17 votes

Ask Tildes: How do you get a promotion when you work in a remote office?

Some years ago, I wrote a book about telecommuting, including a section about the reasons people don't want to be remote workers. High on the list was, "It's too hard to move up in the company" because if you're out of sight, you're out of mind.

Well, now suddenly nearly everybody is a telecommuter, whether or not they like the idea. So that particular skill is particularly relevant. And I've been assigned an article on "How to 'manage up' when you work from home." I'd like your input.

My article is meant to compile practical how-to tips for people working from home on “how to stay on your boss's radar.” What advice do you have to share?

Ideally: Give me a bullet point (“Do XYZ”), why (“It accomplishes this”), and perhaps an anecdote sharing how it made a difference.

Please don’t expend energy telling me why it’s important, or what the barriers are. Take that as a given. I’m looking for solid “Do this” suggestions.

8 comments

  1. skybrian
    Link
    This is going to depend on the company, because they all do promotions differently. For example, I think this is an outlier, but for Google software engineers, you put together a promotion packet...

    This is going to depend on the company, because they all do promotions differently.

    For example, I think this is an outlier, but for Google software engineers, you put together a promotion packet that argues your case. As part of this, you collect recommendations from your manager and peers. It's reviewed by a committee of engineers who don't know you. So, it's all about how you look on paper, and how good you are at backing that up with evidence (like links to design docs and source code), because the promotion committees are skeptical and there is competition.

    That process already works remotely. At least the formal part does, though if you don't know your manager and your co-workers and they don't understand your work, you're going to have a tough time collecting recommendations.

    I think the general lesson is that work-related writing is important. If you write things as part of your job and you can communicate well, you'll end up with a collection of documents that you can use to argue in favor of your promotion.

    Being able to give a good talk (and having it recorded) probably helps too? It's doubtful that people on the promotion committee will have the time to watch the full talk, but if there is a reason people would have already watched your talk before, that can be a good introduction.

    But again, at other places or with other jobs, it probably works differently.

    9 votes
  2. [3]
    mars
    Link
    Some general tips here that are agnostic of a colocated vs distributed working environment: Know what role you would be promoted to Simple stuff yes, but many times people just expect a promo...

    Some general tips here that are agnostic of a colocated vs distributed working environment:

    1. Know what role you would be promoted to

    Simple stuff yes, but many times people just expect a promo without even knowing what they would be actually doing in that new role. You usually don't get a promo and end up doing the exact same thing that you're currently doing. You get a promo because you've demonstrated an accumulation or deepening of some core competencies that map over well to a new role that the company would benefit from you taking on. You want more money for doing the same thing? Ask for a raise, not a promo.

    1. Get an understanding of the promo role

    Does your employer hire other people to do the role you want to be promoted into? Chances are pretty high that you or your manager can get your hands on a job description or internal write-up of the role and its qualifications. If this isn't available then skip up a level and ask a potential or current manager of someone in this role how they would describe it and its qualifications. "If you had to hire someone into this role, how would you know you've made the right hire?" You'll need this data for the last step: Build your case.

    1. Build your case

    Similar to what @skybrian mentioned, gather data. This usually takes two forms: Concrete things you've done and feedback from others about concrete things you've done. This data has to be tailor fitted to the qualifications and requirements of the new promo role. How have you already demonstrated that you're a fit for this role? I like to ask others who are looking for a promo: If you were interviewed for this new role, how would you sell yourself? Concrete examples are key. Feedback from peers, managers, or reports will align as long as you understand the perceptions others have of you and you haven't been a dick.

    1. Don't be a dick

    Similar to what @Gaywallet said, a lot of the time a promo will come along much more easily to those who are friendly to their managers, peers, and reports. Now I don't believe this means to brownnose your way through your whole organization, but to be aware that in many cases perception becomes reality. The one-off time you were frustrated by traffic or your in-laws visiting, and that caused you to be short with a colleague's question or a receptionist's call will stick with you and them and become that person's reality of who you are until contradictory evidence is presented. Always be professional.

    As for "staying on your boss' radar", a good boss will notice your growth in capabilities or promising qualities you have that you may never have realized yourself. They'll be bending over backwards to try and give you more opportunities for you to further develop your capabilities and grow your career. However not every boss is a good one, and for those of you with bad or incompetent ones you may find yourself having to do more work on the steps above if you have the ambition to broaden your careers.

    7 votes
    1. [2]
      asteroid
      Link Parent
      Right -- got that. But I'm writing to the people who are newly working from home, and don't understand the new interpersonal dynamics. I don't need the general "so you want to be promoted"...

      Right -- got that.

      But I'm writing to the people who are newly working from home, and don't understand the new interpersonal dynamics. I don't need the general "so you want to be promoted" guidelines. ::smile::

      2 votes
      1. mars
        Link Parent
        Ahh gotcha. Sorry that's my bad for not reading enough into your ask. Meetings are super important now, as you no longer have the implicit benefits that bosses subconsciously leverage to...

