Study: The career risks of working remotely – and how to mitigate them

One of the factors that had kept many people from experimenting with working from home was the fear that it would hurt them professionally. There was always the potential to be seen as not committed to the work or the team, if you asked to work remotely.

Well, that’s all changed. Working from home has become the new necessity for every job that can be done remotely. And those workers who continue to produce without coming into the physical workplace are keeping the economy going. Without those contributions, many more companies would have to shut down completely.

The question that many people have now is, what’s going to happen when the pandemic crisis is over? Will everyone head back to the office, or is working from home going to be a much more common option for more people?

There are obvious benefits for workers who can avoid the daily commute and save that time for more fulfilling activities than sitting in traffic or on crowded public transit. Employers may consider the substantial cost savings that can be had by not maintaining workspaces large enough for every staff member to have a permanent work station.

Even before COVID-19, attitudes were changing. A recent study, released before the pandemic – from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute may reveals the perceptions of employees and employers alike.

“Although telecommuting has experienced rapid growth, some workers are reluctant to try telecommuting for fear that it will hurt their career,” said study author Timothy D. Golden. “This research helps answer that critical question: Does it hurt your career if you telecommute? My study shows that it depends heavily on the employee’s work context.”

The study used actual corporate data on the promotions and salary increases of over 400 workers to evaluate the affect that telecommuting had on their individual career trajectories.

While on the surface, the research found that telecommuting does not necessarily hurt your career, there are still drawbacks. Most notably, your salary might take a hit. People who work remotely were found to receive fewer promotions and raises than their coworkers who spent more time at the office.

However, there were some behaviours that mitigated this. The study found that telecommuters who have a great deal of face-time with their managers are more likely to see greater boosts in pay, even if they worked from home for a large part of their work week. So, even if you work from home much of the time, you should still go into the workplace regularly for meetings, updates, and to stay top of mind with your supervisor.

Also, go above and beyond. The study suggests that telecommuters who put in extra hours outside of the regular work week are more likely to get higher raises. (This is probably true for non-telecommuters as well. Those workers who contribute more than is expected of them tend to be rewarded.)

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