Effects of long-term remote working on career progression
I’ve become increasingly aware of the growing number of professionals who never (or rarely) intend to return to the office environment and plan to continue to work remotely full time. I have clients, friends and peers opting for more of a balanced lifestyle, affordable housing and less commute. Their heads are held high, feeling smug and proud that they have finally made it in life!
Of course, my first feeling is envy - those larger houses, sleep ins and country living sound super appealing. And then comes a weird sense of disconnection. When will I see these people? Will they commute into the office again? How will this affect our relationship, how can I work with them in the future? I am left feeling uncertain.
As a head hunter, I am asking myself:
“How will this affect their career development?”
“Will they get passed over for promotion?”
“How will introverts who already struggle for the lime light cope?”
“Will this limit their options of what company would like to hire them?”
“Are they as attractive and placeable as they once were?”
For aspiring leaders, I felt compelled to look into this further. With the uncertainty of the future of work, nothing’s off the table! I polled my LinkedIn connections asking if they felt their career would progress at the same rate if they were working remotely long term:
29% - YES, career would continue at the same rate
35% - NO, it will not
15% - PROBABLY
21% - NO, but that’s OK
I was shocked, 44% said their career would probably or definitely progress at the same rate if they never/rarely return to the office. While my inner progressive, inclusive ‘throw the rule book out the window’ screamed at me, my head-hunter/psychologist part of me frowned.
Not satisfied with one point of reference, I spoke with my team of well-qualified consultants and they presented with mixed views. What they all agreed on, is that most organisations are trying to recruit capable and talented employees and offering at least 30-40% remote work is necessary to attract the right candidates.
After speaking to a series of senior leaders in the Industry, I found 4 challenges to long term remote work for aspiring leaders:
Loyalty to their company and brand
How leadership skills/style are developed
Professionals opting out of the career race - women first
Effective team collaboration
Loyalty to company and brand
While professionals will feel a sense of gratitude when establishing a long-term remote role, this will not necessarily supplement the diminishing loyalty and brand alignment which may occur. Brand alignment and loyalty is an important part of team culture and without this connection, there could be a question of whether the role can be fulfilled from a lower cost base such as outsourced/off shore.
Lindall West, Managing Director of Ombpoint, Australia’s first workplace ombudsmen and ex Global HR Director from First Sentier Investors shares her view on connection versus culture. Ms West comments that while sustaining the workplace culture is important to an organisation, what fully remote working has done is lessened the connection with the brand and the organisation for those employees.
“It’s virtually impossible to gain the essence of an organisation via zoom. Those who are promoted into leadership roles need to embody the ethos of the organisation – how it feels, and help their team to also feel this.”
How leadership skills/styles are developed
Leaders are developed, not born. Professionals learn from different situations, people and social cues. Without the in-person, multi-dimensional view of how leaders operate, how can an inspiring leader experience the ‘whole’ view of leadership? A course will provide one view, a mentor another, a tricky meeting a further view, however the in-person experience will provide 5-6 different views in one! Becoming an effective leader will likely be faster and more wholesome when there is in-person interaction.
David Smith, CEO lending, Aussie Lendi Group talks about how employees being present in the office is necessary for sustainable career growth.
“Learning actions and skills can be done from anywhere, however don’t underestimate the power of learning by osmosis. By working with colleagues in person, you can trial and test skills to shape the type of professional you aspire to be.”
Opting out of the career race – women first
Everyone has been managing increased workloads in the last 2 years. Mid-senior management have also had the pressure to not just drive engagement and results, but also support social justice, supporting their team’s mental health, driving diversity and equitable outcomes and fostering a sense of belonging. According to 2022 Employee Experience Trends by Qualtrics who have provided an extensive report about employee experience in 2022, senior leaders across 27 different countries have all reported a reduced desire to stay at their organisation. Qualtrics received data from 14,000 full time employees and reported on their engagement, intent to stay at their organisation, growth and development, manager effectiveness/trust in leadership, employee wellbeing, corporate social responsibility (see info graphic below). Male senior leaders reported a 9% drop in the intent to stay in an organisation and female senior leaders had a 18% drop in the intent to stay. See the full report HERE.
Ms West commented on the ‘great resignation’ and ‘YOLO’ (‘you only live once movement’):
“Before Covid, a senior leader would have 7/8 people gunning for their role, however now it is likely that only 3-4 people probably want that pressure and responsibility. My fear is the 3-4 professionals who are gunning for promotions are not diverse in nature.”
Effective team collaboration
We are yet to see the long-term impacts of team collaboration and culture when a portion of the team is not in person. Even with increasingly intuitive technologies, can team collaboration be truly inclusive and productive if some people are never in the room? Effective people leaders tend to show a holistic view of themselves to help build trust and credibility. They also support their team members in multi-faceted ways which require different approaches at different times. This will be very difficult to do online effectively.
Andrew Howard, Chief Commercial Officer of TAL highlights how we have entered into a new “blended” phase of working conditions. Acknowledging there is no “one answer” Mr Howard talks about how he wants his team to engage and contribute to the conversation about what is best for the organisation they work for, their team and team members. When asked specifically about career development, Mr Howard shares:
“Aspiring leaders need to be active and engaged in their work environment and that will certainly mean committed time to being in person for collaborative work and working culture.”
The future of work has never looked so uncertain, however one thing is for sure - more people than ever are engaging in this important conversation, trying different things and genuinely listening to their employees. Alva Devoy, Managing Director, Fidelity International, shares how she is enticing the team back into the office rather than mandating a return to the office:
“It’s about encouraging people back into the office and not forcing them. Forming team collaboration activities on different days and making it attractive will help create the environment where team members want to come back to the office.”
There may be career development consequences for aspiring leaders if they choose to work remotely long term, however while leaders and organisations lean into the conversation, there is an incredible opportunity to curate and shape the future of leadership.
Victoria Butt is a wife, mother, founder of 3 businesses, head hunter, wine lover, feminist and passionate advocate for inclusive leadership.