. I suspect that when it comes down to picking two qualified internal candidates, the in-office option is more of a known quantity with regards to those soft skills.

    3. Mango is Not For You*

      Thank you! That was the piece I kept looking for in the original letter. I don’t see anything that indicates that as a matter of policy they do not promote people who exclusively work from home, just that no one who WFH full-time has been promoted.

      I want to be kind to LW but in the letter itself there’s no mention of why they think they should be eligible for promotion by now (managing people or projects or accounts) just that it’s not fair that WFH employees aren’t getting promotions *so far.*

  11. Camellia*

    This seems like a variation of the “if you golf or go to *certain* clubs with the bosses” way to get promoted.

      1. Hen in a Windstorm*

        It doesn’t have to be federally recognized legally enshrined discrimination for it to be discrimination. They are discriminating against remote workers. It is not illegal to do so.

        1. sagc*

          Also, people without the skills to do their job, people not currently employed by the company, people who are rude to customers, people who spell poorly in their resumes… This is closer to “being discriminating” than it is “discrimination”. You are, in fact, allowed to have preferences in hiring.

        2. Prospect Gone Bad*

          Doesn’t it? I was just reading about early contract terminations in my industry and yet again, there is another version of legal text saying that as long as your reason is not based on religion, sex, age, etc., you can cancel it if they (to paraphrase) also do something stupid

          it feels like you’re undermining these other actual classes by pretending WFH is the same

      2. Temperance*

        It absolutely can. If people meeting a certain demographic – say, women, or Black women, or people over 40 – are the ones impacted by this policy, that oculd very well be disparate impact discrimination.

  12. Anecdata*

    As a manager though, it sounds like your leadership has given you some insight into ways to help your team : how can you help make their work visible to leadership even when they’re remote? Do you have a good sense of their strengths and career goals, so you can suggest them proactively for opportunities to lead projects?

    1. Mockingjay*

      This is absolutely excellent advice. And tying in to what other commenters have said, if the company is still set on promoting from within the premises, OP and their team can take these accomplishments and skills somewhere else.

    2. Not an ideal solution*

      You may already be doing all of this, and it doesn’t matter, but this seems like a good suggestion. If the “promote those with face time” is not a policy but just sort of happens, then find ways to maximize presence, even if virtual. If you’re not already, keep a running chat w/ your manager that mimics the “pop your head in and ask a quick question” kind of vibe. Check in –ideally on-camera– at least once a day, etc. I can definitely say that virtual teams I’ve worked on where “cameras on” was the default felt a lot closer to pre-covid “regular teams” than those that were typically voice or email-only.

      Take time/effort for at least a little water-cooler type “go local sports team” or “do anything interesting this weekend?” chit-chat before/after meetings.

      In my experience, some people are able to build rapport and connection remotely and some are not. But I think it’s something you have to consciously work at. This goes doubly if you didn’t have a pre-covid baseline of familiarity to build from.

  13. scurvycapn*

    I’d be making snarky comments about commitment.

    “I can’t believe Jane is leaving. Seeing as she worked in the office, I imagined her commitment levels were off the charts.”

    “Here’s my two week notice. Why are you surprised? As someone who works remote, I obviously had no commitment to this company.”

    1. NeutralJanet*

      Would you really do that, or are you being snarky on the Internet for fun? There’s nothing inherently wrong with the latter, we all blow off steam sometimes and this kind of posturing can be cathartic, but is it really useful and actionable advice for the LW?

  14. Observer*

    I have a lot of sympathy. But some re-calibration may be in order here. I certainly hope you did not spend any money on your legal consultation, because nothing you describe ping remotely of any sort of illegal discrimination.

    Bad management is not illegal. Even genuinely unfair management is generally not illegal. Your boss could be a stupid, malicious and abusive dingbat and that would not be illegal as long as they didn’t act this way based on illegal characteristics. Is it ever good to be that way? Obviously not.

    So, your choices are to continue as you are, change your wfh choice, or look for a new job. Only you know whether this is your red line. Be glad that they are being crystal clear here – it gives you the information you need to make the best choice for you without a lot of guessing.

  15. Not A Real Manager*

    Our CEO straight up told me that remote workers are always the easiest to lay off in sort of an “out of sight, out of mind” way of thinking. I don’t agree with laying off people because they’re not the ones physically here (and we haven’t actually had layoffs), but the feeling is kind of true. Once you’re not seeing those people everyday, unless you work on their team, it’s easier to forget about them.

    It’s one of the reasons I’m hesitant to look for a fully remote job. I know how a lot of upper management perceives it, especially if they’re in the boomer generation. Though I will say our millennial and Gen x management tends to not care where you are working, so maybe I just have to wait a few more years before their perspective becomes more pervasive.

    1. Not an ideal solution*

      It’s not just easier to forget them, it seems more likely that you’ll have less emotional/collegial attachment to them. We are lizard-brained animals, and if you have to lay someone off, it’s gonna feel at least *a little* harder to do it to someone you’ve seen in person regularly than a disembodied voice on a Teams call.

      1. Not an ideal solution*

        In retrospect, a pretty dumb metaphor – I don’t lizards generally feel emotional/collegial attachments to much of anything. But you get the idea. ;-)

      2. Qwerty*

        It’s like the same reason long-distance relationships are so hard. Sure, they can work, but a lot of people struggle and fizzle out. It’s unfortunate, but just a reality of how our brains work.

        I once temporarily moved to a remote corner of the office so people would stop interrupting my teammate and myself while on a critical project. Within two weeks a bunch of people forgot that we worked there since they didn’t see us anymore and just assumed that we had quit. People have very short memories! (Our manager visited us daily to say hi and get an update)

        1. NeutralJanet*

          I worked a job once where my office was kind of in the corner by the back entrance, so I would come in through the back, and people genuinely constantly thought I was gone for good (in their defense, I was on a temporary contract, so everyone knew I was only going to be there for a short time).

    2. L-squared*

      This is very true. I’m in an office, but much of my company is remote. I’ve “met” everyone (our company is less than 100 people, and does have meet ups on occasion). But now and then, we’ll get an email about X person leaving the company, and if they are not on my team or in the office, I’m often left wondering “who”. And I don’t really care one way or another.

