Three ways women can use remote work to advance their careers

At a prior startup of mine, I was one of two women on an eight-person leadership team. After six months, my fellow female colleague went on maternity leave, and so it was expected that she would miss the next few executive meetings. Knowing we wanted to keep her in the loop, the CEO turned to me and said, “Karen, why don’t you take notes for us?”

 I responded: “No, I don’t feel comfortable as the only woman in the room to also be the note-taker.” My CEO then delegated the task to someone else.

You don’t need to look far to see examples like this of the biases and challenges facing women in the workplace. Women often receive lower salaries for equal work, are subjected to unfair perceptions of leadership styles, and are even judged about using too many or too few exclamation points in their emails. These biases make earning respect a challenge. It’s even worse if you’re a remote employee, considering you have to overcome these barriers virtually.

But the remote workforce is only growing in size and influence. In fact, 52% of employees work from home at least once a week and 16% of companies are fully remote, according to a recent study by Owl Labs. At its best, remote work provides the flexibility employees crave. Given the benefits, it’s no wonder 87% of remote employees are more likely to say they “love” their job.

Still, challenges unique to the nature of remote work can make it even harder for women to achieve their career goals. Lack of visibility, inadequate technology, and fewer opportunities to foster relationships can easily derail your career as a remote worker if you’re not proactive. Here a few ways you can empower yourself as a remote employee so that your work style is an advantage, not a burden.

ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF

Visibility is a major challenge for remote workers. With limited opportunities for face time with coworkers (especially outside of your immediate team), advocating for your value and your accomplishments can be difficult. This is especially true for women since only 42% report they feel comfortable self-promoting in the workplace, according to the 2016 Hays Global Gender Diversity Report.

But self-promotion isn’t just about bragging. It’s critical for your career that decision makers understand your contributions. Just because you’re remote, doesn’t mean your accomplishments should go unnoticed.

Communicate with your coworkers so everyone is in the loop about the status of your projects and your impact. Tools like Slack and Trello enable easy and consistent communication across teams. I spend a lot of time exploring our business through data, and when I have an “aha!” moment, I love sharing that with others immediately. This has the indirect benefit of bringing other people into my work who might not have that visibility.

This communication is a necessity for any employee, but it’s particularly important when you’re unable to stop by a coworker’s office for a spontaneous quick update. These tools and strategies improve workflow and keep your team’s productivity high, regardless of location.

Additionally, remote workers can also encourage their employers to invest in intelligent conferencing solutions. For example, video conference cameras empower remote workers to be more involved in meetings and feel less like a fly on the wall.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FLEXIBLE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

When working out of the office, it can be easy to be overlooked by employers for professional development opportunities. Organic opportunities for training (like the classic lunch and learn) might be fewer and farther between if you’re working on your own. But there’s no excuse to skimp on professional development.

For example, it’s easier than ever to continue sharpening and learning new skills using online courses. Remote workers can benefit from enrolling in online courses via platforms like LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, and Alcamy.

Since you’re not tied to a physical office, you also have the freedom to attend and network at industry conferences in various locations. Make it a habit to share insights from these events with your in-office counterparts. That way, your status as a remote employee becomes an advantage, not a hindrance.

BUILD MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS THAT CREATE MENTORSHIPS

Multiple surveys revealed that employees with mentors not only out-earn non-mentored colleagues but that every successful female executive surveyed reported having a mentor. Mentors are a great source to help with professional and career advancement, but it might seem daunting to invest in new relationships when you’re outside of the office. And it’s difficult to create meaningful relationships that can be shoehorned into a formal mentor/mentee dynamic.

Instead, find your tribe wherever you are and learn from them. Meet people in coffee shops, coworking spaces, or other nearby companies. Create a network of people you admire and you’ll find you’ll learn from each other.

Also, don’t shy away from traveling. Occasionally, there are genuine instances when the nature of remote work can be a disadvantage. Know when to get on a plane and make the effort for real face-time with coworkers and mentors when it’s necessary.

If remote work is the right fit for you, it can benefit your productivity, lifestyle, and career trajectory in ways that weren’t even an option a decade ago. Whatever the reason you choose to work remotely, you shouldn’t have to apologize for it–and your career shouldn’t suffer for it. By working smartly and strategically, you can use remote work as a tool to build the career you’ve dreamed about and deserve.