Rising up the Remote Work Ladder
The title of this post may be something of a misnomer; some future-of-work experts claim that we’re not really ascending the company work ladder anymore, we’re scaling jungle gyms and making lateral moves across lattices. Semantics aside, moving forward in a career typically takes forethought and planning. Where you’d prefer to be professionally at age 55, 40, or 30 can be built upon strategic moves now.
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In remote work, those moves are very much behind-the-scenes. When you think of powerful executives, you probably envision someone at the helm of a boardroom or someone presenting to clients. Who advances in an organization when working from a home office 24/7? Or perhaps the better question is: how can someone advance remotely?

Here’s how to rise up the remote work ladder, scale the jungle gym, or make lateral moves across the lattices:

1. Visualize your end goal.

Admittedly, this can be tough. We often don’t have clear insight into the exact place we want to be five, 10, or 15 or more years from now. And life has been known to throw a few curve balls our way. So take this exercise as a general compass direction.

Brainstorm important aspects of the kind of life you’d like to live and how your work might support that. Maybe it’s living as an expat in a foreign country, taking some time to wander the U.S. or the globe as a digital nomad, or simply having enough savings to support your dreams.

Ready? Grab a pen and paper and jot down the characteristics of your ideal future scenario, professionally speaking, and work backwards. What is it that you need to do to connect the dots between that point and your life as it is today? Reverse-engineering the future can help you get there.

2. Contribute to bigger objectives.

A few years ago, Sheryl Sandberg encouraged women to “lean in” at work, stepping up to new challenges and asserting leadership capabilities. This piece of advice is especially relevant for both genders in a remote work context. Once you’ve gotten the lay of the land in your role——typically within three months—it’s time to be proactive.

Take note of your team’s and company’s top priorities. Ask your boss what you can do to help move those initiatives forward. Make yourself available for conversations and new ideas, and encourage others to reach out to you for help. You’ll become an asset in the process and you will gain knowledge about both your role and the field at large.

3. Solicit feedback.

When you step into a 360-degree mirror in a department store, it doesn’t lie. The visual feedback you get shows you things you may not otherwise have seen or known to look for. You can create a similar experience with a 360-degree review on the job.

Although it may seem scary to ask others for candid feedback of your performance and work/management style, examining yourself from a variety of angles gives you greater insight into your strengths. It also highlights exactly where you can focus on improvement.

We all have blind spots in our lives; the problems begin when you opt to ignore them over addressing them. (You can even return the favor by offering helpful feedback to your colleagues.) As a result of your openness, your work relationships will improve and you’ll grow as a professional.

4. Raise your visibility.

You’re not physically present and so you may not be top of mind for your manager and teammates. Find ways to remind your colleagues that you’re there and enthusiastic about being part of the team.

It’s also wise to seek out opportunities to cultivate your personal brand to a broader audience. Think of it as developing your own thought leadership capabilities. This isn’t about grandstanding; it’s about offering your insights and sharing with other professionals, whether this is accomplished by speaking on panels in industry conferences, networking events, mentoring others, or getting published in a relevant blog or news article.

5. Find a mentor.

An old African proverb puts it best: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” We all travel our own solo journeys, but without partnerships and teamwork, we’re limited within the scope of our current skills and abilities.

For this reason, it’s critical that you seek out a mentor who can guide and help you further develop yourself. This person could be a more senior employee in your company, or someone from another organization whose work you admire or whose role you’d like to learn more about.

Mentors are like personal advisors for your professional journey; with them, you can better understand your goals and reasons for having them, and mentors are invaluable in supporting you on a path to achieving those goals.

Readers, what are your tips for climbing the remote work ladder? Tell us in the comments below!

By Kristi DePaul | August 29, 2016

Jane Gonzalez
Associate Editor