      People like to look at that is being uncaring or something, but in reality, these are just random people who I have no relationshp with.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      With such big layoffs in a lot of sectors, this is real and people should be thinking strategically about it. It’s not right, and you’re correct that I think it will fall off in a few years, but right now it’s something should be aware of.

    4. Hen in a Windstorm*

      You make it sound like this is unique to WFH. I used to work in a 5 story building with a north and south wing and very siloed work. I never even met people who worked on my floor in the other wing, much less other floors. Those people were all in the office and yet all “out of sight”. My ED was on a different floor than me and that was actually one of my issues with him – he never put in the effort to interact with those of us on the “other floor”.

      It’s on management to make the effort to keep those people from falling off their radar.

      1. Bit o' Brit*

        Yep, our office is a horseshoe shape, and not a big one, less than 100 people in it. Even pre-covid when I was in-office 5 days a week I didn’t know more than a few of them, because our jobs didn’t overlap ever and we were all too busy to casually socialise.

        Though I knew the managers due to my role being reporting, it was the non-managers who were just names on a screen despite being just a few metres away.

      2. Lisa Simpson*

        I worked in a building where our responsibilities all tethered us to specific areas of the building. Ours was in the back. People would move one of my coworker’s magnets on the in/out board to OUT, when she was in her office.

        I once had a boss say to me, “I shouldn’t have to come BACK THERE to talk to you.” As if I was blocks away and not a 90 second walk from his own office.

        And that’s before you even get into the fact that we supported offsite programs. You could have someone come in and work 8 am – 1 pm onsite and then 1:15 pm-8 pm offsite and people would be saying “Oh taking an afternoon off? Must be nice.”

      3. Eyes Kiwami*

        Exactly! At my last job I went to the other floor less than 10 times in the 5 years I worked there. I didn’t even know the names of everyone on my own floor.

        Somehow managers have figured out to manage people who don’t sit right in front of them: on a different floor, in a different building, in a different region or country. I genuinely don’t understand why WFH is so different.

        1. Kayem*

          The last year I worked on site, one of my bosses worked at an office a couple hours away, two others worked in offices in different states, and grandboss worked in an office in a different country. They figured out how to manage us all and we didn’t even have chat software available then.

      4. Kayem*

        Same here. My job used to be on site. There were two three-story buildings on our campus. I never stepped foot in the other building or the third floor of my own building. The only reason I went to the second floor was if the first floor bathroom was full. There were areas of my floor housing departments I never needed to collaborate with. The only time I ever saw the people who worked in those areas was if they happened to be walking in/out the door or down the hall at the same time as I did and it happened so sporadically that I’d never have recognized them later.

        Even within my own department, everyone was on their own team for their own project. Sometimes I’d have coworkers who were with me on multiple projects, so we got to know each other, but if one moved to a different department or team, there was little interaction during work and I wouldn’t have been able to say whether or not they were actually in the office. It took six weeks before I realized someone I worked with previously had retired because they were on a different project.

        I actually remember my coworkers better now that I’m remote, even when we haven’t worked on the same team or project in a while. Something about seeing their name and face always attached to messages in chat has reinforced who they are far better than just seeing them every day in the office (for me).

  16. Not an ideal solution*

    It’s a little unclear if they have a set policy of not promoting WFH people or if it’s just that the office culture is such that those who come in get face time, which leads to getting the most choice opportunities, which leads to more prestige and even more face time, etc.

    Maybe not an ideal solution, but would it be possible to do some sort of hybrid where you’re designated full time WFH , but you just sort of show up when you think you need to (join a staff meeting in person, meet f2f with your boss, etc.). Would they really just tell you that you can’t come in at all? Or is it a matter that there’s no space for you to work (i.e., there are only offices/desks assigned to people who are 4 or 5 day/week in-office and no suitable “hotel” spaces for others to work). That may also be a possible request/solution is to encourage them to arrange for suitable reservable work space for those who are not full time.

    My current employer actually did a really good job with converting a lot of our cube space over into hotel-enabled cubes and collaborative workspace. It makes it easy to be in and productive more flexibly, even if I WFH most days.

    1. Kay*

      According to the OP the company is not allowing any exceptions to the three options they gave. So in office is either 4 days or 5 days a week, no exceptions.

      1. ecnaseener*

        But the question is, would they really hold you to that if you showed up for a meeting and didn’t need a desk.

  17. drsuperberry*

    Can everyone at the company logistically work inside the office now that they are renting some of the floors to other companies? If tomorrow they said, “anyone who was previously remote can now change to fully in-office” would there be enough space for everyone to come in? Because, if not, it feels more shady to only promote those who choose to be in-office since it wouldn’t be true that everyone has/had the opportunity to get that extra face-time.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        It sounds like this is the kind of place that would force everyone to come in if they could, which makes me think that the rental agreement is preventing them from forcing everyone back.

    1. Silver Robin*

      Very good question. My org is super flexible (technically we are supposed to be in one day a week but folks come in if/when they want/need to). And part of the reason we continue to be this flexible is that there actually are not enough desks for everyone. They moved to the new office when the old office got too small and then over the next few years + the pandemic, they apparently quickly expanded beyond what this new office can hold. No idea what the plan is when the lease is up…

  18. Prospect Gone Bad*

    What was the reason given for this, and what is the industry? Every time this important comes up, people respond with either their preference or POV from their industry. But since this one depends on what the actual work is, I am not sure how valuable these are. For example, if you work close with the front desk and doctors in a medical office, it’s not useful to hear what a very back-office Accounting worker prefers.

  19. Cirus Monkey*

    Can you switch back and forth?….Like switch #2 or #3 in hopes of a promotion….and switch back to #1 when you get the promotion or a little while after?

  20. Anonymous here*

    My leadership has said point blank that people who aren’t in the office and don’t have their cameras on for remote meetings won’t get raises because they won’t know who they are.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        I know it sounds bad, but let me tell you, we have an entry level worker for 6 months on another team who never once spoke in a meeting or got off mute or showed his picture. The rumor mill in the group of core employees (well, it’s not really rumors after a while) was asking if he did work and was real, since no one ever heard from him.

