Next year will be the true test of companies’ work-from-home (WFH) and hybrid workforce strategies, as the novelty of having some staff in office, some out of office, and some dipping in and out wears off and new routines become entrenched.
But WFH and hybrid workers are now being warned not to get too comfortable with being out of sight and just getting on with things, as being out of sight may readily start translating into being out of the minds of company leadership, inhibiting or even completely halting career progress, a leadership expert says.
Proximity bias, where people who are seen in person are given preference for projects, promotions and increases, remains a reality and will continue to play a role in future.
“We have been warning company leadership for months to guard against proximity bias and so-called presenteeism, so that they don’t intentionally or unintentionally penalise their valuable staff who aren’t in the office full-time, thereby risking the loss of highly qualified and experienced talent,” says Advaita Naidoo, Africa MD at Jack Hammer Global, Africa’s largest executive search firm.
“However, those employees who are serious about growing their careers also have a duty to strategically manage their WFH or hybrid situation, so that they don’t one day find themselves out in the cold, their careers having suffered a silent (pun intended) death along the way.
“And to be clear, this isn’t just about optics and managing upward, or putting in face time with the boss; it’s about developing yourself as a leader in a new paradigm.”
Naidoo says working from home should not mean the end of career development; however, whereas this development would have happened both organically and strategically in the office – by way of growth opportunities on new projects, promotions, training, coaching, mentoring, networking and so forth – remote workers must now themselves take responsibility for making these opportunities happen in order to stay front of mind.
“It is possible to successfully manage one’s career as a hybrid worker while continuing on an upward career trajectory, with a few consciously implemented strategies, all of which amount to SHOWING UP and BEING PRESENT.
“Being present means making your presence and contribution felt to such a degree that your candidacy remains front and centre in the minds of managers and leaders. When we talk about showing up, it’s about how you, as a hybrid or WFH employee, will compensate deliberately and intentionally for your physical absence in the office.”
SHOW UP: THE HYBRID WORKER’S MOTTO FOR SUCCESS
Showing up means you keep yourself visible and visibly professional. For instance, in remote meetings, switch on your camera, ensure your physical space is neat, and ensure your personal appearance is professional.
Showing up also means you consciously work on your engagement with your managers and colleagues to develop quality interpersonal relationships. Don’t just quietly get on with things independently – engage deliberately via the channels available to you, volunteer for projects, keep the conversation going on communications channels, and cultivate relationships above and beyond your scope of work. This is particularly important cross-functionally, so that you aren’t being cemented into your own silo, and so that you can keep your options and possibilities alive throughout the company.
Some organisations have realised the importance of allowing their remote workers cross-functional exposure and development but, if that isn’t happening, you need to take it into your own hands. Identify people who are working in other teams, make an effort to get in touch and welcome new recruits and, when there are opportunities for in-person get-togethers, show up.
Show up at your office when it makes sense to do so. If interesting opportunities arise to go into office – even if it’s not the day you are normally scheduled to be in office – then go in and make the effort with enthusiasm. If it’s been a while, volunteer to go into the office for a meeting rather than taking it virtually as usual.
Continue to invest in personal skills development. Stay in the loop regarding potential training and mentorship opportunities – these are worthwhile reasons to stay in contact with decision-makers beyond what regular scope of work would require, while also showcasing one’s commitment to professional growth and development.
“We are entering an interesting new period as the uncertainties around roles and expectations settle down. While the arm-wrestling between companies and employees about who needs to be where and for how long during the work week becomes a thing of the past, and the new status quo – whatever that may be – becomes the order of the day, the time has now come for hybrid and remote workers to take the future into their hands and implement the best practice strategies for a successful career in this new paradigm,” Naidoo concludes.