Is remote work a dead end for employees?
Remote workers are less likely to be promoted, but COVID might change that.
It isn't easy to climb the corporate ladder from home. All else equal, working remotely decreases the odds of promotion by about 50%.
The best explanation is twofold: off-site employees are less visible to supervisors and have fewer professional development opportunities.
First, excellent employees who work from home are less likely to be recognized. Managers at a large call center could accurately predict the future performance of on-site staff, over and above objective performance metrics. They couldn't predict off-site workers' future performance though—they overestimated some, and underestimated others. Weaker information about remote workers meant strong candidates were overlooked, which probably contributed to a 20 percentage point gap in on- and off-site promotions.
And second, employees who work from home may not have opportunities to become strong candidates for promotion. When firms switched to WFH during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers ended up with less coaching, mentorship and one-on-one time with supervisors. They also spent less time networking and collaborating across teams. Workers who are siloed at home may not pick up the information, skills and relationships they need to move into more senior positions.
If WFH becomes the norm for white collar workers after COVID it might level the playing field. In the more likely scenario of hybrid workplaces, managers will need to be aware of the pitfalls of WFH and firms will need to provide more remote networking and professional development opportunities.