Stop – Don’t Choose Remote Work Without Reading This (The top 10 career advantages from working “in the office”)

I estimate that in-the-office workers get up to 50% more career-building options than remote workers. Therefore, if you are ambitious, an innovator, or hope to become a leader in your current organization. It’s time to realize that until you make a commitment to “come into the office” full-time. You are not likely to meet any of your ambitious goals. So even though your isolation may make you feel comfortable, you are unknowingly costing your family financially.

A Manager’s Familiarity, Trust, And Confidence In You Increases Career Opportunities

The foundation principle here is based on the management phenomenon known as “proximity bias.” This is where managers have a favorable bias toward workers that spend all of their working hours physically close to and interacting with them. This preference is mostly caused by managers that want to avoid the risk associated with offering opportunities to employees that they don’t thoroughly know and trust. And that a higher level of familiarity, trust, and confidence is built up in proximity workers (PW), but not in remote workers (RW). 

Primarily because of the dramatic differential in the number and the quality of formal and informal confidence-building interactions between the “in the office employee” and their manager. This lopsided favoritism towards close proximity workers occurs even though most managers are not even aware that it exists.

Before Deciding, Understand The Top 10 Advantages Of Working In The Office

Start off by realizing that when everyone is working remotely, there are no significant disadvantages for the remote worker. However, now that many workers have returned to the office, the available opportunities shifts in favor of proximity workers.

For example, because of their increased interactions, proximity workers will get more invitations to important meetings, more chances to present ideas, and more key project assignments. And taken together, these types of advantages result in faster promotions and raises for the proximity worker. Below you will find the top 10 advantages listed, with the most impactful ones appearing first.

