Are Remote Employees Second-class Citizens?

Question:

I fought for the right to work from home. When my long-term employer ordered all employees back on-site, I protested. When that didn’t work, I quit, and looked for an employer more open to remote workers.

I found one, only to have that employer decide that employees in my job category needed to return onsite to “facilitate collaboration.” I searched again and found an employer that allowed “those who choose to may work remotely.”

Working from home gives me a sane work/life balance. I don’t have the commute or a supervisor breathing down my neck if I need to take a quick break. I like my job. I’m productive. I get more done at home without the office distractions, including coworkers wandering in to chat.  

There’s just one problem. My manager and employer seem biased against remote workers. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Several of us got together on Slack and compared notes. Everyemployee who’s received a promotion or special opportunity in the last year has worked onsite.

Are we right in our suspicions that employers treat remote workers as second-class citizens? If so, how can I remain remote but advance my career?

Answer:

Depending on the employer and individual manager or supervisor, you may be accurate.

In July, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed 817 supervisors of remote workers. 42 percent admitted they “sometimes forget about remote workers when assigning tasks.”1 62 percent reported that “full-time remote work is detrimental to employees’ career objectives.”1

Other information corroborates this dynamic. A July Forbes article reports that 38% of remote employees didn’t receive a bonus and that remote workers were less than half as likely to be promoted.2   An August 2021 Wall Street Journal article predicted employers with both on-site and remote workers will develop a two-tier workplace, with on-site workers getting the bulk of the promotions and raises because they’re “present” and easier for supervisors to manage.3

SHRM’s research further documents that 72% of supervisors of remote employees would prefer all subordinates work on-site; 67% consider remote workers “more easily replaceable than onsite workers,” and 67% feel it takes more time and effort to supervise remote than onsite employees.1  

SHRM’s research additionally reveals that remote employees log more than eight hours a day to prove organizational commitment, and 61% spend between $100 and $499 of their own money on the equipment and furniture needed to work remotely.1

That said, any employer that allows supervisors to “sometimes forget” their remote employees may lose them.

Given this, you have three choices.

You can look for an employer more attuned to remote employees, though this may negatively impact your resume by adding another short-term job to your history.

You can present the situation to your CEO and senior managers and ask them to assess the past year of promotions and ensure remote employees have future opportunities. If that doesn’t work, you can decide whether you accept this trade-off, realizing you may pay a career price for remote work’s benefits.

Or you can combat out of sight out of mind and assertively improve your career trajectory. Here’s how:

Don’t just do your work; make sure your manager and those above him realize the results you produce. Performance and results speak volumes, but only if they’re seen and heard. When you exceed expectations, document it.

Schedule regular meetings with your manager so you remain on his radar. Talk about his expectations for you. Outline your career and job goals, and make it clear you’re interested in advancement. Are there projects on your manager’s backburnered to-do list he’d like to delegate or other responsibilities you can shoulder?  

Demonstrate your commitment. Consider working onsite a day a week. Yes, you’ll lose some remote work benefits, but you can make that day count. Don’t zone out in Zoom meetings. Keep your camera on and your dress and presentation professional. Proactively address challenges and contribute ideas. Ask to get upskilled on new technologies.

Realize your manager may feel it’s harder to supervise you and others he only sees in a video box on Zoom than those who work onsite. He can’t drop into your office and verbally download a new task, and as a result may offer juicy projects to those within eyesight. Change that by initiating more contact with him.

Are you a second-class citizen? Only if you allow it.

1 https://www.shrm.org/about-shrm/press-room/press-releases/pages/-shrm-research-reveals-negative-perceptions-of-remote-work.aspx

2 https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2021/07/30/study-shows-supervisors-say-remote-workers-are-more-easily-replaceable-and-they-sometimes-forget-about-them/?sh=5d797cd24932

3 In a Hybrid Office, Remote Workers Will Be Left Behind – WSJ

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2 thoughts on “Are Remote Employees Second-class Citizens?

  1. I am still laughing, and after all the depressing pandemic baloney, I needed
    (as we all do) a good laugh.

    When I saw the words ‘remote workers’, my dinosaur brain immediately thought I could contribute some insight as I spent the majority of my life working ‘remotely’ on construction in the Bush. Although I’m cognizant of the modern phrase ‘working remotely’, my age and work history disallowed an immediate, modern, interpretation. lol

  2. These are great suggestions for “upping” your visibility if you’re a remote worker. Too often, bosses do not “notice” the contributions workers make, and the loss of those workers is the only way the employer may realize what they’ve lost, and by then, it’s too late.

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