Can remote employees have the same career progression as people who work in the office? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Jane Chin (陳盈錦), Working remote since 1999, on Quora:

If you are wondering whether remote employees at your organization can have the same career trajectory as on-site employees at the same organization, look no further than people 3-5 ranks (depending on how flat or hierarchical the organization) above the remote employee. Are these higher ranked headcounts:

  • Cultivated from the field?
  • Promoted from within (the on-site talent pool)?
  • Hired from the outside?

Some industries and organizations are conducive to remote employment. If a significant population of an organization works "by remote", then equity in career advancement between remote employees and on-site employees is more likely. However, looking at which employee "pool" feeds into the upper ranks is a better predictor of whether your particular organization offers remote employees the same career development/advancement opportunities as on-site employees.

The pros and cons of being a remote employee is that we are physically removed from the organizational "organism". We don't see interpersonal dynamics on a daily basis that teaches us who actually holds what power in which department. We don't have casual conversations that sometimes expose us to valuable opportunities at the company before somebody else. Remote employees ARE "somebody else" at companies by virtue of our physical absence.

What we don't discuss often enough as what career advancement opportunities exist for remote employees is whether we remote employees actually WANT to convert to office employees if that is a requirement of advancement:

Some of us remote employees enjoy the high level of autonomy we have over our schedule and structure. Those of us who have established an optimal infrastructure and working rhythm are extremely productive on goals that matter, and we get an intellectual "high" working at this level.

We don't have to worry about the parade of meetings that seem to happen on site, and at least if we have to attend back-to-back teleconferences, we are not strapped to a chair in a room. I like being able to stretch my legs or wander from room to room during a teleconference if I feel like it!

Depending on our circumstance (for example, some of us may have dependents who may distract us or interrupt our work rhythm), we can remove ourselves from distractions more readily -- for example -- by going to a quieter room or even a quiet public work space than if we are stuck in an office wondering if closing our doors send the wrong message to coworkers.

Some of us are reluctant to trade a high degree of autonomy for a higher position that may significantly restrict this autonomy. Even if the career path remains remote/field-based, the higher you go, the more your schedule becomes dictated by more powerful stakeholders or influences.

Thus a key question that needs asking is, are remote employees willing to make the same career advancements as on-site employees if the advancements require them to convert to become office-based?

Personally, at least for now, my answer will be No.

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Published on: Jun 8, 2017