  • Proximity workers experience a much higher volume of formal interactions – when you physically share the same workspace for many hours, the number of formal interactions will increase dramatically. For example, when a spur-of-the-moment meeting is called, realize that your employees that are close by will be most likely to get invited. And in those meetings, if a manager is familiar with you, there is a higher likelihood that you will be called upon. And if a manager has judged you to be more committed, you are more likely to be asked to “fill in” when a key person is unavailable. Being much more visible will also mean that you will be asked to participate in hot projects and important problem-solving sessions. And if you were around and helpful during the last team crisis, you will likely be asked to help again whenever a new crisis arises. Being close to a manager also means that they will more frequently ask you to act as a pre-tester. Like when your manager asks, “Can I run this by you?” Incidentally, the full-time proximity worker will also have a slight advantage in the number of interactions over those PWs that only come into the office a few days each week. 
  • You can expect more high-quality employee development opportunities – HP once found that the best development opportunities for employees were “informally sharing a burrito outside the employees’ cubicle with long after normal work hours. Well, ad hoc opportunities like that can only happen to proximity workers. And once your manager is completely confident in you. The PW will likely receive more and higher quality interactive development opportunities than the remote worker. Those quality development opportunities might include mentorships, coaching, cross-functional team assignments, and shadowing opportunities. All of which are simply not very feasible for remote workers.
  • The most memorable communications are face-to-face – unfortunately, most electronic communications are less than memorable. However face-to-face communications are often much more memorable because the other person can easily see your face and your subtle body language. And unlike electronic communications, the responses and counterpoints from a face-to-face conversation come immediately, without delay. And remember if your employees meet with customers, the customers may have a preference for face-to-face interactions.
  • PWs have more quality interactions with coworkers – everyone wants close relationships with their team members. And when the majority of your team works in the office, they can be seated in a way that enhances interactions and collaboration. However, when you compare the two locations for work. It is likely that your team’s proximity workers will experience an increased number and quality of face-to-face interactions with each PW teammate. And those interactions will enable your teammates to better understand and appreciate you. And when you need help, those closer relationships will likely result in you getting more and quicker support from a larger number of your teammates. And remote workers that have only electronic connections, will find it to be much harder to build teammate relationships. And as a result, when teammate help comes to the RW, it is likely to be much slower. And as a result, the performance of the remote worker will suffer. 
  • Proximity makes it easier to ask for favors – the higher levels of confidence, trust, and familiarity will also lead managers to more frequently ask proximity workers “for small favors.” Which will ingratiate the PW to the manager. And that may also lead to the manager granting a return, career-building favor.
  • Proximity workers share the same time zone – many remote workers and especially international ones operate in a different time zone than your headquarters office. And that unfortunately means that when a manager or executive needs immediate help on an unexpected problem or solution. The only employees that they can automatically know that they can count on, are proximity workers that are clearly visible to them. This is “always available at the same time” as the manager. Makes it much more likely that a PW will become the manager’s “go-to person.” And they are of course often the first to be given key assignments or promotions.
  • Being visible may cause a manager to think that the PW has a stronger commitment – as strange as it may seem. Surveys reveal that many managers assume that an employee has a strong commitment to the company. Simply because they are physically at their desk five days a week. In direct contrast, it is extremely difficult for remote workers to convincingly demonstrate the strength of their commitment to the team in the company. And unfortunately, those employees that are rated as having low or uncertain commitment levels are the most likely to be laid off, instead of being promoted.
  • A dramatic increase in the number of informal interactions at work – although this is listed toward the end, it’s a mistake to assume that informal interactions and the friendships that they build have a marginal impact. Because in fact, informal interactions may be more important than formal ones for relationship building. And obviously physically working in the same space automatically increases the number of informal interactions. These informal serendipitous interactions often include “let’s grab a cup of coffee,” shared lunches, meeting on elevators, office celebrations, and something as simple as saying hello and goodbye each day. Building informal relationships with managers will also make it easier for the PW to ask questions, propose ideas, volunteer for an assignment, or discuss career issues. During informal settings where the manager “lets their hair down.”
  • PWs have more relationship-building opportunities outside of work – informal off-site interactions outside of work hours. May in some cases be even more memorable and impactful than on-site interactions. For example, women have historically fought against not being offered opportunities to play golf with managers and customers. Because they missed out on the tremendous impact that these informal outside-of-work golf outings had on relationship building and the career advancement of women. PW workers have an advantage. Because working at the same facility as the manager usually results in more outside-of-work relationship-building activities for them. Including playing sports, attending sporting events, community volunteering, and even interactions with each other’s families.
  • PWs will have more implemented innovations – it’s well known that serendipitous random meetings between employees directly enhance coworker collaboration and eventually innovations. And because it is so critical at innovation-driven firms like Google. When their CFO was asked, “How many people telecommute at Google?” The answer was “As few as possible.” However, proximity work doesn’t just increase the number of innovative ideas. The increased amount of face-to-face collaboration also builds internal support. Which makes it more likely that the ideas will be actually implemented. And when proximity employees and managers have established a strong working relationship. It’s much easier for PWs to informally “run their innovation ideas by their manager” before the employee invests too much time or resources in them. 

If you are an idea person, realize that your distance away from headquarters might make a huge difference. For example, years ago at Agilent Technologies. A team analyzed the origination point of each of our major implemented new HR ideas. And they found that if an idea didn’t originate at headquarters. It simply had no real chance of ever being implemented. And that harsh realization certainly discouraged both our remote and our international employees.

And Finally… Also, Be Aware Of The Career Limiting Issues Faced By Remote Workers

In addition to the previously covered advantages that a proximity worker has. There are some unique work and career disadvantages that only remote workers face. Those inherent disadvantages include.