      2. sherlock*

        I mean, it’s definitely been a thing that people are getting decoys to do the whole interview process for them, we’ve had people writing in here to brag about “working” 2 fulltime jobs at the same time in secret (and the commenters fell all over themselves to kiss their butts about it), etc. So just from a “we’re not employing any secret agents right???” perspective, I understand that company’s POV.

      3. Traswilihar*

        People who seeking promotion need to actively make themselves VISIBLE to those making promotion decisions. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

        That does not mean turning on your participant label on a Zoom call.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      See this is where I really wish I had the stones to keep asking Why until I got the real answer. Why do you need to know I’m working from the office? Why does it matter to you to see me face to face? Why is physically seeing me so important?

      For my boss it is because he knows he can talk us out of or into things we would normally push back on (like going to lunch with him and being on the radio in his stead, for real examples).

      1. Anne Elliot*

        But those are his reasons and they do in fact work to his advantage, so you do actually know the “real answer.” To keep asking for “the real answer” until he ADMITS it – that seems like a waste of your time, because he never will. “You won’t be able to say ‘no’ to me in person” is a rational reason to make people come in — shabby, but rational.

    2. Hen in a Windstorm*

      HAHAHAHA! Wow. It’s rare to announce how totally incompetent you are like that.

      Who knows who was in that meeting the other day? Could have been anyone – maybe it was some rando off the street who was passing by. Certainly not Charisse, who has been heavily involved in this project.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        I’m not a huge but of this, but it’s not imcompetence in some cases. This is literally “management” in some cases. Of course it depends if someone is abusing WFH. But one thing I notice people here missing is that your coworker may be abusing WFH and you aren’t aware. But your manager knows. And they aren’t telling you because it’s never been the norm to advertise performance issues across the company.

      2. Unkempt Flatware*

        hahaha right? I also love how these people think in person meetings mean people are paying attention. I can fantasize myself into a totally different dimension but my body is in the room so, cool!

    3. Legal Beagle*

      I don’t agree with this at all as a formal policy, but is it so strange that if you don’t meet people in the office OR turn on your camera, people are less likely to distinguish you? Yes, they can read the participant label, but let’s not pretend that doing so replaces talking to someone face to face.

      People are human and, given the choice between two generally qualified candidates, will naturally opt for the person they have a connection with. I feel like commenters here often think of promotions as a very objective thing where of course one candidate is more qualified than the other, but a lot of the times the two candidates are about the same level and then the personal connection you have with your colleagues is really going to come into play.

      1. L-squared*

        Thank you. People are overlooking how humans behave because they want to praise WFH as the best thing ever. But yeah, when you have connections, which are often formed in person, those are going to matter.

        1. Loulou*

          Agreed. It actually weakens your pro-WFH arguments if you’re supporting them with claims that anyone with knowledge of typical human behavior can see are untrue! Obviously if you’ve never seen somebody’s face you will feel less connected to them than to someone whose face you see every week…how can you possibly argue otherwise with a straight face (no pun intended)?

    4. There You Are*

      How did people like this function back in the days when remote communication was limited to emails and telephone calls?

      1. goducks*

        Remote work was much less common, for one. For another, remote employees were more likely to be highly siloed, like a remote territory sales rep, rather than people who regularly work on teams. Also, regular travel to the home office was much more a part of remote work.

        Prior to cloud software and high-speed internet, a lot of jobs just couldn’t be done from home, if the use of company software was a big part of the job.

        1. Not Your Trauma Bucket*

          I’ve worked at companies with distributed workforces (mix of different offices in different companies and remote home-based workers) for over 20 years. Teams were spread out geographically, not siloed in a specific location. We all survived just fine. I’m not saying it was the norm, but it’s not like it’s some brand new thing, especially in larger companies. We just flat didn’t have face time. We worked over the phone or email, eventually added instant messaging. I didn’t see anybody freaking out about the importance of knowing what their colleagues looked like until the pandemic hit.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Same here and also for over 20 years (in-office for all of them but the past three). It worked just fine. People got promoted and managed teams. I had several managers that lived several states away and whom I hadn’t met face to face until after a year or more of reporting to these people. We still had a solid working relationship and things got done.

            I always ask, where was the outrage about remote workers not pulling their weight, not putting in enough facetime etc, when companies were moving large portions of their work offshore and patting themselves on the back for doing it? They seemed fine with remote work then /s

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              And, having read other comments, want to add that WFH was always the norm where I worked, with a caveat… evenings, nights, weekends were just fine. 9-5 M-F, you had to be in the office because reasons. But if we needed to work at 9PM or on a Sunday, suddenly everyone on top was a big believer in teamwork, facetime, personal interactions etc being easily possible with remote work. Only time I got a recognition award at my job, I worked out of my then-boyfriend’s house, because that was where the work call caught me on Sunday morning (I had my work laptop with me, because we were being asked to have them with us everywhere at all times, except on vacation). No one had any problem with that. And, if we’re talking being available in case of emergencies, guess who is never stuck in rush-hour traffic with no idea of when they’ll be back online, or needs to log off and drive home asap because the dog hasn’t been let out in ten hours? remote workers, that’s who. I am seeing what to me looks like a lot of hypocrisy in the negative discussions around remote work in the corporate world today. IME remote work has always been just fine with the management, but only when it made things cheaper, or our work hours longer, otherwise it was suddenly “but what about the facetime” – and I am seeing that same thing being played on repeat today. (not at my work, we are fully remote and do not have offices)

          2. Parakeet*

            Yeah, I think the cultural difference between companies/teams that always had at least some people remote, and companies/teams that perceived remote work as a concession that they were grudgingly making to pandemic conditions but can’t quite get away with tossing out altogether if they want to retain people, are really showing up lately. The latter find reasons to consider remote work lesser-than. Not necessarily maliciously – it’s what they already believed, and people will find reasons to justify deeply-ingrained beliefs. The former already understood it as normal (and had practices that treated it as normal, rather than trying to adapt existing practices in a hurry).

            Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not talking about jobs that have to be done in person, or jobs where there’s a part of the job that has to be done in person that was temporarily put aside during the peak of the pandemic.

