Will Remote Working Change Career Progression as We Know it?

by John McLaughlin, Global Commercial Director at Aon

Remote working has been on the increase for years. Recent events have simply accelerated the need for more virtual team and individual working.

While technology supports collaboration, acts as an interface with other team members and the line manager and enables work to continue, what impact does remote working have, long-term, on our understanding of career opportunities and career paths within our organization?

We can, should we wish, look at a job and project ourselves into that role in the future. We can grasp what the job entails, and the skills needed to perform well and, if we can’t, we can find it out through informal networks. In an office we can see which teams a role works with, how success is measured and how it fits within the overall achievement of the organization’s goals.

But strip away the water cooler conversations about jobs, the in-person line manager conversations and the visibility of other teams, and the view of the career horizon becomes quite narrow when you are working remotely. Similarly, without the regular informal catch-ups around the office, the line manager struggles to get broader visibility.

Rethinking career frameworks
We know that jobs, roles and careers are changing as businesses undergo their own transformation and virtual working is only part of this. Job architecture and career paths are evolving, and new career frameworks are developing. We know that we need greater career agility and an openness to learn and acquire broader skills sets, and to embrace upskilling and reskilling.

Employees working both virtually and in-office need to be shown the possibilities and encouraged to explore their own career path and be supported by well-considered remuneration packages. The challenge to talent leaders is to understand how careers are evolving and how to bring remote workers into the conversation.

A question of visibility
It is not just about understanding roles and possible career moves. Being away from the office also makes us less visible to potential new managers and to those pulling together new teams with development opportunities. In the run up for promotion, or in succession planning conversations, we are judged not just on our performance and success metrics, but on our leadership skills, collaboration with the team and attitude. These skills are clearly seen when we are in the office but not so obviously when we are working remotely.

Of course, HR and talent leaders can take action and make sure that any career progression and succession planning process is more objective by building in talent assessment as standard in all such discussions. It means the playing field is levelled for all, regardless of how they are working.

A change in the role of the (virtual) line manager
Managers too have their role to play in this. Traditionally line managers have been an interface between the individual and their career plan. The manager has been the one to propose a promotion and to suggest relevant training courses and development opportunities. The individual, often passively, hears how their career should pan out from the perspective of the line manager: the career conversation is heavily weighted one way.

That maybe a very simplistic view of career conversations and things certainly have evolved in recent years. Nevertheless if we want to transition to new ways of working and become more agile we need to offer (and foster awareness of) more than the one-dimensional, upward career paths. Employees need to explore lateral career moves, try out career ideas and match the skills and competencies they have with other roles that they (and their line manager) may have never thought about.

This shift means that the manager becomes less of a fount of career knowledge and more of a sounding board. They need a different skill set: one of coach to help tease out the career preferences and offer a different perspective when needed.

In our recent survey, only 55% of organizations are focusing on increasing workforce agility and internal mobility. Those companies that take action will lead from the front, develop a stronger EVP and attract new talent ready to drive their own careers and organizations forward.