  • Poorly trained managers will hurt RW performance – almost all managers are inadequately trained in how to manage remote workers. Unfortunately, their manager’s lack of remote work training will negatively impact both the volume and the quality of a remote worker’s output.
  • Managers may micromanage remote workers due to their reduced trust – because it is hard to learn very much about remote workers. Many managers simply begin the relationship with a much lower level of trust in them. And this lower level of trust causes some untrained managers to micromanage their remote employees. And this micromanagement will both frustrate and lower the performance of most remote workers.
  • Not being innovative will limit your career – it’s a fact that innovation has the highest economic impact on any employee output. Unfortunately, remote workers often face the most difficulty in developing innovations. Because they have fewer opportunities in the foundation areas of innovation. Those areas include serendipitous meetings, opportunities to collaborate, and relationship-building to build support for their idea. And without producing successful innovations, both the bonuses and the career advancement of remote workers will be limited. 
  • Not being technology savvy will hurt your visibility, communications, and productivity – even though doing your job may not require much technology. It’s clear that all remote work and remote communication require a high level of technology capability. That may be especially difficult in the cases when remote workers (and especially diverse workers) have had less experience with technology both in school and at home. Or when those that currently live in disadvantaged areas with limited Wi-Fi can’t maintain a connection. And finally, it’s also true that, unlike corporate offices, most home offices have limitations that will further restrict RW productivity. 
  • Fewer quality development opportunities will limit movement into leadership – the only training and development opportunities that are likely to be available for RWs will be 100% online. And developing soft skills online or learning details about your company’s culture will almost always be extremely problematic if they are limited to online sources. And as a result, if a remote worker doesn’t learn easily online, their growth will suffer. And if the remote worker strives to become a leader. That may be impossible because almost all formal company leadership development programs are in person. And not being included in a company’s formal leadership program will make it unlikely that a RW will ever be promoted into a leadership position.
  • Remote work may actually result in less work life/balance – most don’t realize that many remote workers end up actually putting in more overall work hours and more late-night hours (as evidenced by the fact that the average MS Teams user is sending 45% more chats per week and 42% more chats per person after hours, with chats per week still on the rise). As a result of this higher volume and extended time when they must be messaging. The work/life balance of the remote employee may actually decrease.
  • Working from home might increase your stress – if you think remote work allows you to avoid the hectic environment and the stress of the workplace. Think again, because remote work often actually increases worker stress. For example, PwC found that 46% of respondents said that mental illness from remote work was their top concern. 
  • Remote workers often feel isolated and not included – diverse and non-diverse workers want to feel a sense of inclusion and belonging. However, just like someone attending a party remotely on a video link is unlikely to experience the party’s energy or talk with many partygoers. Remote workers constantly complain about their feeling of isolation (because most really are isolated). Nearly half of surveyed workers said they felt isolated. In part because their messages are seldom promptly returned. And the resulting perceived lack of responsiveness may make the remote worker permanently feel like “an outlier” or even an outcast. And that perception alone will likely reduce both their collaboration and their work performance.
  • Companies may change their mind about allowing remote work – most senior managers are older, so they often have a distinct preference for the traditional “everyone comes to work” model. It’s also a fact that many managers actually believe that work only gets done when a manager is literally “hovering over their employees” (of course this simply isn’t true for professional jobs). And because of these historical preferences, the proximity bias of your executives might get stronger over time. And that means that your company may follow the lead of IBM and Best Buy and require all previously remote workers to immediately come into the office. And that may force some remote workers to look for a new job at another company. 
If you can only do one thing – wait until your return to the office policy is at least six months old. And then using only your memory. Try to recall all of the new opportunities that have been offered to anyone on your team during those six months. And then quickly estimate the percentage of those opportunities that went to proximity workers. If the PWs received more than 60% of the opportunities. It’s time to begin reconsidering your long-term commitment to remote work!

Final Thoughts

At least initially, your initial thoughts of working at home without a commute and the stress of the office may sound like a dream. However, if you are more ambitious than the average employee or if you strive to become a leader/manager. It’s time to realize that you must shift your focus away from remote work. Because unless your organization excels at managing remote workers, understand that the career goals that you set are now unlikely to be met at this company.

Author’s Note 

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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