How to build your career when working remotely

Sep 09, 2021

5 mins

How to build your career when working remotely
Kyra Alessandrini

Journalist and writer

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we view work. Working from home has become the norm – and although that comes with its own set of challenges, many employees have found benefits here, too. WFH allows for more flexibility and a better work/life balance for many. A study by the Pew Research Center indicates that more than 50% of remote workers want to stay at home after the pandemic ends. But what does that mean for their career development?

Denise Hamilton, the founder of WatchHerWork, a professional advice platform exclusively for women, explains that remote work doesn’t have to be more difficult than being in an office. But it is crucial to understand that each situation presents its own set of challenges. So what should you keep in mind when deciding whether or not to work from home permanently?

1. How to get a promotion and allow for growth

Remote working can often turn into just one deliverable after another, according to Hamilton. Once a task is complete, your manager will give you another one – so it’s important to volunteer for projects that require teamwork and allow others to witness your creativity in real-time.

“It’s easy for [managerial or leadership work] to be given to the people in the office,” says Hamilton. By working alongside a team, you get opportunities for exposure – and that is much more difficult in a remote environment. “Make sure you’re volunteering for projects that require you to interact with other people in the team so you don’t get isolated,” Hamilton said. It will make a difference when negotiating a promotion or applying for positions that require managerial or leadership experience.

John Steeles works as a site reliability engineer for a big tech company. He recently decided to move to another employer that allowed him to WFH permanently. He feels it’s essential to share your thought process with your colleagues while working on any project. “I know lots of people who have made it a habit over quarantine to have a Slack channel open,” he said. “They can just talk as they’re working through things. Sometimes people will show up if they’re working on something similar and there will be a dialogue.”

For freelance workers, securing a promotion can look very different. Lola Méndez is a journalist who has been traveling for six years. She feels freelancers are responsible for their own career growth: they’re the ones setting their rates. “A lot of writers just accept the money that’s offered to them. They don’t negotiate. They don’t have a set rate they’re trying to earn and so their net earnings could be all over the place,” she said. “You have to look at freelance writing as a career, a business.”

It’s your skills, rather than your location, that should govern your earnings, according to Méndez. “That’s advice that I give to a lot of writers I work with who are living outside Europe and the US and want to be paid fairly. It’s not anyone’s business where you’re living unless it’s relevant to the article or if it’s impossible to pay you.”

2. How to network with your peers

Networking is paramount if you choose to work remotely, says Hamilton. In her opinion, 50% of the job should be spent developing and deepening relationships with your peers. “I know that sounds high but I believe it’s accurate, especially in a remote environment. It’s way too easy to lose touch with the people who can make the yay or nay statement regarding promotion,” she said.

It is important that your peers understand your skill set and your strengths and don’t just relegate you to the deliverables you’re producing at any given moment. This means networking with colleagues above you in the company’s hierarchy, but also those at the same level and below.

Use video calls to your advantage, advises Hamilton. “Even though we’re a little Zoomed out, it’s really important to schedule those interpersonal video calls,” she said. “There’s a danger, especially with early-career people, to try to keep everything online. Resist that temptation: you’ve got to connect.” Scheduling short meetings can be an effective way to keep in touch and catch up with a colleague.

Along with networking with peers at the same company, it is also essential to develop relationships with workers in your industry. Méndez relies on social media to keep her finger on the pulse of what is happening in her field. She follows up to 2,000 editors on Twitter, which allows her to keep an eye on the turnover at publications she wants to write for. Méndez also uses Facebook groups to stay in contact with her peers.

Before the pandemic, conferences and industry happy hours were a great way to network. Now it’s essential to find new ways to stay connected. Hamilton suggests Clubhouse as a useful tool to recreate office culture and develop new work-related relationships. She stresses the importance of reaching out to your co-workers and peers on LinkedIn to broaden your network. “As much as people are really busy right now, I talked to so many professionals that are willing to help,” she said.

Steeles stresses the importance of maintaining professional relationships while permanently working from home. “It’s going to be very important to make an explicit effort to be involved in more social-focused group events as they happen,” he said. “Over time, if you don’t make an effort, people will be reduced to an email address.” He believes the essence of remote work will lie in understanding and being accountable to your colleagues as people, not just as a name on a screen.

3. How to make your work visible

Social media can be a very effective tool to make your work visible. Publishing articles on LinkedIn and sharing content on Twitter and Instagram can allow you to be seen as a resource for your peers.

Méndez, who has more than 7,500 followers on Twitter, has turned her social media following into an additional source of income. She offers consultations about freelance journalism to anyone who needs advice – which also allows her to get more work. Editors can quickly see her page and message her with opportunities. “My Twitter presence helps me get work,” she said. “It’s like self-promotion in a way that can lead to earning more money.”

She also highlights the importance of sharing your work across all social media platforms. “I do it as it comes out so that I don’t fall behind and I’m constantly keeping my work in front of my audience,” she said. Méndez also stresses the importance of having a portfolio. “Portfolio pages are going to help your editors find your work and be able to see all of it in one place,” she said. Start with Muck Rack as a free writing portfolio, and TravMedia for professionals in the travel industry.

Connecting with co-workers and industry leaders is essential to make your work visible. “Those extended professional networks will be really important to maintain,” said Steeles.

“We can figure this out,” Hamilton said of the challenges brought about by working in a pandemic. “We’re just going to have to upgrade our skills and make sure we’re doing the work of today, not the work of yesterday.”

Names have been changed

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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