How To Advance Your Career While Working at Home

Work these days has become a lot more challenging. With recent advancements in technology and new social norms, those who are working from home have to figure out how to stay successful. Particularly with the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been an unprecedented shift toward working from home. We are in a global change in the economy, not only to stem the spread of this dangerous disease, but also to allow us to have more flexibility in our life. Working from home may become the new norm, if you are able to, and you may be asking yourself how you can advance your career all alone in your home. It may feel like you are working in a silo of one.  (If you like this post, you might want to read this one on business growth strategies.)

We know there are many potential downfalls to working at home, such as:

1. Social isolation (e.g. you begin talking to yourself and conversations with your cat have become unusually lengthy)

2. Difficult maintaining work/life balance (e.g. your son is jumping on your back during a meeting with the boss)

3. Lack of normal boundaries between work and home (e.g. virtual business meeting from your bedroom)

4. Lack of networking opportunities (e.g. you cannot leave your house)

5. Decreased productivity (e.g. virtual meetings ALL day)

Notice we said “potential,” because many of these negatives can easily be turned into positives. Keep reading:  

  • Social isolation can be a good thing. Not 24/7 isolation, but being able to work from home, not be interrupted by constant in person meetings or office conversations, being able to get some work done during virtual meetings, etc. You may also have more time to spend talking to friends virtually since you are not commuting and exhausted at the end of the day.
  • You get to spend more time with the family and less time commuting. Yes, you may not be able to exactly work 9 – 5 with young children around but you will get used to working a bit in the evening to finish up your tasks. Breaking up the hours you work can actually lead to greater productivity
  • Yes, it is difficult to have to show your home during virtual meetings, and for home to be a space for working not just relaxing. This is tough one and working from home is not for everyone, however it may grow on you. You can use one of those cool virtual backgrounds so coworkers cannot see the interior of your home or you can get a screen to put behind you. Do your best to work in part of the house or apartment that is far from where you sleep and relax. Also, if you do not have kids, do your best to keep a 9 to 6 schedule so that when you are done with work you can transition into relaxation mode. Even if you are still home, evenings will be for relaxing not working. Do not sneak into your office space to do a bit more work and break the relaxing vibe of the evenings.
  • You cannot attend conferences at this time or professional association meetings at this time but you can network in other ways. Join a professional networking site for your profession or LinkedIn and see what opportunities there are for online networking. There may be many opportunities that you were not even aware of previously. You might even be able to attend that professional conference you always wanted to attend for the first time because it is being held online.
  • Some people are just not as productive working from home, but many find their productivity increases. They are not distracted as often (if they do not have kids) by all of the usual distractions of an office setting. They are gaining time not commuting. They can sit in peace and actually take a half hour lunch break. There may also be fewer meetings to attend, although it seems that for some people meetings have actually increased because supervisors are paranoid that you are not doing your work. Show that you can work independently by getting your work done on time or even turning it in early. Ask questions, and contact your supervisor before he or she has to contact you – be proactive.   

It can be difficult to work from home, but you can do a lot of things to make it work and even advance your career. Here is Dave discussing his ideas, which we have expanded on below (we have also added some of our own ideas), about how to grow your career while working from home:

This post was written by Stephanie A. Bosco-Ruggiero (PhD candidate in Social Work at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service) and Jessica Russell (freelance writer and digital marketing consultant), on behalf of Dave Maslach as part of the R3ciprocity project (check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and research folk by providing a real and authentic look into doing research. It provides solutions and hope to researchers around the world.

Times are changing

The sheer number of remote workers laboring away for their organizations, companies, firms, clients, etc. during the pandemic is stunning. Social distancing has made it imperative that in order to keep a business running, most companies had to figure out quickly how to get their workforce productive in a home environment. Employees and teams had to learn ways in which to keep in contact and do their jobs. In doing so, simple yet effective ways to be on the same page as your team and coworkers emerged. Virtual meetings, consistent communication and teleconferences have become the norm.

How do you stand out when you are not in the physical room with your peers and supervisors? It is important to do the things that will make a good impression and create forward momentum in advancing your career. 

There are many things that you can do to advance your career while working at home:

1. Keep in virtual connection with people. 

2. Create a project that is yours and that external people can recognize.

3. Build community within your local community.

4. Make an effort to reach out to people you don’t normally talk to.

5. Do special projects for people that don’t normally expect it.

6. Take the initiative.

How do you do these things? Ask your team how you can help. Talk to your supervisor and say “without all the distraction of the office, I’d like to focus on ways to increase business. How can I do that? What do you need?” It may be a great time to suggest that project you have been wanting to tackle. 

