Remote work has a dark side. Here are 3 ways to make sure you overcome it in 2021


 When the pandemic forced many knowledge workers out of the office and into their homes, many hypothesized that it wouldn’t work, at least not long-term. Some worried that productivity and collaboration would suffer. Others, company culture. So now that we’re nearly nine months into the pandemic, is remote work working?

To find out, Emplify recently surveyed 1,000 remote workers that have only been working remotely since March. And the answer? Well, it’s complicated.

It turns out that remote work has had a surprisingly positive impact on culture and work relationships. The vast majority of survey respondents reported that relationships with their managers and coworkers have either improved or stayed the same. What’s more, 50%t shared that their manager’s trust in them has increased, and only one in five believe that remote work has negatively impacted their company’s culture.

But remote work has a dark side.

A startling 67% of the employees we surveyed haven’t received a single piece of constructive feedback from their manager in the past 30 days, and nearly half (47%) reported having fewer professional development opportunities while working from home.

So it’s likely not your productivity that’s suffering; it’s your career.

Pre-pandemic, your manager likely took more responsibility for your professional growth. A lot of people still expect their boss to prescribe a development path and hand them a set of courses to complete. But that’s not the world we live in anymore. And since constructive feedback and professional development opportunities are paramount to your growth, the cost of inaction is high. To put yourself in the driver’s seat of your professional development, you’ll need to learn how to “manage up.”

The life-changing magic of managing up

There is a lot of advice out there for managers on how to best manage their people, but not much for people on how to manage their managers. Managing up involves clearly and concisely communicating your needs to your boss and taking an active role in those needs being met. When it comes to your growth, this kind of self-advocacy is crucial. As a manager myself, I always want to know if there’s something that would make my people more effective, even if it requires some of my time or some reasonable company resources.

Here are three steps to make sure your professional growth doesn’t stall and get your boss on board.

Set a professional growth goal

What are you aiming to achieve in this season of your career? Perhaps it’s a promotion or a set of professional experiences. Maybe you hope to master a new skill or improve your understanding of a certain topic. Whatever it is you hope to accomplish, setting a goal will give you an objective to bring to your manager. But before you approach your boss, run your professional development goals through the SMART model of goal-setting. As Charles Duhigg writes in his bestselling productivity manual Smarter Faster Better, setting SMART goals translates vague aspirations into concrete plans. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timebound

If you hope to earn a promotion, your goal may look something like this: “Nine months from now, I will achieve proficiency in the skills of giving feedback, coaching junior employees, and strategic planning to earn serious consideration to a promotion to manager.” Once you’ve identified a SMART goal, consider asking your manager for feedback. They may have additional thoughts on where you need to grow to get to where you want to go.

Create a roadmap for achieving your goal

Now that you know your destination, you can map out a route to get there. Since you’ve identified the skills you need to earn a promotion, research resources that will help you achieve your learning objectives. Maybe you find a book on the topic of manager development you’d like to read. Perhaps you’d like to sit in on a departmental strategic planning session to learn about the process. Once you’ve identified the resources you’ll work through, create a timeline with a series of deadlines, and drill down into exactly what you’ll need from your manager to achieve your goal. Maybe it’s a dollar amount, or company time, or both. Prepare an estimate to share with your manager along with your roadmap to achieve your goal.

Initiate regular meetings with your manager to align your progress and priorities

Once you’re ready to have a conversation with your manager, don’t just ask for a one-off meeting. Regular one-on-one meetings with your boss are paramount to your growth. They create a consistent container for discussions around priorities, feedback, performance, and professional development. Our survey found that 39% meet with their manager just once per month or less.

If you fall into that category, it’s worth taking ownership of a weekly or biweekly meeting with your manager. Once you find a time that works for a standing call, take a first pass at drafting the agenda. It’s during one of these appointments that you can bring your goal and plan to achieve it to your manager. Once you’ve had a chance to align with your boss on your plan, you can use the standing meeting to provide progress reports and talk about your other work priorities.

Talking to your boss about your professional growth takes clarity and courage. But remember that your manager likely wants you to succeed, and will likely be willing to provide you what you need (within reason) to help you do your best work. Make your own growth a priority, and your manager will too.

Santiago Jaramillo is the co-founder and CEO of Emplify, an employee engagement measurement company.

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