            1. Allonge*

              To be honest if remote workers put an extra level of obligation on managers (as they need different management, different communication), that is likely already enough of a drawback for a company that still thinks if itself as on-site first.

              Maybe this will change in a decade or so. But it’s not unreasonable, short-term.

  21. Anne Elliot*

    Without defending the company, is it possible that the bias against WFH internal candidates is unconscious, or that management haven’t considered that the way they are hiring amounts to bias against WFH internal candidates? I can totally see how I as a manager might in hiring, have a preference for someone that I know from the around the office (I know they’re cheerful, punctual, appropriately dressed, willing to help out, etc.) over someone who is an unknown quantity because they WFH and I don’t know them. And if I’m only responsible for hiring in my own section, I may not have awareness that other sections are doing the same thing and therefore collectively we have put up a barrier to advancement for WFH internal candidates. This doesn’t make it okay, but maybe there’s scope to flag it for the company for them to consider whether they are disadvantaging WFH people and whether that’s in the best interest of the company or needs to be addressed.

    I will also say that in the new hybrid WFH/WIO environment, I think there’s a parallel to the old advice “watch how the people who have the job you want behave, in order to figure out what the company wants in that job.” Do the people in management positions in your company work in the office or work from home? If they are all (or mostly) working in the office — well, that’s something your company looks for or prefers in managers, and whether that feels fair or not, that’s the reality. That’s the case where I work. WFH is an option that many staff take advantage of, but most if not all among leadership work out of the office most days. Is my employer going to say that? No. Everyone CAN work from home; but in reality people above a certain level do not. I’m not sure I agree there’s an obligation to make explicit something that anyone who is paying attention would be able to figure out. On the other hand, how would someone who is WFH figure it out? Valid question. They wouldn’t know who’s in the office, because they aren’t there.

    1. L-squared*

      I think these are both well thought out points.

      So often, especially on here, people like to look at things super maliciously. But I can easily see how your first point can be true, without it being an explicit policy, and to your second point, yes, act how the people in the job now act. I know that the managers at my company are yes men to our higher ups. I will never be that, and I’ve accepted that I won’t be promoted because of that. And its fine.

      1. Hen in a Windstorm*

        Everyone has good intentions. That doesn’t affect their behavior. You can hurt someone without meaning to. Frankly, at a certain level, an executive *has to* think about these things explicitly – and calling out the fact that they aren’t doing that isn’t saying they “mean to” hurt people, but they still are.

    2. goducks*

      If I am a manager with an opening on my team, and my two internal candidates are 1. a WFH person who I’ve never interacted with because I’ve never had a work-related reason to cross paths or 2. an in-person employee who while I haven’t worked directly with, I’ve had interactions in the hallway, the elevator, the breakroom, and whom I’ve seen interact well with other people, too, then my evaluation is going to be skewed toward the candidate I’m familiar with. The WFH candidate may as well be an external candidate.

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        Interesting. Seems a bit short-sighted to me. Why not take the time to find out about the second candidate or an external candidate?

        1. Anne Elliot*

          I’m not Sabine, but for me (a) I don’t have time to do a ton of external learning about candidates and I rely on the candidate to present their best self and (b) how would I do that anyway? How can I know the intangibles for someone I’ve never interacted with, as opposed to what I know about someone I have?

        2. Legal Beagle*

          She’s still interviewing the lesser known candidate, right? This would be equivalent to gettting a confirmation of employment dates from one candidate’s previous employer and a glowing, detailed review for another candidate. If you have more information, that’s going to factor in (and it should!) your analysis.

          It’s not always favoring the person about whom you know more, either. See, e.g., the person who was rude to his potential boss’s wife on the bus and got DQed for that.

      2. Hen in a Windstorm*

        So you hire based on random chance instead of skills? Weird. How on earth do you get anything done?

        Do you realize that an external hire is also someone you’ve never talked to in the break room? Therefore, you’re saying any random employee you’ve talked to in the hall is a better candidate than an external hire because you’re “familiar” with them.

        1. L-squared*

          I think many people are like that to a point. You take the data points you have into consideration. Its why a recommendation from someone you know will help. You can take all the info you have, but if you have a lot more info on one person, then that will make a difference.

          I don’t think the person was saying its a “random” choice, but it the person they “know” even in a loose sense may have an advantage. Conversely, that person, if the hiring manager finds them annoying, may also be at a disadvantage.

          1. goducks*

            Exactly this, too. If I’ve seen the internal candidate be prickly to people in the office, that’s part of the calculus.

        2. Me ... Just Me*

          You seem to be disingenuous in your approach. If you have two equally skilled candidates and you know almost nothing beyond the interview from one and know quite a lot through incidental exposure about another (say, brief meetings in hallways, meetings, elevators), then you’re likely to favor the known quantity over the unknown. That’s just how life works.

  22. KatEnigma*

    Look, my husband was given an offer for a permanent remote position the first week of March 2020. Before even the “2 weeks to flatten the curve” In discussion about taking the role (going back to a previous company, only at a MUCH higher salary, with now “unlimited” PTO, and a 9/80 schedule) he discussed with his former Grandboss, who was recruiting him, at the time from C level- about the stagnation he’d likely face from remote work. The way to get promoted in many, many industries is by being visible to upper management. It’s really difficult to be visible from home. Somehow, I doubt the board of directors is saying “we refuse to promote anyone who is remote only” – what they are saying, that LW doesn’t like or refuses to hear, is that you have to be visible to be promoted, and so far, no one who chooses to be home 5 days a week has made themselves that visible. Your choices, LW, which your lawyer made pretty clear to you, is to either accept it, be stellar, or seek other employment. If the company starts losing enough people because of the policy, they will notice the contribution from the remote workers. But as you say, applications are steady, because most people consider the option for full time remote work to BE a perk. We all make choices in life. Even if that choice is to remain employed at a company who has been clear about the policy.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      And “being visible” is not a vague concept like some people make it sound like online. For example, I am a Director and the VPs all flew to HQ and I went as well even though I was optional for most of it. I ended up being the go-to person for more than half of their ad-hoc requests simply by virtue of being in the same huge room overhearing the entire conversations, so they didn’t need to call people up or hunt people down who had “away” statuses and repeat the backstory of every request for 10 minutes. They also had a better gauge of how long requests would take and if the meeting should move on or stop to finish the issue, because I was sitting there going step by step. TBH this can work remotely but every time they reached out to someone, they happened to be “away” or they took forever to do the thing and then seemed annoyed when we followed up asking why it was taking two hours to do a report similar to the one we just did in 10 minutes. Then people were texting me “is VP mad at me, I didn’t know it was important” and then I was wasting time assuaging peoples’ feelings when TBH, yeah, the VPs were getting slightly annoyed that everything was taking so long

      1. ijustworkhere*

        Prospect Gone Bad, your perspective probably isn’t popular on this forum, but it is accurate. That’s been my experience too. Being in the right place at the right time and being quick to respond creates opportunities. That may not be the way it “should” work, but it is the way it has worked for a long time.

