You cannot just expect a promotion to come from the sky.
Regardless of whether you’re working in the office or from home, if you want to advance your career, there are several basic practices to follow. For the most part, they fall into three broad categories: do excellent work, make sure that others know about your accomplishments, and network. When you’re trying to figure out how to get a promotion while working remotely, though, you’ll need to add a few new strategies to the mix to counter the strong influence of “out of sight, out of mind.”
Excel at Your Job
Excellence is not a skill, it’s an attitude.
When you’re gunning for a promotion, you need to deliver top-notch work consistently and on time. If you want to keep your position, you need to do your job adequately and meet expectations. But if you want to advance your career, you need to do your job with excellence.
This is definitely a situation where the old cliché “go above and beyond” comes into play. Don’t just wait for opportunities to shine to come your way—seize them! For example, volunteer to take high-visibility projects off your boss’s plate (and then do a stellar job on them). Take the initiative by seeking out (or even shaping, if you can) assignments that showcase your skills or that offer valuable growth opportunities.
Excelling means not only doing your best work but constantly working to improve yourself. With that in mind, listen to the feedback you get. Thank the person who’s giving it to you (don’t argue with them at that moment—give yourself time to reflect on it), reflect on it carefully, then take action on it. As you learn new skills, be sure to track and share your progress.
If you’re working out of the office, you may not be on your boss’s radar enough for them to think to give you feedback regularly (or even at all). So ask for it. And if your organization has put its performance management processes on hold temporarily, you should still ask your boss for feedback: though a promotion might not even be a possibility in the near future, you can continue making improvements. Asking for (and acting on) feedback in that situation can only help you make a good impression that will be remembered when promotions are once again on the table.
Do your homework to be sure that your work aligns with the company’s priorities: pay attention to your company’s messaging (press releases, website, etc.) to be sure that you’re up to date with—and working on—what the top brass thinks is important. When working from home, you won’t have access to the casual conversations that pop up in hallways, break rooms, and the like, so you’ll need to be extra diligent about keeping up to date on who’s working on what and where you might be able to offer your contributions.
Show and Tell
You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.
Doing great work won’t get you very far if people don’t know about it. Some bosses are great about paying close attention to what their employees are doing. Unfortunately, many bosses aren’t so good at that. And—let’s be honest here—a handful of bosses truly are oblivious.
It’s not that they don’t care about their employees’ work. Most of the time, those bosses have so many things on their plates that some thing simply get dropped or forgotten. Regardless of which type of boss you have, though, you need to take an active role in making sure that your work gets the attention it deserves. Measuring the productivity of remote employees is especially challenging, so do what you can to make that process easier for your boss.
First, give your boss a weekly update on your work—even if they don’t ask for it. Make it easy for them to know what you’re working on and what progress you’re making. And if you’ve had any setbacks, explain how you resolved and use them as opportunities to highlight your problem-solving skills, resourcefulness, and grit!
At the same time, also communicate about your work with people in your organization who aren’t your boss. Obviously, this doesn’t mean running around saying, “Everyone look at this awesome thing I just did!” Instead, schedule individual zoom calls with colleagues from other departments: share your work with them, and ask them to tell you about theirs. These interactions not only help you stay up to date on what’s happening in your company, but they also help strengthen your relationships in the office, improve company culture (which benefits everyone!), and help you find more opportunities to shine (say, by offering contributions that enable a project to wrap up on time or under budget, for example).
Remember, “show and tell” shouldn’t be just about you and your accomplishments. When you share your story with others at work, they might learn something that can help them in their own careers. Always be sure to give credit where it’s due and to emphasize the contributions of your team and colleagues. If you give honest and public praise to those who deserve it, they’ll be more likely to reciprocate. When people are more able and willing to sing your praises, your chances of getting a promotion increase!
And when you do receive praise, accept it graciously and succinctly with a simple “thank you.” If you protest too much (“Thanks, but it was really nothing. . . “) you risk undermining yourself, and if you bask in the praise too much, you risk coming across as arrogant. So keep it simple.
Effective networking isn’t a result of luck—it requires hard work and persistence.
The more people know you and your work, the better your chance of being chosen for key assignments and for being promoted. In the office, networking often takes place during ad hoc chats in the workplace, for example, over working lunches, or during post-work happy hour. People who are working from home, however, don’t have access to those situations. Therefore, they need to find new ways to connect with each other.
One great technique for helping remote workers connect with other employees is to leverage the “social spaces” created by online video conferences by asking meeting organizers to open their video calls a few minutes early (and doing that for the calls you host). This provides a “place” and time for participants to gather early and engage in some of the pre-meeting chitchat that usually occurs when people are meeting together in person.
Participate in any optional “virtual town hall” or “social get-together” meetings that your boss or your HR department organize (or organize your own!). Not only do these give you a chance to get some news about your team and the company in general, but they offer opportunities to connect—both with your boss (if they keep track of who attends these things, you definitely want to be on that list) and with your colleagues. If your company doesn’t have a monthly “town hall,” suggest it to someone in the C-suite or HR department as a way to keep employees connected. In the interim, regularly allot an hour a week to chat with new colleagues. Schedule a quick 30-minute lunch together or invite the other employee to take a “walk break” with you. It’s a great way to multi-task and get some exercise!
Another way to up your connections game is to find a mentor within the organization. They’re likely to know a lot (and probably more than you) about what’s going on through the company and can therefore offer you guidance on setting priorities and lining yourself up for a promotion. Your mentor can also advocate for you to have profile-enhancing opportunities (such as leading particular projects, for example). These features of a mentor relationship are valuable under any circumstances—but especially when your physically separation from your office, your boss, and your colleagues leaves you with fewer work-related opportunities.
If your company has a mentorship program, sign up for it right now. If it doesn’t (or if there’s a long waiting list), get out there and find a mentor yourself (and be open to the possibility of having more than one mentor, depending on your needs). One upside to everyone working from home right now is that virtual meetings are usually much easier to schedule than in-person meetings. That’s a big plus when you’re trying to plan for interactions with someone who’s likely very busy (and is doing you a big favor!).
Set your goals high, and don’t stop till you get there.
These are trying times, so keep an eye on your health and your mood and take care of yourself. A positive attitude strongly correlates to increased resilience, less stress, and better health, and it will help you make a good impression on your boss and colleagues. (Of course, there’s no guarantee that a cheerful disposition will advance your career. But I can say that in my own extensive corporate experience I’ve rarely seen Doug the Downer or Negative Nellie get promoted.)
Never assume that your boss knows you want a promotion: always ask for one. Work with your boss to put together a promotion plan (with a timeframe) that spells out what you need to do to get to the next level. If you follow that plan and implement the suggestions here, you’ll greatly increase your ability to stay top of mind with your boss and improve your chances of earning a promotion, even while working remotely.