Career and Leadership Development During COVID-19
Remote work during COVID-19 can lead to positive career and leadership outcomes.
Posted March 31, 2020
Some organizational and leadership development experts say we are in a state of transition to a novel world of work. We are currently facing changes such as rapid rises in unemployment and full-time remote employment.
As significant numbers of employed American workers transition to remote work due to COVID-19, some individuals have wondered what implications this may have on their career and leadership development. Will this transition result in limited career and leadership advancement opportunities for those working remotely?
Remote work has existed for an extensive period of time, particularly depending on the operationalization of the term. Formal remote work within workplace organizations began in the 1980s following technological advancements to facilitate this option. In the United States from 2003 and 2009, working remotely in any capacity increased from 19 percent to 24 percent of the working population (BLS, 2019). However, working remotely has remained at the same rate from 2009 to 2018 (BLS, 2019). Notably, some industries (e.g., manufacturing) cannot offer remote employment options, likely contributing in part to consistent rates of remote work.
Interestingly, empirical research has found that remote work may predict favorable outcomes (e.g., improved performance indicators, lower turnover rates, greater workplace satisfaction) (Bloom et al., 2015). Notably, remote work outcomes seem to vary based on individual needs (e.g., need to integrate or separate work and personal life domains) and appropriate organizational fit regarding that preference (Kreiner, 2006). An empirical study found that fit between remote work preferences and workplace environments predicted positive outcomes, including reduced stress and work/home conflict and increased job satisfaction (Kreiner, 2006).
Although remote work—for those preferring and receiving it—may predict positive employee and organizational outcomes, there is some evidence that working remotely may negatively impact promotional opportunities (Bloom et al., 2015). Remote work may limit visibility and relationship development opportunities, indirectly leading to limited advancement opportunities despite improved performance.
Career and leadership development suffer when employees do not pivot based on the existing context. For employees who are able to meet their roles and responsibilities through remote employment, full-time remote work is the reality for the unforeseeable future. And this new reality may lead to positive employee and organizational outcomes (e.g., improved performance indicators). However, in order to progress, employees transitioning to full-time remote work for the first time must understand the methods to pivot their career and leadership development approach.
The following summary will serve as a case study for career and leadership development recommendations in the context of remote work during the COVID-19 outbreak. Ana is an IT Database Administrator at a large hospital. She has been assigned to work remotely over the next six months due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Prior to the outbreak, Ana was to be evaluated over the next fiscal year to determine her preparedness for a promotion to a Regional IT Database Administrator role (a management position that provides oversight of several hospitals). However, during this upcoming six-month period, Ana will not have her weekly face-to-face meetings with her supervisor or team members. All meetings have been reduced in frequency to once a month through a videoconferencing platform. Ana will not have opportunities to engage in cross-functional team projects. She will have limited direct contact with her supervisor, team, and organization, seemingly reducing the impact and influence she can have on the organization over the next six months.
In order to progress, Ana can pivot her approach to career and leadership development with the following actions: a) Maintain key performance indicators (KPIs) at least at the same level prior to her remote work transition; b) set strategic goals to demonstrate engagement during scheduled interactions with supervisors and team members; c) offer increased organizational and team support in manageable ways; and d) enhance knowledge, skills, and abilities through informal and formal methods.
In applying the aforementioned actions, Ana would first ensure her work-related effort remains at the same quantifiable level based on KPIs. Ana should self-monitor these KPIs periodically over time as she continues to work remotely. Ana should also set strategic goals for her engagement during remote meetings that surpass her baseline levels of engagement. Indeed, with infrequent meetings, an increase in the quantity and quality of participation during remote meetings would generate visibility.
Next, this is the most appropriate time to offer increased support to her team and organization to generate meaningful impact. For example, Ana could offer to lead a project that would otherwise have been delayed over the next six months. This additional support to the organization should not be at the expense of her mental health and well-being. There is always a continuum of ways to support a team and organization during trying times.
Lastly, with Ana working remotely and flexibly at this time, it would be of benefit to her to seek formal and informal professional development opportunities. These opportunities should aim to enhance knowledge, skills, and abilities consistent with her professional goals. Ana may consider seeking an online certification in data analytics or an advanced degree in leadership at a reputable institution. Ana may also consider remote involvement in her professional organization of choice. Ultimately, during times of radical change, career and leadership progression can still occur through the noted action-oriented methods.
In sum, this crisis can be viewed as an opportunity to pivot career and leadership development approaches. While it is possible to maintain short-term, mid-term, and long-term professional goals, the path to those goals will have to suit the existing context for the unforeseeable future. Although stress and fear are normative to experience at this time, proper support from a psychologist, for example, can help maintain mental health and vocational functioning. These steps will result in positive career and leadership development, organizational, and community-based outcomes.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019, June 19). American Time Use Survey – 2018 Results [News Release]. Retrieved from www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/atus.pdf
Bloom, N., Liang, J., Roberts, J., & Ying, Z.J. (2015). Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese experiment. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 130, 1, 165– 218.
Kreiner, G.E. (2006). Consequences of work-home segmentation or integration: a person environment fit perspective. Journal of Organizational Behaviour, 27, 485–507.