How these professionals built a successful remote career
There’s a common misconception that working remotely puts you at a big disadvantage when it comes to career advancement.
Traditional value signaling doesn’t work in a remote setting. There’s no “face time” with the C-suite, no after-work happy hours to build team connections, no extra points for showing up early and staying late.
But what the naysayers overlook are the unique benefits working remotely presents for advancing your career. When you’re in charge of your own schedule, you tend to have more time and energy to invest in learning new skills, building your personal brand, or moving up the career ladder within your current company. And for parents with small children or people living outside big urban centers, remote work may be one of the only ways to build the career they want.
We talked with six talented people who have moved into leadership positions, become people managers, and increased their seniority as individual contributors—all while working remotely.
Here’s what they have to say on the benefits and challenges of career advancement in a remote setting, along with their advice on how to leverage both to succeed.
Success starts with working for a remote-first company
Whether you work for a fully remote company or a partially remote company, success starts with working for a remote-first company.
Emilie L. Schario, a data engineer at Gitlab, is married to an army officer, so she has to be ready to pick up and move to follow his posting often with little advance notice. Remote work gives her the stable employment she needs to grow her career, even if her address changes multiple times a year. However, she’s found that not all remote situations are equal when it comes to building a meaningful career.
In previous companies, when she was the only person working remotely, she often felt excluded and overlooked. In contrast, at Gitlab, a fully remote company, Emilie was promoted to her current role after just a year:
“Getting promoted while working remotely really depends on how remote your company is. GitLab is a fully remote organization, with over 700 folks around the world, so getting promoted wasn’t difficult at all. In previous roles, I was the only person who worked remotely. In those cases, I felt very forgotten by my employer.”
She’s not alone in her previous feelings of isolation. A recent study published in the Harvard Business Review revealed that it’s easy for remote workers to feel left out if they don’t work for a company that has taken measures to build trust and connection between their on-site and remote employees.
Optimize your energy peaks to do your best work
Gonçalo Silva, who was promoted from Android engineer to CTO of Doist, credits his career advancement to being able to optimize his schedule to do his best work:
“I’ve never been a good fit for a nine-to-five office. I’m an extreme night owl, and my productivity fluctuates considerably throughout the day. I lead a somewhat chaotic lifestyle that works for me and those close to me, but falls flat in the eyes of society’s time-bound expectations.”
In contrast, remote work has given him the freedom to work when he’s most productive—often at night and sometimes even on weekends.
“I’m more productive than I’ve ever been, working the fewest hours I have ever worked. The opportunity to truly optimize for my own energy and attention is something that is directly enabled by working remotely.”
Use the extra time and energy to invest in yourself—your education and personal brand
Lucia Fontaina-Powell, who was promoted from Quuu’s content manager to the company’s marketing director, uses the extra time and energy she has from working remotely to invest back into developing herself and her career.
“Because I have more energy and freedom, I stay curious and am always looking for opportunities to educate myself. I have more time outside of work, which means that I can get involved in freelance or personal projects—and I find that everything I learn feeds back into my work at Quuu.”
By investing in yourself, your education, and your personal brand, you’ll become indispensable to your company and make a name for yourself in your industry.
Tackle lack of “face time” with overcommunication
Not-so-soft skills, like communication and collaboration, are becoming increasingly important in the workplace, especially as more jobs and processes are automated. Clear communication is essential for getting buy-in from stakeholders on your ideas and for effectively collaborating on projects. But of course, lack of face time with colleagues can make communicating a little bit more difficult in a remote setting.
Leah Knobler, talent and culture lead for Helpscout, says one of the best ways you can advance your career is by putting time and effort into thoughtfully communicating with your team.
“The key to being successful as a remote employee is to be an excellent communicator, both verbally and in writing, so sharpen those skills. Remote work requires a high level of trust and transparency, which you get by communicating what you’re working on—whether it’s through video walk-throughs, shared docs, weekly stand-ups, etc.”
Writing is a particularly important skill to master in any remote setting. When communicating with your team, always strive for brevity and clarity of thought. Silva says that one of the most important steps to succeeding as a remote worker is to “become a great writer”:
“Writing is of the utmost importance when working remotely. Remote workers rely on writing for the vast majority of day-to-day communication. There is no body language, or a water cooler to lean on and clarify things. It’s critical to write in a way that is clear, succinct, and to the point.”
Use the lag in time zones to solve pressing problems
Time zone differences are undoubtedly one of the biggest barriers you’ll face as a remote worker. If left unmanaged, they can get in the way of syncing with your team in real time and building meaningful relationships. The barrier can become even more prominent when you’re a people manager or working in a cross-functional role.
But you can use these time gaps to your advantage too. For example, when Kasey Bayne, head of marketing at DataTrue, worked at Olark she was promoted from marketing communications to director of marketing. One of the biggest challenges she faced while managing a remote team was working in a different time zone from the rest of her team. Instead of getting frustrated, she got creative and took the initiative to solve pressing problems when she was the only one awake.
Futureproof your career
In today’s rapidly changing world, remote work is becoming more and more prevalent. Learning how to be successful remotely now will only benefit you more in the future. Schario put it this way:
“Remote work is the future, so we need to understand what career progression in this remote-work framework looks like. Out of sight, out of mind, can be a problem! But results really do speak for themselves.”
Far from being a barrier, remote work can empower you to advance your career. You’ll have the time, energy, and flexibility you need to do your best deep work, invest in your career growth, and build meaningful professional relationships.
The only downside: You may find it impossible to ever go back to an office again.