        I once got a promotion simply by being the only person in the office when a huge emergency hit the fan and I had to handle it–I couldn’t reach anyone higher up and the situation required me to just use my best judgment to de-escalate it and resolve it quickly. The boss thought I did a good job with a creative solution and gave me a new job and a raise. I don’t think I did anything special or unique–I’m guessing pretty much anyone else in the company would have done the same thing –but the point is that I was there, and they weren’t. Quickly capitalizing on opportunities is how a lot of people get noticed. It’s hard to do that when you are remote.

        Work culture is changing, but not at the same rate throughout the tiers. Workers are embracing and expecting WFH and rapidly shifting their expectations, while executives haven’t caught up yet with how that changes their management, evaluation, and promotional processes.

        And for right now, the pain of being stuck in old thinking isn’t painful enough to motivate change at the leadership level. I think it is fast approaching though–some businesses have seen so much talent and institutional memory walk out the door that they are in true crisis.

        1. Lily Potter*

          ijustworkhere, at a former job, we used to have what we called “Fire Drill Fridays”. At least once every three weeks, something would hit the fan at 3:00 on Friday that had to be dealt with quickly or a whole lot of pain would happen over the weekend. Generally, it involved roping in people from three or four teams to pull together information to devise and implement an action plan before everyone left for the weekend. You were expected to stay at the office until all was resolved if you got tapped to figure things out.

          Fire Drill Fridays were the worst in the summer. A key person would take PTO time. Their backup would leave at 2:30 to pick up their kid from summer camp and not be available. Their backup’s backup would then be in charge of pulling together a plan. At least when we were all in office, the backup’s backup had logistical support physically on hand to get things pushed through. Now, with WFH so common, that poor soul would be off on an island trying to figure things out amidst a sea of green “away” bubbles on Teams. It was far easier to corral people together to get answers on something quickly back then, since they’d be at their seats with nowhere to run or hide. Now, on a nice Friday afternoon, it’s super easy to just say you’re “away” from the computer or to send a call to voice mail and hope someone else figures things out.

          1. allathian*

            Most businesses don’t work like that, crap’s just as likely to hit the fan at any other time as on Friday afternoon. If it happened as often as a couple times a month, something was wrong with the company’s processes.

            1. Lily Potter*

              The business had a number of critical processes that happened on weekends. We did not have “Fire Drill Tuesdays”, it was always Fridays when things went south and had to be corrected before anyone fixing the situation could leave for the weekend. The fact that Fire Drill Fridays happened was just part of the job, and not particularly unexpected. What was different was that you didn’t always know what piece was going to go south, so it was hard to predict which staff members would have to handle the emergency-of-the-week. Pre WFH, whoever was in charge could go into the office, grab people from the desks, and head into the war room. My understanding is that the place is a mess on Fridays because WFH has given people plausible deniability. “Oh, I was in the bathroom when you called!” “I was on a call on my cell, talking to Fergus about the TPS report, sorry I couldn’t help!” Or people just put on their Away status at 3 pm and figure someone else will take care of things. Sometimes, butts in seats are useful.

        2. NeutralJanet*

          An old teacher of mine referred to this as being skilled enough to take advantage of your lucky break. Take Josh Groban. He got his big break because Andrea Bocelli was going to be singing a duet with Celine Dion, but he was sick for the dress rehearsal, so they needed a stand-in at the last minute, and the organizers happened to call Josh’s voice teacher. That was lucky for him, but he also did a lot of work to make that luck possible.

          There are not a lot of skillsets that are really, truly unique–when you’re applying for a competitive position, there are probably multiple people who are just about equally qualified, so a lot of things do come down to luck sometimes, or if not luck, then timing, or something else that doesn’t have to do with quantifiable skill. Maybe if Andrea had been healthy and Celine had been sick, Josh Groban wouldn’t have gotten his big break but some mezzo-soprano you’ve never heard of would have. It’s not fair, per se, but I’m not sure that there’s a way to fully correct for that, at least not in all professions.

  23. Just a thought*

    I think that facetime is a real thing – and that it impacts. I think that people can do incredible job WFH, as managers and as staff. But the transition for companies is very incomplete. It is harder to train managers up to see a broader picture than the roles currently played when they WFH. How do we change that? What can people, who want to be promoted, do to fill their knowledge gaps? How do new relationships develop that are critical for success? And people who WFH are going to have to play a role in solving these actual gaps (not just perceived gaps — but real gaps that anyone being promoted is faced with). And management has a role in solving these gaps …. but if they also do not WFH, then they are at a disadvantage as to how to use new tools/new types of meetings to create an environment where everyone is able to grow.

  24. Anecdata*

    Eh… To me it’s less egregious, it’s more like, say a company that gets 200 applications for a job, and find lots of good candidates in the first 50, so doesn’t bother reading the rest.

    It’s a risk for the company – maybe applicant #172 was actually the best, and maybe OPs company will lose good people by not investing the time to really develop careers for remote folks, but it’s not an inherently irrational trade-off for a company to decide to make, and it’s not explicitly discriminatory the way “boys clubs” are

    1. Mid*

      Offering employees options without being clear that one option will result in those employees being punished is actually very egregious. And, WFH is often more accessible for parents who need flexible schedules, people with disabilities, people who don’t want to deal with racism and homophobia in the office, etc. It is, in fact, just as discriminatory as “boys clubs” are.

