Can Workers Climb the Career Ladder Working Remotely?

Some companies have also started training managers to help remote workers forge their career paths. Nationwide Insurance, which early in the pandemic moved a majority of its 25,000 workers permanently to hybrid or full-time work-from-home arrangements, trained managers to facilitate career development for associate workers, creating templates for conversations about workers’ skills and interests and pairing them with mentors or company resources to help them reach their goals. Nationwide also created a fully virtual four-week leadership course available to workers at all levels of the organization.

“We’ve been intentional to create experiences so that out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind, which was a big concern for some,” said Erin Pheister, Nationwide’s senior vice president of talent and organization effectiveness.

The software developer HubSpot, based in Massachusetts, trains managers to work with distributed teams, with an emphasis on conversations that establish team cohesion and build personal relationships, said Katie Burke, the company’s chief people officer. That means being very clear upfront about how the team should work together and encouraging people to chat about their out-of-office interests and pastimes.

HubSpot also encourages managers to embrace what Ms. Burke calls “intentionality” in their approach to team events. Bonding opportunities like virtual happy hours are great, for example, but if they’re announced last minute, people in different time zones or those with caregiving responsibilities often can’t join.

The hope is that intentional efforts to include remote workers can help battle managers’ tendency to favor in-person employees. When the Society for Human Resource Management surveyed managers about remote work last year, 42 percent reported that they often overlooked remote workers when handing out assignments — not for punitive or intentional reasons, Mr. Taylor said, but because they simply forgot about them.

Among the employees most likely to prefer remote work are women and people of color, who even before the pandemic often reported feeling underrepresented and isolated in the workplace. Going remote without proper support can create a vicious cycle that exacerbates that sense of alienation while also decreasing the chance that those workers will be pulled in for career- and morale-boosting projects.

Sensitive to this unconscious tendency, which organizational psychologists have labeled “proximity bias,” HubSpot evaluated all of its roles and designated which positions have to be done in the office for legitimate business reasons.

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