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Breaking Through the Zoom Ceiling

Gaining a foothold on the professional ladder is a difficult enough task under the best circumstances. Making the right impression with management during a pandemic, when a company’s employees are forced to shelter at home? Virtually impossible. At least the playing field was leveled when everyone was stuck working remotely. But as businesses began to open their doors again and workers gradually trickled back into their cubicles, a difficult choice was forced on those still working from home: Get back in the office or risk falling behind. And that is the prevailing sentiment when it comes to remote work. After all, how can an employee expect to move ahead at the office when they aren’t … in the office? “Unfortunately, remote workers face many obstacles when trying to climb the career ladder,” Dr. Elora Voyles, an industrial-organizational psychologist at TINYpulse, recently told Forbes. Voyles calls this phenomenon the Zoom Ceiling: “Proximity and recency bias are playing a major role in who is getting promoted when it comes to an in-person versus remote employee.”

Still, remote workers don’t have to settle for a professional life of perpetuity in their current roles. For employees determined to break through the Zoom ceiling, here are a few tips to consider:

Regular contact. One of the beauties of working remotely is being spared the office “drive-by” – unplanned pop-ins that many supervisors make to confer with or just check on employees. As distracting and rhythm-breaking as those conversations can be, however, they amount to valuable facetime with a colleague who has influence over an employee’s future with the company. Emailing or calling a supervisor shows initiative and an understanding that communication in the workplace matters. And it isn’t just for show: Routine contact helps a remote worker clarify assignments, keep abreast of key developments in the office and stay on the radar of management.

Request feedback. Annual and quarterly reviews may feel like a nuisance – or even anxiety-inducing. But would you rather know where you stand with a boss or work hard all year only to find out that you’re viewed as a poor performer? There’s more risk of being misevaluated when working from home – sometimes out of sight is out of mind – but a remote employee can head off the issue by requesting regular performance check-ins. Asking for a short, informal monthly conversation with a supervisor shows (here it is again) initiative. It also ensures that a remote worker can quickly address shortfalls or make needed adjustments – an important consideration when they aren’t in the office to pick up on certain face-to-face feedback cues.

Make an appearance. Email, IMs, Slack, phone calls – they’re all useful inter-office communication tools. But to many bosses, nothing says “I’m part of the team” quite like being there. Even a monthly trip to the office can be a symbolic olive branch that signals commitment and engagement to management, and it doubles as practical collaborative time with colleagues.

With all that said, workers aren’t the only ones with a dog in this hunt. Companies that hold tight to antiquated ideas about remote work risk chasing off some of the best talent, while at the same time potentially contributing to burnout and dissatisfaction among the workforce left behind.

What’s the best way for organizations to embrace hybrid work? Establish clear, transparent guidelines for working from home. Train leadership to understand the value of remote work for employees – and the company. Regularly assess productivity benchmarks and satisfaction levels on both sides. Some industries and offices may need a bit more face time from workers. But all can benefit from building a flexible workplace environment that meets the varied needs of its employees.

Are you a remote contractor looking to break through the Zoom Ceiling? Check out our blog for more tips and tricks.

sgruenBreaking Through the Zoom Ceiling

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