  25. Somehow_I_Manage*

    I used to work for a small consulting company. Let’s call them “Steve’s Consulting Company.” Steve was wrong about all kinds of stuff, but it was his name on the letterhead, and that’s the way it works. While the law protects some elements of “fairness,” privately owned work places are not a democracy.

    That’s why we vote with our feet. Our power is we have a say in where we work. Depending on our career growth and the economy, sometimes we’re in a position of strength, sometimes we’re not! But it’s what we have.

  26. DivergentStitches*

    What about folks who work from home as a reasonable accommodation for disability (like me?)

    I wonder if they’re taking that into affect. If they aren’t, perhaps there could be a legal issue there.

    1. allathian*

      It would only be a legal issue for those who have requested an accommodation, and who is comfortable being known as having a disability accommodation, not for those who simply prefer to WFH.

      Regardless of legal issues, though, many people see the disabled as inherently incapable of doing anything except makework and entry-level jobs for minimum wage, certainly not as skilled employees who deserve a promotion.

  27. Unkempt Flatware*

    I can’t understand why a WFH employee isn’t seen as clearly a high performer. I guess I can understand those who really flake out but if I’m able to pull in multi-million dollars worth of grants and manage huge budgets and plan major community studies all self motivated and monitored, why isn’t that an obvious sign of a champion? Why wouldn’t you think, “man, I’d barely need to manage that person. I bet I can soon totally trust them and get my own work done much easier.”?

    1. Me ... Just Me*

      Because great individual contributors aren’t necessarily great managers. So, if you’re looking to go into management, the soft skills of building good teams, working collaboratively, or even just being approachable are likely taken into account. As someone who’s hired managers, I can teach skills (technical) but if someone just doesn’t have good people management skills, there’s much less I can do to help them further themselves (and I’m much less likely to choose the person with poor interpersonal skills, as those are so much harder to teach).

      I’ve watched folks who are socially awkward be passed up for promotions plenty of times (though, I haven’t been faced with having to make that choice, myself). It’s one of the reasons that, I, as a hermit-like person (seriously, I would love to live alone with my dogs in a cabin in the woods, coming out to civilization only for provisioning), carefully cultivate a personable, outgoing demeanor at work. 20+ years of experience (and a few hard knocks) have taught me that the personal skills, along with excellent clinical/technical skills, is what get’s you a management job.

      1. Lisa Simpson*

        Also, the social skills that make you a good manager might not be ones your company values, too.

        I had one boss who thought a good manager punishes employees for being sick, having emergencies, or noticing a problem at work (“selfish,” “not a team player”). I had another boss who thought a good manager never corrects their staff, because correcting staff is “mean.” And several others who thought violating company policies if they were inconvenient made you a good manager (“It only says in the company handbook that staff are entitled to use the bathroom during their work hours. That’s not federal law. The law says nothing about bathrooms. So bathroom breaks are not a thing to worry about because they’re not entitled to them.”)

  28. El l*

    Yeah, you just ran smack into an old-school culture (like my former employer) and there’s nothing further you can do about it. All you can do now is either leave or make your peace with never getting promoted.

    Management deserves censure for not being upfront about how they’re enforcing their in-office policy. But for better and worse it is a strategic choice they’re allowed to make.

  29. Sparkles McFadden*

    Companies want what they want even if their system of logic doesn’t make sense to you. It’s like working someplace where they want outgoing, loud, social people as managers. If you go to management and say it doesn’t makes sense that quiet people never get to be managers, they’ll counter with the same sort of arguments: They want people who can network well etc. There wouldn’t be anything HR could do because HR exists to make sure the company doesn’t get sued, not to help you find leverage to sway management’s position.

    This sounds harsher than I mean it to. I actually agree with you on some of this, but this is the sort of thing that falls under the culture fit umbrella. I changed jobs every four or five years, and a big reason for that is that the culture in my workplace was that open promotions should go to “someone from outside to get a fresh perspective.” Their response to a proven track record was “You are doing great work where you are so we don’t want to mess with that.” I’d end up training the new manager and then I’d move to a higher position in a different department and start the cycle all over again. That’s just how it was there and that was how I opted to deal with it.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      “Companies want what they want even if their system of logic doesn’t make sense to you”

      I have an employee who keeps wanting to do the same routine and isn’t grasping that if they give away some of those tasks they can take on more skilled work. I keep trying to arrange a training but they say they are busy with the basic tasks and aren’t helping me make them an exit plan from those items. I prefer to do the training in person because it’s easier to share multiple screens and shadow them. Not everyone has a 2 hour commute or kids or health issues. I know he lives 30 minutes away and has been complaining about his roommates but consistently comes up with excuses to never leave the house. At this point, I feel like I am counseling someone who gets too stuck in habits, rather than trying to help grow an employee. He’s been around the office for social events but apparently to go there during the day is a huge imposition.

      If the promotion track requires adaptability and many minor inconveniences, this is not setting him up for success. Yes he can assure me verbally that he can deal with change in new situations, but the track record isn’t there

      1. allathian*

        Sounds like he isn’t walking the talk. He’d like a promotion and the raise that probably goes with it, but it doesn’t sound like he’s willing to do the work to get there.

        But as a manager, you can’t be more committed to his career growth than he is.

  30. Yuck*

    More than 50% of America is back in the office. Large companies committed to remote work are changing course (I have a lot of friends affected by Paycom’s recent changes). Unfortunately, I think the shift back to in-office work is happening, and with recession fears, will probably happen faster.

  31. Swix*

    Years ago, before remote work was practical, I worked for an industrial company. The running “joke” among the engineers was that the best way to get promoted was to leave, work for a competitor for a year or two, and then apply for the higher position at the first company.

  32. Hiring Mgr*

    It might not be completely fair but it’s reasonable that someone who is better known by the people making the promotion decisions are more likely to get promoted. In some roles facetime can really make a difference.

