By Alice Kantor
For some, working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic was a boon to their careers. Better pay, better titles, better hours. And they didn’t have to have a bunch of face time with the boss in person to do it.
Princess Pierre, 35, describes herself as naturally introverted and never felt at ease in office settings. While working from home, the communications specialist found that she was able to let her output speak for itself.
“I was just doing better work,” said Pierre, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “In my particular field, it’s easier to write in my home space. I write more. I start early in the morning. This works for me.”
She switched jobs in June, showcasing her efforts in tangible results, such as the number of press releases she could write or outlets she could pitch. She moved from a public relations coordinator role to a specialist role, with a pay raise.
As some people are starting to think of working from home as a long-term option, some workers like Pierre already have taken advantage of the tight labor market to leap up the corporate ladder while enjoying life without a commute.
“The pandemic forced everyone to be home, and managers had to find a way to evaluate people’s work without office interactions,” said Amanda Jones, a lecturer at the U.K.’s King’s College. “Now, that’s the norm.”
Remote work can level the playing field for people who don’t love — or don’t have time for — schmoozing, U.K. Trade Union Congress spokesperson Alice ArkWright said. It also means employers are more willing to hire people who, for health or other reasons, couldn’t participate in the daily grind of coming to the office.
“Home working enabled certain disadvantaged groups like disabled people and moms to get jobs they didn’t have access to before and to perform well,” she said. “It made the workplace more competitive.”
It turns out, many workers like the setup and think they’re doing better at home: 44% of Americans found that remote work made it easier for them to get work done and meet deadlines, according to a February Pew Research Center study. Women particularly seem to be finding that the new conditions benefit them, with 19% of women in the U.S. saying working from home makes it easier to advance in their jobs, compared with 9% of men, according to the Pew survey.
Yet for those starting a new job from home, getting set up can be tricky.
Cardiff, U.K.-based Aira Gonzales, 22, a communications and design officer, started her first job out of university during the pandemic in August 2020. She had few genuine interactions with colleagues and found it hard to figure out the patterns of her new workplace while being fully online. Having to do her performance review over Zoom was painful.
“It’s just hard to understand your boss’s cues when you’ve never met in person,” she said.
U.K. workers who started new jobs in the pandemic remotely reported struggling with forming working relationships, not having a manager or team “in the room” to ask for information or guidance, earning the confidence of colleagues or soaking up company culture, according to an October survey by the U.K. polling company YouGov.
Another issue is presenteeism, the notion that people in the office work more than those at home, which could give managers a distorted view of which workers are being productive.
“Presenteeism bias is well known, and basically every company I talk to mentions this as a concern,” said Nicholas Bloom, a management researcher at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
Making the leap
And an unspoken truth — something many managers fear — is that people aren’t necessarily as loyal to a company if they aren’t seeing friends and colleagues in a downtown skyscraper or at in-person events. That means it’s easier to take part in the “Great Resignation,” leap to another company, and get a pay bump as a result.
That’s what Larry Fulton did. His first job after graduating Yale University in 2019 was as a business analyst at McKinsey & Co. He found he wasn’t very loyal to a company where he had few personal interactions.
“Every time I met up online with colleagues, we’d be discussing looking for jobs elsewhere,” the 24-year-old said. “The experience seemed more fractured. No one was going to the bar for a drink. It became a lot easier to talk more openly about next steps.”
After less than two years at the consultancy firm, he joined a blockchain investing company, Advanced Blockchain AG, as a project lead and left New York for Atlanta. The company is fully remote, without an office.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com.