Be a part of the conversation

When online communication is the main way your team communicates, be involved in the conversation. Even if you do not have much to add, you can make your presence known. Agree with what cohorts have to say. Add to it. Comment on different perspectives. When you weigh in on a topic, your unique and individual voice adds to the conversation and often will round out the information gathered. Do not be afraid to speak up. 

Network and build your community

In many corporate cultures that do not encourage working from home, networking can influence how fast you advance your career. A good way to stay top of mind is to check in with your team and coworkers. A quick email saying hello can start a much-needed conversation and interaction. Congratulate your colleagues when they do well. Support their efforts. It makes you a good team player and allows others to see that you believe in the team.

Isolation can build quickly and taking the initiative to reach out shows you are invested and care about the people with whom you work. You will be surprised how reaching out creates a culture of conversation where your coworkers start reaching out to you too, and work becomes a community. Not only does reaching out improved your mental health, but it is also a form of self-care. You may be reaching out to others, but you are also keeping yourself mentally sound by not being too isolated. 

Projects provide opportunities

Projects are a great way to make your talents and abilities known. When working on projects that are not yours, become comfortable asking questions. Talk about ideas that may have been left out. Sometimes the right people are not always included in the discussion. It is important to recommend that so-and-so should be added to the meeting invite, as they are well versed in that topic. The more you add, the more you will be looked to during these conversations. 

If you are able to create a project that you can lead, take advantage of the opportunity. Your contributions will be more easily recognized. Stay focused, ask the right people to be involved, and do your best to succeed. It does not have to be a huge endeavor, but something that is unique to you and shows what you bring to the table. Recognition from your peers will be quite good for your career when you are working from home. 

Be a self-starter

Take the initiative to be “in the virtual room” by taking the time to do all of the above. You are in charge of how much effort you put into your career. You may not be the one who decides if you advance, but you have a huge part in making sure you are on the list. Treat every encounter, every project, and everything you do on a daily basis as a way to move forward. They say the early bird catches the worm, and this is even more true as a remote worker. Not only should you be early, but you can know by talking and interacting with your peers where the worms are ripe for the picking. 

In corporate training there is a concept by Senn Delaney called “Be Here Now.” Its basic concept is to increase personal effectiveness. It is all the more valuable for remote workforces since we can’t actually be in the room together. Simply stated it says, “Be present, Stay in the moment, Focus and pay attention.” Remote work and advancing your career starts with these tenets. 

Some additional benefits of remote employment

  1. Increased opportunities across the country, not just locally
  2. Cost savings towards commuting 
  3. Ability to have a work/life balance
  4. Increased focus with less distractions
  5. Every day is dress-down day

Transition to a consulting career

The above ideas and tips are great for advancing your career as a remote professional, but graduate and doctoral students are in a unique category of at-home workers.  Most likely you have a day job or take care of your children at home. You may even be working your day job, trying to keep up with classes or your dissertation, AND taking care of your family. This is a lot! But this may be the right moment for you to start thinking about freelancing part or full-time.

As a doctoral student especially, your skills are in great demand, especially now. You know how to work independently, you know how to work from home (or anywhere for that matter), and your writing skills are better than most. You have research skills, you look at problems from different angles, and you probably have teaching experience. Figure out what you can offer that is unique or provides unique value. Perhaps start small, then build up your business to a point where it can support you. Use a freelancing site to start, or tutor, then in time more opportunities will emerge.

Yes, freelancing may be easier to do if you work part-time, have a partner who also supports the household, or you have lost your job and are collecting unemployment. If you have lost your job, you have the time to build your business instead of or in addition to looking for another full time or part time job, so take advantage of the moment.  

Keep your priorities straight

Yes, you can move forward with your career while working from home, and you should do so if you have specific goals in mind. But it also may be the right time to minimize stress, put your big dreams on hold just for short time, and to smell the roses. That is, take the time to appreciate the important things in life all around you. There is so much stress and trauma at this time, and it is easy to get bogged down in hopelessness. Remind yourself of one thing every day that you are thankful for. You may even begin to simplify your life in ways that can stick once the pandemic is over. Check out Dave’s vlog on staying positive at this time:

You can move forward even in the midst of mayhem

Even though there can be downfalls to working from home for your career advancement and well-being, the benefits can outweigh the negatives if you are focused and determined. The more you offer help, ask questions, interact, and think about what it is you and your peers are trying to accomplish, it will be that much more relevant to those who decide where your career takes you. With remote work, being in the room, being on the list for advancement, is less about physical interaction and more about your efforts and contributions via the work you do and the people you work with. Do not just do a job. If you want to advance your career take the time to be part of the team and involved in the work every day. If all else fails and your career is stagnant, become your own boss and offer the services and skills you know are in demand and that you can deliver better than anyone else.

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