    What I don’t understand is the rigidity of the schedule – like why couldn’t you come in a couple of days a week every now and then if you wanted to

    1. Just Another Starving Artist*

      Probably a space issue. If everyone is coming in on set days, then they have space for everyone who’s in-office to work. People coming in and out as they please requires more flex space or hoteling, which the company might not want to devote the resources to (if they even still have the space).

      1. allathian*

        That’s probably it. But it does mean that employees don’t get the chance to network in person with everyone they might benefit from networking with. I’m glad that I can pretty much choose when and how often I go to the office apart from our few in-person meetings (once a month or less). I work for a distributed team and my manager’s in another office, so going in more often doesn’t even get me more face time with my manager.

  33. Essentially Cheesy*

    Maybe it’s time for the employers that really want to reduce or eliminate the WFH option to be open and honest. Really no one has time for games, right? Especially now that the US government will move into “endemic” mode instead of “pandemic” mode in May 2023.

    For all the employees that are fully devoted to 100% WFH – it is probably time to find an employer that totally supports 100% WFH. Good luck.

  34. Keymaster of Gozer*

    We’ve been largely in the office with some days WFH per week depending on needs throughout this due to the nature of our work (you cannot do it 100% remotely), but there are a few members of staff in other departments who asked for and got 100% WFH status and there’s been similar debates on the company forums to your letter.

    People who’ve refused to come back at all, even if it is perfectly allowed, have said they feel like there’s less attention given to their job development, or promotion prospects and while the company has been silent (officially) about it I can see it happening.

    I work from home sometimes, as it’s really beneficial for my disabilities, but it’s hell on my mental state and I do admit to feeling a lot more disconnected from my staff. I try to work around it where I can.

    But that is extra effort and sadly, there’s a lot of management out there who simply don’t want that extra work. Since you know your management are of that opinion there’s not a lot you can do to change them.

    If you want a job that supports fully remote working and doesn’t penalise your career for it I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.

    As a number of people on our forums are.

  35. Chocolate eclair*

    Your employer is telling you what most won’t. From my experience WFH the past 10 years, whether your employer says it or not WFH makes it harder to get promoted and to get opportunities. Out of sight out of mind is a real thing. That’s not to say if you are a superstar employee, and able to be loud enough to be heard often then you likely will thrive there. However if you are a dependable worker with no issues, and not the loudest on calls then you (I) have a harder time .

    My 2nd year working from home I had my yearly review and half of the stuff on my review my boss had forgot that I do that because he had not heard any complaints about my work. His write up complimented me stating that “The work I do he doesn’t have to worry about because I am so knowledgeable and dependable”. My husband read it and said that is code for you don’t exist, I was doing my job well and they could forget I was there. It was a wke up call to be heard going forward.

  36. Qwerty*

    This sounds like a very predictable by-product of going remote. It’s been a known thing in remote roles pre-pandemic. If the company had an actual rule I could summon some outrage, but this feels like logical consequences.

    The more you see and talk to someone, the more likely they are to come to mind when an opportunity comes up. This is the same reason why we usually object to exclusionary team activities like golfing where a subset like dudes get more face time with higher ups than the women.

    Being in the office is like have a billboard up. Most people aren’t influenced by individual ads or billboards – no expects you to watch a commercial and then race to the store for a Coke or a Ford. But they want it in your mind so next someone asks you want to drink you order a coke. Or your car gets totalled and you need a new one and a voice in your head says “Ford has XYZ and looks sporty” (maybe I shouldn’t talk about cars…)

    Its similar at work – a team needs someone to run point on the project, Jake has been talking to the manager for that team trying to learn more on that subject, so the manager goes, “hey, maybe Jake would be a good fit” It’s also a LOT easier to jump in on the little stuff that helps out other people in the office (and be seen doing it). So they might think, Sally has been helping the teapot team a lot lately and learned a lot about handles, I bet she could handle some of the surplus handle items to help them catch up to their deadline.

    There’s also a can of worms on how being a remote manager is an extra skillset on top of the already hard job of being a good manager.

    1. L-squared*

      Great point.

      And as you said, its exactly why people have a problem with certain activities with face time.

  37. L-squared*

    Another random point, which I touched on in a response above. Are these people good hires in general? Because to me, its much less egregious to have 2 people who are both roughly equally qualified, and giving the slight edge to the in person individual. Its totally different if they are promoting objectively bad people.

  38. Lily Potter*

    You’re absolutely right, Qwerty. It’s the little day-to-day things, noticed by managers, that set people up for success and (hopefully) promotion. As Chocolate Eclair noted above, people who put their heads down and quietly get the work done in the background don’t get promoted as often (or in some places, at all). Should hiring managers look beyond their immediate knowledge of people and think about people in the background when promoting? Of course, but there’s only so many hours in a day and people often default to that which is right in front of them.

    On a related note, I’ve wondered how often companies promote WFH people when the team that they’d be leading is primarily or exclusively in-person office. Logic tells me that a grandboss would want an in-person manager in that situation.

  39. umami*

    I’m curious about how certain the LW can be that only people going into the office are getting promotions. Are they really positioned to know this as fact? I can see how it could ‘seem’ that way, but how could they possibly know when they aren’t even going into the office? The rest of the letter just indicates they weren’t satisfied with the answer they got when they escalated to HR about what they presume about their promotion process, not that anyone confirmed that you ‘must’ work in the office for a promotion. It also seems odd that her entire team is also working remotely (and that none of them have gotten any promotions), it is possible that the entire team is underperforming compared to other teams who are going into the office.

  40. BatManDan*

    Tangential to the conversation, but highly relevant to a lot of the comments. “Networking” is a phrase typically applied to superficial, transactional, or sales-related activities. Building a network (or REAL networking) is useful across all departments and functions of a business, and has everything to do with building trust and rapport and does not necessarily imply a sales function at all. I’d just like to bring some clarity to the dichotomy I’m seeing between people that are acknowledging that network-building (or a lack of it) can, and will, be a factor in promotions, and those that are saying “who cares if they are ‘networked’ if their job isn’t public-facing/ sales?” Just my two cents.

    1. KP*

      Chiming in to support this.

      The role I currently have is not just because I was the most qualified or had the most experience. I built a network. When this role opened, multiple colleagues reached out to me to let me know about the opportunity and encouraged me to apply. And I don’t work in sales! I’m in a STEM career. I’m great at science but my soft skills are valuable too, which my network knew.