        Ahh gotcha. Sorry that's my bad for not reading enough into your ask.

        Meetings are super important now, as you no longer have the implicit benefits that bosses subconsciously leverage to understand what their people are working on (they can't directly observe you except for meetings) so make use of that and present your best self.

        • Always have your camera on (if you need to turn off your camera, you probably shouldn't be on the meeting call). This allows at least a minimal amount of your body language to come through, which is very important considering how most of our communication is non-verbal.
        • Before you "walk" into your meetings, make sure you know why you're there so that you can demonstrate your value. If you're attending a meeting it's for a reason. Make that reason clearly known and show why you attending the meeting is a good thing for your team, your boss, and your company.
        • Look for additional opportunities to add value (e.g. taking notes in meetings, communicating decisions or executive summaries to those who missed the meeting, facilitate meetings if given the chance).
        • Minimize distractions (for you and your fellow meeting attendees). Get a good headset / microphone / camera setup. Flipping mute on and off for your microphone should become second nature. Figure out your physical working space (i.e. Minimize noise pollution as much as possible. If you live with others, especially those who also work remotely, figure out how your meetings won't bleed sound over each other.).

        Outside of meetings (or if your role doesn't have many of them) you'll need to focus on demonstrating value and growth in a non-physical form factor. "Managing up" basically comes down to ensuring your boss and your boss' boss understand the value that you're bringing to the company and how growth in your capabilities will mean even more value for the company (and reflect well on them too).

        • Ask your boss if you can "take something off their plate". This is my number one tactic in "managing up". You simultaneously acknowledge that they have a lot of important work going on, you are saying that you can demonstrate growth by taking on some of that important work, you would like to rise to the challenge of the type of work that the company feels is more traditionally for your boss, and you're ultimately giving your boss an opportunity to have the final say. A good boss will jump at this opportunity to feed you something that aligns with the growth strategy that they have for you. A bad boss will quickly make themselves known here, and you'll have more data on whether or not you want them to stay your boss. Of course it has to be stated: Don't take on too many things and not actually deliver on the important thing you're doing for your boss, that's obviously bad for you.
        • Ensure your boss knows what you're delivering. This can take many different forms depending on your job, but most of the time part of your boss' job is ensuring that you have things to do and you're doing them at a sustainable pace. Whether it be a bi-weekly sync meeting, or a weekly email, or simple Slack/IM messages that you're "finishing up A and transitioning over to work on B", this can be an opportunity to increase the points of contact you have with your boss, as well as tie nicely into the previous tip by giving you the chance to ask about your boss' workload.
        • Let your boss know when you have good ideas. I think a lot of people end up not trusting their boss with their best ideas for how to make their work easier, probably due to some misguided thinking that their job will somehow become harder. The truth is that for the majority of the time, even with only mildly competent bosses, an idea which will improve your productivity (and subsequently all of your peers' productivity) will only make your life easier, and further reinforce the value you bring to your organization. Whether it be a different video conferencing tool, a better workflow to hand work over to others in the remote work environment, or a quick suggestion that you set up your home office with better ergonomics and you think others would benefit from a similar strategy, all will (hopefully) be viewed by your boss as you actively contributing to finding generalizable solutions to shared problems, which is a huge value-add for your job.
        5 votes
  3. [2]
    Gaywallet
    Link
    In a typical environment, promotion depends on getting to know your manager and their manager intimately. Check in with them regularly. Go to them for advice (even if it's not needed). Become...

    In a typical environment, promotion depends on getting to know your manager and their manager intimately. Check in with them regularly. Go to them for advice (even if it's not needed). Become their friend. The reality is that most promotions come because you are well regarded by the people above you, not because the quality of your work is exceptional.

    This applies in person and remotely.

    6 votes
    1. skybrian
      Link Parent
      Setting up a regular 1:1 meeting is a good way to do this. (At Google, managers would do this routinely. It's a big burden on managers with lots of people reporting to them, but it's just...

      Setting up a regular 1:1 meeting is a good way to do this. (At Google, managers would do this routinely. It's a big burden on managers with lots of people reporting to them, but it's just something they have to do.)

      I don't know if that's feasible in a typical environment, though, where it hasn't been institutionalized.

      5 votes
  4. moocow1452
    Link
    Apply to a different position at the company, live on eggshells for a few weeks, forget you applied, get form letter rejected, repeat as needed. No real difference in my line of work.

    Apply to a different position at the company, live on eggshells for a few weeks, forget you applied, get form letter rejected, repeat as needed. No real difference in my line of work.

    1 vote
  5. wundumguy
    Link
    In my case, I'm applying for a lateral move in my company that is technically a promotion as well.

    In my case, I'm applying for a lateral move in my company that is technically a promotion as well.

    1 vote