Is working from home stalling your career?

Research shows that you could be 50% more likely to miss out on promotion if you work from home all the time. So how does that affect Britain’s four million home workers?

It’s been nearly two years since UK employees with at least 26 weeks’ service have been able to apply for flexible working. Since then, from a recruiter’s point of view, working from home more has become an increasing requirement for both contractors and candidates seeking permanent work. But does working from home make you more likely to be passed over for promotion and general workplace goodwill?

Humans are (generally) social creatures. We like to interact, whether that’s discussing the latest work project, last night’s telly or our love lives. Yet with one in seven British workers now working from home online, according to the British National Institute of Statistics, is telecommuting killing off the office, and having a detrimental effect on us all?

Balancing work and life

Value systems are shifting. Not only do we have the desire for a better work-life balance, we now have the means to work from anywhere, anytime. Got to do the school run? Fine, catch up when the kids are in bed later. Working with a team in the States? No problem – Skype them when they come into the office.

However, there is evidence that this comes at a price. A Stanford University study showed that although home workers are both happier and 13% more productive, they are 50% less likely to get promoted than colleagues who regularly work in an office. Fifty per cent!

Maybe that’s because of less face time, with the old ‘out of sight out of mind’ cliché running true. You’re less likely to build up relationships with your co-workers, either at work or through social functions afterwards, and you can miss out on the grapevine effect of hearing about opportunities until it’s too late. Is that too high a price to pay for the work-life benefits?

Contrasting companies

When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recalled all her homeworkers in from the cold in 2013, it was squarely based around productivity. Her leaked memo read, “Communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.” 

A Yahoo source quoted by Business Insider said a huge number of people never came into work at all and a lot of them “hid” – hardly anyone knew they still worked at the company. It was also a way to make some people naturally redundant – those who didn’t want to give up working from home could be legitimately shown the door (although it caused a lot of moral outrage).

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Richard Branson believes “flexible working is smart working”. Giving Virgin employees the choice of when and where to work “empowers people to make great decisions,” Branson says, and attributes it to being one of the reasons why Virgin attracts great employees. He adds, “We’ve noticed a change for good in our people’s morale and we’re sure the quantifiable benefits will prove to be substantial... Screw business as usual.”

It’s down to you

So it would seem that working from home boils down to a combination of personal choice and the company you work for. Get a work-life balance to die for and chance missing out on promotion. Or get yourself into the office every day and make sure the big bosses know you’re there when promotion time comes around, even if you have to face a commute and less time with your family.

There’s increasingly a halfway house option too, where you have the flexibility to work from home some of the time. Often that’s down to your company’s trust in you. And it’s less of an issue for contractors, as promotion is unlikely to figure anyway and you’re more than likely to have your own home office set up, particularly if you’re in a home-working-friendly industry like IT. For permanent staff, it could cause more problems, but you can still stay visible while working at home – regular Skype meetings or perhaps one day a week in the office and you’re still ticking a lot of the boxes. Just remember to change out of your PJs on those days.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn 20.5.2016