Man working from home

Working from home should not make climbing the career ladder steeper

How to level out the playing field

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
3 minute read
Man working from home

There are growing fears that those who thrive on the freedom of working from home might be missing out on another liberty: the ability to advance their career.

If you are working from the home office some or all of the time and hope to continue your climb up the career ladder, it might be a good idea to hot-foot it back to your office desk.

Proximity bias, which is described as the tendency for people in positions of authority to show favouritism or give preferential treatment to those workers who are physically close by, can derail remote workers’ efforts to be promoted.

Out of sight, out of mind

Proximity plays a role in promotions, with office-bound employees enjoying unseen career-building benefits because of their physical closeness to colleagues and, particularly, their bosses.

The more “face time” an employee has with a supervisor, the more likely it is they will receive feedback, be recognised for their achievements and can take advantage of incidental, career-enhancing opportunities that might arise.

Managers are more likely to bond with those whom they spend more time with, perceive them as more engaged and more reliable and provide them with work opportunities that develop new skills.

They are also likely to make the antiquated assumption that people in the office are more productive than those working from home.

Those working remotely are likely to be inadvertently excluded from important meetings, overlooked for development opportunities and less likely to be front of their manager’s mind when promotional or new roles become available.

The bottom line is there is a tendency to value colleagues who are physically present more highly than those who are connected remotely.

Unsurprisingly, the situation can be even more dire when employees form part of a very small minority who work remotely or in different time zones.

Beating the bias

It is worth pointing out that not everyone wants to be promoted. For those people, proximity bias will remain a non-issue.

Nonetheless, the modern workplace must work towards a level playing field by eradicating what some workplace experts have labelled “hybrid inequity”.

Responsibility for ensuring promotional opportunities are equally available to people working remotely and colleagues in the office should sit with those in charge.

Leaders must become more aware of biases that can emerge when a workforce is split across the office and remote locations and take steps to mitigate the impact of such unfairness.

Individuals working remotely can also take steps to support their own career advancement by becoming self-advocates. In the absence of regular face-to-face, in-person interaction, they will need to be proactive to make themselves as available and visible as possible.

It will take time for workplaces to address the career inequities that exist between office-based and remote-located workers.

In the meantime, if you are working remotely and in a hurry to climb the career ladder, remember that in many workplaces you will need to be seen more to be appreciated.

Put another way, out of sight means out of mind – especially when it comes to promotions and salary increases.