Work From Home and Get Ahead? Yes! Here's How

Last Updated Sep 16, 2010 3:16 PM EDT

One of the big disconnects between remote workers and their employers is the perception of their career tracks: employers think they fairly assess people and there's no difference in chances for that big promotion. Remote workers can't help feeling that if they're not under the boss's nose, they'll get overlooked. Who's right?

According to Kathryn Ullrich, the head of UCLA's Alumni Career Services and the author of "Getting to the Top: Strategies for Career Success," working remotely does make it tougher to get noticed, but it's not an insurmountable hurdle. I recently interviewed her about how to stay on the career path even when you're not commuting to Headquarters every day.

How can remote workers maintain a high profile when the company doesn't see them every day?
"Out of sight, out of mind" need not apply if you can remain in sight while working remotely. Here are some ideas for developing relationships and presence in your company while working remotely:

  • Maximize travel to headquarters or other team locations. While visiting, meet with team, decision-makers, and influencers. Plan time for "management by walking around" to catch-up or establish relationships with peers or cross-functional employees. Schedule lunches with well-networked individuals to get up-to-speed. Attend evening functions with employees. Make travel coincide with other events that draw many employees to maximize your trip. Make yourself visible when visiting.
  • Volunteer for cross-functional teams or special projects that can be led virtually. Make yourself available for projects that you might not be tapped for because you are remote â€" and then participate via phone, Skype, or other online mediums.
  • Join communities in your company, or start virtual communities. Just like playing softball on the company team builds new relationships in a company, connecting in a virtual community can do the same. Create groups that work within the culture of your company: NCAA March Madness tournament or fantasy leagues, virtual professional organizations on LinkedIn or Yahoo Groups, or forums for sharing personal stories or hobbies.
What skills do managers of remote teams need to develop to maintain solid career opportunities?
In my book, executives share leadership skills required as you advance in your career. Let me apply these to managers of remote teams.
  • Strategic vision â€" The role of the leader is to set a vision for the team and then get the team in alignment with this vision. The remote leader will have added complications in communicating consistency of vision so therefore it is important to be crystal clear on a set of objectives and make sure everyone understands these. Keeping the objectives to a short list of three items, for example, will help the remote leader hammer in these goals.
  • Customer perspective â€" A leader needs to deliver value for external and internal customers. The remote leader will have additional challenges in getting to know their internal customers and developing a strong understanding of their needs.
  • Communications â€" The most important skills as you advance in your career are communication skills. These of course, are made more difficult because of working remotely. Therefore, the remote manager must develop ways to heighten communications, both tools for connecting and communication skills for delivering messages effectively to a variety of audiences. This starts with understanding a particular audience and how they prefer to communicate: mode, frequency, message, and more.
  • Team Leadership â€" The remote manager needs to understand the nuances of hiring, developing, empowering, delegating, motivating, and firing for a remote team.
  • Distinguishing Skills â€" For any function, there are skills you need to master. If you were hired remotely, there are probably some unique skills that you bring to your company. The remote manager needs to continually develop these skills and add value to their company.
What can managers do to help the members of their remote teams with their career aspirations?
People develop through experience, exposure, and education, so managers need to understand and provide for their employees remotely.
  • Experience â€" What are special assignments, projects, or responsibilities that will allow individuals to grow in their careers and develop additional skills? For the remote manager, how do you learn of these opportunities, or suggest them, so that your team can be a part?
  • Exposure â€" How do you provide role models and mentors for your team to expand their network? A remote manager will understand that networks can come from inside and outside an organization.
  • Education â€" What classes or training will benefit your team members? In addition to skill development, remote employees can leverage in-house training to develop relationships within the company.
You can hear the entire interview with Kathryn Ullrich on the Cranky Middle Manager Show.
photo by flicker user h.koppdelaney CC 2.0