How hybrid work is changing the rules of career advancement

How do employees get ahead at the office when they're not there every day?

By Pamela DeLoatch — October 19, 2023

Remote and hybrid work arrangements have fundamentally changed what career progression looks like. Getting ahead isn’t so much about climbing a career ladder these days — it’s more like navigating a rock wall, where progress requires learning on the fly, reaching out despite uncertainty, and recognizing that progress isn’t always vertical.

“Career trajectories are being reframed not just as a linear path, but as a comprehensive learning experience where employees can hone their skills and develop their talents over time,” says Aleksandra Sulimko, chief human resources officer at digital media company TheSoul Publishing.

For employees reshaping their relationships with work after three years of work-from-home flexibility — and particularly for new employees with developing career ambitions — figuring out how to advance professionally isn’t as clear as it may have been in the days of all in-person work. In a 2022 CMO survey, 45% of marketing leaders said younger employees working remotely are struggling to integrate into their company cultures, which means they’re likely missing out on the in-the-moment coaching and cross-disciplinary learning that happens organically in person.


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Showing up early and staying late aren’t differentiators when everyone can be online from wherever they are. Face time with executives and exposure to other teams and roles may be more difficult to come by naturally when everyone works different in-office schedules.

“A big part of getting a promotion is making yourself known by the people who make those decisions,” says Joel Ossher, a staff engineer who works remotely at the digital health company Noom. “It’s more difficult to have that visibility if you’re not in person, mostly because you don’t have those spontaneous conversations.”

A stock image of two workers conversing.


This lack of clarity and connection can have an impact not just on employees themselves, but on the businesses that need them. In a Pew Research study exploring the Great Resignation, 63% of employees who left their jobs in 2021 — when over 27 million US workers worked from home — said it was because they saw no opportunities for advancement.

Ossher, who started his job at Noom during the pandemic, says the company’s active Slack channels, internal job boards, and recruiting meetings help hybrid and remote employees stay informed about new opportunities, but there’s more to the challenge.

“It takes more work as an individual to make those connections with people,” he says. “It also takes intentionality from employers to set things up so this actually works.”

Leading with empathy

HR leaders navigating the challenges of a hybrid and remote workforce recognize that the new way of working requires a more intentional, empathetic approach from leaders and managers. In HP’s recent global survey of employees and business leaders, the Work Relationship Index, 77% of business leaders said that post-pandemic ways of working require senior leadership to demonstrate empathy, and 74% of employees agreed.

“It’s up to the manager to take responsibility and understand their employees’ career aspirations,” says Kim Oguh, HR business partner for print marketing and corporate affairs at HP. “In this day and age, that’s what separates the good managers from the great ones.”

“Career trajectories are being reframed not just as a linear path but as a comprehensive learning experience where employees can hone their skills and develop their talents over time.”

— Aleksandra Sulimko, chief human resources officer, TheSoul Publishing

Jesse Meschuk, human resources expert and senior advisor with the firm Exequity, says some companies have started scheduling more deliberate “career conversations” between managers and employees to ensure career development is a priority.

“They carve out dedicated time between managers and employees, training managers in advance on how to have those conversations, and ensuring outcomes are documented and followed up on each quarter or every six months using individual development plans,” he says.

At TheSoul Publishing, Sulimko says leaders use digital platforms that foster asynchronous communication, centralize processes, promote visibility into job opportunities, and bridge departmental divides for remote and hybrid employees. An internal wiki provides nuanced guidelines for each department, with details on career paths; an internal education program called “Soul Academy,” allows employees to teach and learn from each other; internal career consulting provides focused guidance; and a talent marketplace allows employees to continuously update their professional profiles and be matched with internal job opportunities.

Sulimko says this approach can level the playing field for remote and hybrid employees and opens up new possibilities for advancement by making all opportunities transparent and accessible to everyone.

“The hybrid workspace creates an environment where employees are predominantly evaluated on their work’s merit, eliminating potential biases that might arise from in-person interactions,” she says.


A new approach for a new generation of workers

A recent FlexJobs report found that Gen Z employees were more likely than Gen X or Millennials to prefer hybrid arrangements that give them opportunities to work in the office. These differences in preference could indicate the type of career development people from different generations need. Younger employees and those new to the organization may need more frequent interaction and prefer to be onsite at least some of the time to get it. 

Mentoring opportunities decreased with the increase in remote work, so in-person time may be more critical for newer employees to make valuable connections. And, since younger employees look at career advancement differently than seasoned employees — with more willingness to switch employers or try new roles — getting cross-functional exposure is essential.

Internal internship programs and temporary assignments with new teams can help remote employees get hands-on experience learning new skills from colleagues they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. And, new tools can help both managers and employees envision unconventional career paths and even design paths that match individual employees’ skill sets and goals.

For example, AI-based career pathing tools can help employers find connections between individual employees’ skills and specific roles, and also identify skill gaps so employees know what they need to work on to get where they want to go.

Power skills to help employees pave their own way

At HP, a program called “Power Your Possible” helps employees identify the skills they need to build and the specific steps they need to take to move forward on their chosen career path. Specifically, Oguh says, the program focuses on “power skills,” aka “soft skills,” employees will need to rely on as working paradigms shift over the next 10 years: networking, broadening the scope of your network, and finding the right mentors, to name a few. 

“We even have email templates to send to people you’d like to connect with, so you don’t have to think about it yourself,” Oguh says.

Learning to network within their own company and beyond, seek out new opportunities, and proactively build new skills can be just as effective as the water-cooler conversations and in-office training that helped employees advance in the past. But, all of that requires employees themselves to take charge of their own development.

“Take the initiative,” advises Meschuk. “Ask your manager what it takes to advance, then research the company resources to see what documentation exists on career paths, desired behaviors, and company values. See how you can embody and exude them in day-to-day work.”

Through company-sponsored programs or on platforms like Skillshare, YouTube, or even TikTok, employees can learn to sharpen their presentation delivery, refine their communications skills, use new software and other tech tools, and build specific skills necessary for jobs they may be interested in.

Meschuk also advises employees to talk to others in the company and their industry to learn about their career paths and lessons they’ve learned along the way. He suggests employees document their goals and accomplishments and review them with their managers regularly to keep career development front and center.

“A proactive approach to owning your own career can pay dividends down the line,” he says. “If you are seen as someone who takes initiative and is solutions focused, your star will shine brightly.”


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