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How Remote Work Impedes Careers

 A fair amount of intelligence has come forth lately showing how remote learning is  

  setting back our kids. But let’s not forget: Working from home is also hurting adult workers. Especially younger ones.

I know, I know. All manner of studies putatively show that we’re happier and more productive working from home. So how can younger employees be getting hurt?

It’s because younger workers are not building networks of colleagues and clients today who will prove invaluable tomorrow, and therefore they’re failing to make that magic hidden investment in their careers. It’s because they’re not getting mentored by their bosses and coworkers and therefore bypassing great learning experiences.  

And it’s because young workers are probably missing out on the treasure of face time. Face time is when you notice your boss – or maybe your boss’s boss – is in a good mood and seems open to talk. So you saunter into his or her office, conjure up a tidbit of small talk and ask for a little advice. Just by doing that – taking that one little spontaneous step – you position yourself as an engaged, interested employee who may be ready a greater role and a possible promotion. Yes, young workers in your pajamas at home, it happens that fast.

But is anything like that going on today? A workday at home for many of today’s young workers apparently entails plopping down on a couch, opening a laptop, performing a series of transactions that a manager ordered in an email and watching “The Price is Right.” FaceTime is merely an app on an iPhone. 

Former AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong, in an article in The Information, said that by working from home, younger workers may be missing out on “the largest career-learning cycle” of their lives. “If I had one piece of advice for younger people in their 30s: Go back to work,” he said. “Even if your company doesn’t let you come back, create your own working environment and invite some people over.”

Likewise, Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel, in an essay headlined “Remote Work is Failing Young Employees” in the New York Times recently, offered several examples of how remote work is setting back younger employees. For example, one 22-year-old in Ireland said he’s found it nearly impossible to casually ask a question of his boss or colleagues. “If I was sitting next to my manager, I could just have a quick chat and move on,” he said. “The amount of on-the-job learning has reduced dramatically.”

Look, working from home can be great – in small doses. I often tell the story about how – and this happened years ago – I once had to work away from the office for two days, and I took home enough material to fill those two days. Or so I thought. I was so productive that I finished by 2 p.m. the first day and took a nap. Guess I was wasting more time at the water cooler in the office, gossiping and kvetching, than I realized.

Working in quiet solitude at home is perfectly fine when you need to finish a project or perform some task that requires full attention. But it has to be toxic for a young person’s career if remote work is done for a long unbroken span of time. 

There’s true but hidden value in in-office interactions. You watch how your colleagues work with each other, absorb what your organization really values and pick up real-time market intelligence about promising career moves for you. You just can’t do that very effectively on Zoom. 

Now that I think about it, all that gossiping and kvetching you may do at the water cooler isn’t a waste at all. It’s an investment in your future. And that’s what many remote workers are missing.

Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley has been the editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal since March 2016. In June 2021, it was named the best business journal of its size in the country – the fourth time in the last 5 years it won that honor. Crumpley was named best columnist – also for the fourth time in the last 5 years. He serves on two business-supporting boards and has won awards for his civic involvement. Crumpley, a former newspaper reporter, won several national awards and fellowships for his work, and he was a Fulbright scholar to Japan.
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