I’ve been working in offices my entire career, but along with the rest of the world, that changed in 2020. For the first time in my life, I was separated from my co-founders, my colleagues, and my team. This presented many unique challenges, especially in early quarantine, like fundraising from afar, improving employee engagement, keeping teams motivated, and maintaining productivity.
My challenges as a CEO aside, I saw how working remotely—and the lack of preparation for it—shortsighted advancement opportunities for employees that may have been much more accessible with in-person work. With the lack of face-to-face interactions that would normally occur in an office environment, social isolation, and lack of emotional support, it was difficult for younger staff to feel equipped to advance in their careers.
As leaders, we need to recognize that it’s an exceptionally difficult time to enter the job market and find the right career path because of lack of exposure and hands-on training. Being apart from your colleagues can make folks feel like they’re isolated from company culture and aren’t part of the bigger picture or mission. They also don’t receive intel on other areas of the company, limiting their cross-job exposure—a hindrance for entry-level talent who are still seeking where they fit best within an organization.
I certainly acknowledge these stressors, and after a year of working remotely, have identified a guide for remote workers to continue moving up in their careers, despite the distance.
Science Inc.’s success wall charting its investments.
1) Stay in Touch and Voice Your Needs
The office watercooler trope is around for a reason: In-person connections with peers and managers are vital for a healthy work environment. Remove the casual office touch points, and employees are left with concerns of managerial support and communication. I am always open to hearing from others, and encourage employees to voice their concerns and needs so we can best set them up for success at home. As executive leadership, we need to listen, and thereby be supportive, in helping others get their work done.
On the flip side, sometimes we don’t know every individual’s work style or requirements, and on this I encourage employees to speak up about their necessities in order to do their best as they work remotely. Voicing concerns helps us understand and identify that, even though employees are working remotely, they are putting in the effort to ensure they can work from home effectively.
2) Find a Mentor
If mentorship programs aren’t in place within an organization, I highly recommend companies explore them, especially with remote work. Whether it’s a formal personal development mentor or even an employee peer “buddy” to help with day-to-day support, it’s important for everyone to know they have someone to turn to.
I encourage junior staff and midlevel employees to find a mentor they’d like to learn from. Working within one role and job description doesn’t mean that you can’t find your place in other areas within a company, and having a mentor you can trust, ask questions, and take advice from helps junior staff learn more about their own roles, other opportunities, and how they see themselves working at an organization long term. Whether it’s formal weekly check-ins or informal mentoring Zoom chats, having a guide will help with face time and teach employees tons about a company, its culture, and future growth opportunities.
Working remotely means employees aren’t surrounded by their peers and managers to see all the impactful work they’ve accomplished. Because of this, an important client presentation, or a successful sales pitch, might get lost in the shuffle of remote work. I urge employees to overcommunicate their weekly goals, accomplishments, and wins. Even though we might not be together in the same room, showcasing work helps me see and recognize how my employees are going above and beyond, and that really makes a difference when hiring and promoting.
4) Build Relationships
Even if it doesn’t seem natural, or it doesn’t come with ease, proactive outreach to managers, directors, VPs, and direct reports can help make someone extremely memorable. At Science, we have summarized weekly reports to widen the aperture of different divisions of the business on a regular cadence.
I can say with confidence that lasting business relationships don’t just happen overnight or develop without consistent dedication. I urge employees to be authentic, show mutual respect, be personal, and make meaningful connections with a cross-pollination of individuals across departments. This should be a select group of people, and these types of relationships shouldn’t be thought of as short lived, but rather an opportunity to grow, learn, and find people you can rely on.
By building these relationships, employees have a better chance of claiming referrals, compliments, and a path not only forward, but up, within an organization. Nothing should be assumed, but I know I always value employees who make the effort to genuinely get to know me.
5) Go Above and Beyond
In order for a company to be successful, it needs hardworking, dedicated employees who show up every day and give it their all. Sometimes that means going above and beyond and doing work that’s not necessarily in their job description. Showing up for a co-worker who needs help and giving them a hand on a project, picking up work to help a team if there’s downtime, and offering time and energy for the greater good are always noticed by upper management. Similarly to non-COVID times, if you want to find ways to get exposure within an organization, you have to actively do something beyond your tasks to stand out.
At a point in my career after AOL bought my business, I ended up spending a significant amount of time on company strategy—and I communicated that. That allowed me to explore the organization inside out and build relationships above my then-current status.
We’ve lost a lot in casual interactions and conversations because of the pandemic. Despite remote work, take the opportunity to connect. You’d be surprised what effective acknowledgment and effort can do when it comes to driving one’s career forward.
Michael Jones is the CEO of Science Inc., an incubator and venture capital firm that has backed Dollar Shave Club, Hello Society and EventUp, among others. He was previously CEO of Myspace.