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Here's what to do if you want to continue remote work (and not sabotage your career)

Denise Hamilton, diversity expert and founder of WatchHerWork, lays out a roadmap for women who want to push their careers forward in a hybrid or remote work environment.
Denise Hamilton is an inclusion strategist, keynote speaker, and founder of WatchHerWork, a multimedia platform closing the achievement gap for women.
Denise Hamilton is an inclusion strategist, keynote speaker, and founder of WatchHerWork, a multimedia platform closing the achievement gap for women.Che Williams

Even after the country emerges from the pandemic, many companies say they’ll continue to allow employees to work remotely. And that’s an attractive option — a downright necessity for some people. But it also comes with a catch.

While no one should face pushback for choosing to work from home, “should” doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with reality. That’s something women trying to climb the corporate ladder know well.

The fact is, many bosses still prefer to have their employees around them every day. So when it comes time for raises and promotions, I wouldn’t be surprised to see many tilt heavily toward choosing candidates who go through the daily hassle of getting primped and commuting to the office.

In this respect, working at home during the pandemic has been something of an equalizer. Everyone has been in the same boat. No one could be punished or looked down on for working from home when everyone was. “Coronavirus has lifted the work from home stigma,” NBC reported last year. Now, as offices reopen, that stigma could return.

There also are important experiences that remote workers can miss out on. Relationship building and casual learning can be more likely to happen spontaneously when people are in close proximity. You also get to witness how managers sometimes handle tricky situations, which can help prepare you to become a manager yourself.

Does this mean you should absolutely rush back to the office? No. But if you choose to work from home, I recommend being intentional and careful about it. Here are some steps to limit any damage and maximize your opportunities.

Structure relationship building into your schedule

Without spur-of-the-moment lunches and coffee breaks of an office setting, you’ll need to plan these. Book them! Contact colleagues who are in the office and those who are working at home, and set up virtual coffee and or lunch meetings.

Use that time to get to know them, hear their ideas, ask about their motivations, and more. Authenticity in relationships can absolutely flourish through online conversations. Don’t hold back. Be one of the most social people in your department, even without being there.

Offer to run projects

Remote workers can generally prove with no problem that they’re perfectly able to execute tasks assigned to them. But proving they can manage people well is another matter.

It can be done. The good news is that many leaders have finally learned this over the past year, as they’ve found themselves having to manage remotely for the first time. Still, you may have a boss who thinks of that time as an exception, rather than a sign that remote managers can be as good as others.

So find opportunities to prove your leadership skills. Volunteer to oversee a project. If there isn’t a project on the table that needs a leader, create one. Come up with new ideas that will involve multiple people, and offer to see it through. When it’s completed, the employees you managed will serve as proof that you’ve got what it takes.

Keep track of all your accomplishments

Every message you get that praises your work should go into a file. Be sure to catch all the emails, Slack messages and texts. Jot down the positive remarks people make in phone and Zoom calls. Actively seek feedback and save it.

That way you can always share this praise when applying for a promotion or a new job. And you can remind people of what they said about your work when you ask them to serve as references.

And you should always keep track of the metrics that show how well you do your job — amounts of work accomplished, how well your projects performed for the company, how your work influenced what the company boasts about in its annual report, etc. You’ve got to be your own ally — and that means knowing your value!

Of course, the work-from-home conundrum for hybrid worksites is what I call a “high rent problem.” Many people don’t have that option. If you’re fortunate enough to have it, just be sure to do all you can to make up for what you might be missing on site. If you do this right, you can be a trailblazer, helping normalize work from home for the post-pandemic era.

Denise Hamilton is an inclusion strategist, keynote speaker, and founder of WatchHerWork, a multimedia platform closing the achievement gap for women.