While the reality of remote work allows office-averse people to thrive in new ways, they may also run the risk of their accomplishments being overshadowed or disregarded in favor of those who work in person.
That was one of several noteworthy takeaways from a pair of conversations that Technical.ly held in conjunction with Spotify this month. The two chats, for which Technical.ly invited technologists across our markets and the country at large to participate, were part of a recurring series of moderated virtual discussions around remote work topics.
The first of these conversations yielded insightful and frequently candid reflections from developers, UX designers and other tech professionals that participated. The two that took place in September were similarly compelling, as their nearly 30 collective participants — technologists from a variety of professional backgrounds, levels of experience, locales (at least one called in from as far as Seattle) and current employers — laid bare the challenges and successes they encountered in their remote work lives.
We started with broad questions about the digital tools that facilitate out-of-office collaboration and the remote dynamics that may stifle workers’ professional advancement. And the conversations frequently took unexpected turns as people compared and contrasted observations in real-time. We won’t pretend it’s possible to capture the full richness of what was discussed across several breakout groups and events, but we can pull select insights from these chats that we feel will benefit you in your own remote work journeys.
Here’s what we heard:
Shout-outs on Slack
When you can’t applaud someone’s good work in person, be bullish about recognizing it in shared Slack channels or other communications platforms. One participant said this is especially important to do when employees are new, as it reinforces both the positive things they did and the behavior of using the platform itself.
Be aware of biases
Check your biases and assumptions about whose accomplishments are most noteworthy — especially when evaluations and promotions are on the line. One manager with remote and in-person employees at his company of about 4,000 commented that everyone is no longer on the same playing field.
“Maybe we kind of were when we were all remote, but [now] some of us are remote, some of us are in the office,” they said. “Those folks that are in the office have an edge, because they’re making deeper personal connections with folks. They’re having conversations outside of and around virtual conversations, and there’s no way of measuring that to see whether or not bias, therefore, becomes a part of the situation.”
That same manager said he’s used Harvard Implicit Association Test materials as a way of understanding other types of bias as it impacted his company.
Follow a promotion process
On that note, it’s possible to create mechanisms to address, if not avoid, such bias impacting your promotion process. One contributor who works at a startup with nearly 300 employees noted that its engineering team had “committed to a process where a promotion isn’t something that is bestowed upon you.” Instead, that company’s process revolves around employees’ conversations with managers that recur every six weeks.
“It is based on the work that you have done and kind of putting together that package of work,” she added. “The intention is that we’re avoiding looking around the room and promoting people based on what we see as their potential and that, instead, we have evidence of them having done the work.”
Be intentional about in-person
If you manage a team or run a company and you’re making employees return to the office, make sure you’re not putting undue stress on them. One participant who works for a major multinational company described the trials of a blind coworker whose lengthy commutes involved a mix of ride-hailing services, public transit and walking. Such concerns may not measure up to the actual stated importance of working in person, especially if that work isn’t substantively more productive: “What’s the point of having a return to office if we’re just sitting on Teams?”
Block your time
Workers can still block off their time for their own learning and skill-building, but their team leaders can do that, too. One employee of another multinational company discussed how his team blocked time out in shared calendars to ensure some windows dedicated to learning outside of projects. Another participant highlighted TikTok and Instagram as places to learn specific tools or apps: “Excel TikTok is life changing.”
Community is key
Building community outside of work takes intent and time, but can be fruitful to those feeling isolated within their work. One participant admitted to being the only UX designer at her company and struggling to facilitate group connections remotely. An in-person retreat this summer marked her first IRL interactions with colleagues, which helped her feel more grounded in her work. She also sought out UX design-focused meetups to find additional community and perspective on ideas she can’t as easily discuss with non-designer colleagues.
Knowledge is power!
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