      I actually really hate how folks diminish the importance of interpersonal relationships at work. They help get stuff done. Like today – A team-member’s wife (same company, different department) reached out to me because she knew I 1) had the skills/experience to help her and 2) am super friendly.

      When she thanked me, she made sure to include her manager and my manager were aware our interaction and how great I was. But….the only reason we had the interaction to begin with was because I had an established relationship with her husband because I see him every single day.

      This isn’t to say that networking and building relationships is impossible when you’re fully WFH. I just think you have to be exceptionally good at it and recognize its value if you want to be seen as successful. Promotions aren’t just based on tangible metrics.

  41. My Take*

    As a manager, I see people consistently underestimating how they come off remote vs. in-person. The same person can come across VERY differently depending on the medium. For example, when discussing performance issues of a team, they can feel cold and combative on zoom while the same discussion in person makes it clear that they are stressed and struggling. Non-verbal communication can be very influential, and it doesn’t always translate. I’ve also experienced people say/act in a way from home that I think they would NEVER do in the office. The formality of the work place can sometimes inspire a different set of behaviors.

    Some people also confuse efficiency with effectiveness. Yes, for some roles you are evaluated on how many widgets you can produce in a set amount of time (or the quality of those widgets, etc.). But promotions in other roles can often depend on relationships, ability to influence, poise/polish, and executive presence. Depending on the industry, role, and culture, that “whole package” may be easier to demonstrate or develop in person.

    As a woman, I will also say that my casual friendships developed in person at work over the years have been invaluable in helping to give me the inside information I need to understand and navigate a traditionally male-dominated industry. No way would I have been able to develop those friendships–or exchange the off-cuff and sometimes frank advice needed to succeed–through scheduled outlook meetings on camera.

    Finally, a lot of people underestimate the usefulness of “water cooler talk” or “hallway conversations.” Those informal touch base sessions are where you can learn a lot about what is going on in your department, other departments, the business, priorities of leadership, etc. It’s not the information that will necessarily be “announced” (via a scheduled meeting or email), but it matters. The people who are able to understand that culture and context will be the ones who may have a leg up in navigating the corporate environment…including promotions.

  42. Urbanchix*

    I agree with many of the above points that lay out the link between live FaceTime and water cooler talk and promotions, especially in a culture when nearly all of senior leadership is consistently in the office. I also am troubled by the OP stating that this has been raised to the Board, and sincerely hope she was not the one to raise it. I feel like that is grossly inappropriate except in cases of discrimination or other illegal activities. Please no one else do this. Unless of course there are illegal activities or gross misconduct.

  43. Courageous cat*

    I support giving as much flexibility as humanly possible, but I will unfortunately always believe that this is true too: it is harder to be a remote employee. You’re harder to train, it’s harder to learn, no one necessarily sees your face, no one gets to know you as an employee, you don’t get any benefit of the one-off conversations that occur around the office, you’re harder to have a one-off conversation with… I think not getting promoted as a fully remote employee is a somewhat natural progression of that.

    I’m not saying it’s necessarily right, but I do personally believe that 100% remote is less efficient and less effective and frankly more difficult to manage overall. I think people will dig their heels in on how much “it’s practically the same” for years to come because most people (seem to) want to WFH, but I suspect over the years there will be some changes from that mindset, as we realize that it’s honestly *not* the same.

  44. Caterpillar hunter*

    It is worth seriously considering whether there are genuine differences in output between in person and remote workers. Are there things your remote workers do not do? Especially with regard to promotion, which is often not about doing your current role well but whether you are demonstrating ability for the higher level role. I think one of the big differences is how much you do the not core work part (obviously industry and role dependent)

    I’ve worked jobs where the bulk can be done remotely – but typically there were chunks that remote workers did not do. And opportunities to casually demonstrate skills at higher job levels sparse.

    One big difference was that those not in the office did not tend to have casual conversation with colleagues not on their immediate workgroup. So things like informal mentoring wasn’t happening (in either direction). IME and workplaces, taking 15min or even an hour to talk through a problem with a colleague can make a huge difference to overall output – does impact promotion to more senior positions – but is not part of the job role in the junior roles. If you aren’t doing this casually, you need to orchestrate opportunities because you simply aren’t competitive with colleagues that have been demonstrating these skills if you haven’t been.

    Remote staff also didn’t get pulled randomly into discussions, and so had less opportunity to learn, practice and demonstrate some skills outside their job requirements. Eg engaging with clients – a requirement for higher level positions but not junior. We often invite juniors to sit in on client meetings to gain experience (watching basically, not as an active participant), and then they get the opportunity to casually engage over meal breaks etc. A remote employee can do the watch part, but gets fewer opportunities to practice. Naturally, coming in for such experiences is an option if invited to join the meeting, but many discussions happen over “meet the broader team” morning teas or drinks – and may but be scheduled with everyone.

    This is not to say that remote workers cannot do these things, but rather that, in roles I have held, not coming to the office did introduce barriers. Some staff aren’t looking for promotion, and so avoiding all those extras that took time out of your day without applying to your current role was a huge bonus of being remote. But if you are looking for promotion, you do need to look at what is expected and how you can demonstrate your skills – and know that being remote might mean you have to be more deliberate in making that happen, if the typical casual/informal stuff does not work remotely.

    1. Lily Potter*

      Caterpillar Hunter, I’ve been thinking about your post today and came up with another thing that hinders remote workers.

      A part of understanding an offices’ politics involves confidential information – some of it gossip, some of it just people privately expressing unpopular opinions. I cannot tell you the number of times in my in-person working career that people started a conversation with “I probably shouldn’t tell you this but……” When two people are in a private office having a conversation, all sorts of information flows. When two people are on a Teams call……well, smart people do NOT freely express unpopular opinions……those calls can and sometimes are recorded, plus you never know who might be listening in a background. When you work from home 100% of the time or even most of the time, you miss out on all of that informal information exchange. Let’s face it – people don’t CALL their co-workers to dish the dirt in the way that they’ll grab someone and shut an office door.

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