How to Build Career Capital While Working Remotely

July 2021

woman working from home

Image: Getty Images

Some employers want their workforces to return to the office by September; others are firmly committed to a hybrid or all-virtual work environment. That dichotomy poses potential pitfalls for those who remain at home now that they don’t have to.

As someone who’s worked remotely on and off for the past 20 years, I’ve had to build career capital without the benefit of being on site. Here are some tips for those hoping to do the same in order to advance up the career ladder despite being less visible than those on premises.

Speak through your work

First and foremost, consistently turn in excellent work. This is no different than if you commuted to a cubicle—you are ultimately judged by the work you produce. Make sure it meets or exceeds expectations through careful preparation and thoughtful execution. Double check your work before submitting it. And meet all of your deadlines.

This also means you must establish a home environment conducive to doing your best work. Everyone was sympathetic when working families were forced into confined spaces. But now there are fewer excuses for not arranging childcare or creating a quiet space to work. Show you take your job seriously by making it the priority during defined work hours.

Show your face

You won’t benefit from the creative synergy that comes from face-to-face meetings, but you can create a stronger connection on video conference calls. So be sure to at least initially use your webcam so people instantly put a face to the disembodied voice that follows when cameras turn off.

That means being properly groomed and dressed in front of a non-distracting background, whether calling in from a home office or dining room. Keep your work area kid-, parent- and pet-free during calls. Also, if using just your voice, moderate the length of your responses. It can be easy to get carried away without visual cues signaling you’ve gone on for too long.

Volunteer to pinch-hit or start fresh

If someone must drop out of a project or event, offer to pitch in to fill the void (provided you have the bandwidth). Your offer of last-minute help will be noticed—and remembered. So does assisting a struggling team that’s fallen behind. This requires excellent time management skills to be available when more work is needed on short notice.

Conversely, it’s easy to be taken advantage of because of your lack of office presence. Bosses and co-workers may push tasks off on you because they aren’t aware of your workload or workflow. They may even privately blame you when due dates pass without progress. People erroneously assume because you don’t have a commute, you now have more time to work. Establish boundaries and keep a communal calendar where people can see when you’re available and, importantly, when you’re not.

Show up to special events

Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you won’t be expected to attend certain meetings or events in person. Especially if it’s a corporate event that requires you to free up a few hours or days. This includes informal after-hour gatherings where you’re likely to catch up on office gossip that impacts your own future. And conference mixers where organizers will note who attended—and who skipped. Any job equity you’ve built will take a hit if someone with influence realizes you blew off their event, whether they tell you that or not.

There are circumstances, like natural disasters or sudden sickness, where you must cancel. Be honest with event organizers (and anyone else at the event you’d planned to see) about why you can’t attend. A proven work emergency is far more excusable than saying you’re exhausted or an introvert who hates crowds. That may be true, but you’ll limit later opportunities if you are perceived as selfish or shy.

Set up one-to-one meetings

Your boss is busy, but it’s important that you establish monthly check-ins to make sure your work is on track—and still relevant. Have an agenda and stick with it. Usually it takes only 15 minutes to sum up activities and track goals. This not only prevents blindsides come annual evaluations, but are regular reminders of your contributions and their impact.

Answer posts, calls, texts and emails

Like it or not, a downside to working remotely is the need to more frequently check emails, texts or voice messages. This is because people expect you to be available when they can’t see you—unless you let everyone know from the communal calendar when you are busy. You can establish specific times to check email, voice or text messages, but make sure it’s frequent enough that people receive a timely response.

You also should consider contributing to social networks that appeal to people in your current or desired industry. Share what you know, and you are more apt to establish a business relationship that leads to a better job. Keep posts positive and politics-free (unless you are seeking a job in politics or advocacy). That goes for internal communications through channels like Slack and Teams, too. Contribute value to conversations with insights or relevant references in an organic, authentic way.

Yes, working from home allows you to more time to catch up on household chores, go for mid-day walks, watch breaking news and talk to a friend without everyone eavesdropping. You prepare meals while everyone else is in traffic. Just know there’s a tradeoff to that flexibility and downtime if you don’t put yourself out there on occasion—in person.

Thank you for reading this,