Ever since telecommuting became a reality for millions of Americans, researchers have been studying whether work-from-home employees pay a career price.
Spoiler alert: They do. But there are steps workers can take to lessen the damage.
A new study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior finds telecommuters get as many promotions as traditional workers. But that comes with a big caveat. The work-at-home crowd gets smaller increases in salary.
The finding hammers home what most workers know intuitively: Not seeing your boss regularly hurts your career. For those working in another city or state, far away from a boss but perhaps enjoying better weather and lower housing costs, dropping by the office isn’t so easy. For those nearby, it may be an imperative, if advancing and earning top dollar is your plan.
Why? Even if you’re doing top-notch work from home, there is always a suspicion that you’re less dedicated because you do it from your kitchen table instead of hopping in a car or climbing on a train and commuting into work. Indeed, the new study found those who work remotely the most get hurt the most.
The study echoes the findings of a 2012 article in the MIT Sloan Management Review. “Employees who work remotely may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office — even if they work just as hard and just as long,” the authors wrote.
Remote workers miss out on important workplace cues on matters big and small. You may hear about that enticing new job opening while chatting with a colleague at the coffee machine. By the time it’s officially posted weeks later, it may be too late to begin your campaign for the position.
Employers regularly trot out dubious initiatives. Without being in the office, it can be hard to determine which ones can be safely ignored and which are truly a big deal.
Little things matter. There is value in knowing who spends a lot of time in your boss’s office — and who doesn’t. There is value knowing what makes your boss leap out of their chair — and what doesn’t.
What can homebound workers do to remain valued?
Get regular face-to-face contact with your boss. Even when employees telecommuted a large percentage of their workweek, those who had more in-person contact with supervisors received higher pay increases, according to the Journal of Vocational Behavior.
Try to come into work a day or two each week. Set up regular meetings with your boss to discuss your career and any steps you should take to remain at the top of your game.
The MIT Sloan Management Review article talked about the importance of “passive face time” — simply being seen at work. It matters.
Signal to your employer that working from home makes you more productive and thus more valuable. The best way to do this, alas, is by working longer days and weekends, researchers say. That’s hardly encouraging for workers who hope that eliminating the daily commute will allow them to spend more time with their family. There’s no free lunch in life. This is the price you pay for dodging traffic jams and train delays.
Remember that what is acceptable in one workplace may not be in another. If you’re at a job where a lot of fellow employees work from home, you’re less likely to pay a career price, the latest study found. The reverse is also true. If working at home is the exception at your company, then you need to do so judiciously to avoid harming your reputation.
The recent study found the average telecommuting employee worked 48 hours a week, but there were big swings in what percentage of time they did so remotely.
“Previous research has tended to treat all telecommuters as one homogeneous group, and my research suggests that telecommuting is not a one-size-fits-all work arrangement,” author Golden said.
“The extent of telecommuting was key to understanding promotions and salary growth,” the study highlighted. “Telecommuters received more promotions when telecommuting was highly normative.”