6 Tips for Advancing Your Career While Working from Home

Working from Home

There’s no fighting morning traffic to get to the office when it’s just down the hall. You can have a desk with a view, no one will steal your lunch from the fridge and the coffee is always made just the way you like it.

Working from home comes with its perks and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more employees than ever have had a taste.

For most it felt like a temporary shift - something we needed to do for a few weeks to "flatten the curve.” But those time estimates for a “return to normal” have done nothing but increase. And now some big-name companies are making the decision to never return to the office.

Your career shouldn’t have to stay in a holding pattern just because you’re not at the office. Dr. Leigh Holcomb, ELI-MP, CEO of Career Catalyst Edge: Career Coaching for the Life Sciences, shared her perspective on advancing your career from her unique experience.

Here are six tips from her conversation with BioSpace:

  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Just as location is everything in real estate, communication is everything in your career trajectory. Holcomb said your boss is likely on three times more teleconferences than ever before, so you need to be proactive about getting on their schedule.

    Find out how they like to be communicated with – email, text, phone call, zoom meeting, etc. –and share how to best communicate with you as well. Replying is critical. A quick response to show you’ve received the message and are working on it is always appreciated. As Holcomb said, “You don’t ever want to have your supervisor needing to come to you to ask if you’re working on something.”
  2. Learn to take credit where credit is due. This falls under the communication tip but is more direct. Be sure your boss knows what you’re working on, what you’ve completed and what’s next. Make your progress visible. As America’s Cowboy Philosopher Will Rogers said, “It ain’t bragging if it's true.” Be clear about what you/your team has accomplished and the direct role you played. When a promotion is based on merit, your boss can’t choose you unless they know what all you’ve done.
  3. Be open to opportunity. Being visible means opening the door when opportunity comes knocking. Holcomb says studies have found that men say yes if they’re a mere 50% confident they can do the job. Women tend to be more hesitant. Be willing to rise to the opportunity. Take on the challenge of something unfamiliar and find someone to learn from if you’re unsure how to get the job done.
  4. Use your prior commute time to grow. Develop yourself professionally. Holcomb encourages taking a course to improve your career skills. She says, “Science is a business,” so even as a scientist you should learn the business side too. Hone leadership skills through training. Get new certifications through online courses. Read or listen to books on personal development. Reach out to people in the roles you want to be in to ask them how they got there. Holcomb recommended spending time building new connections on LinkedIn. Most people are happy to connect. That virtual meeting space can open up opportunities for developing relationships you may otherwise never get the chance to have. Put yourself out there. Ask for the connection. The worst that can happen is they say no.
  5. Apply the “Seven Second Look” principle to your virtual meeting space. Whether it takes seven seconds or less than a second, humans make snap judgments based on how people present themselves. Knowing you’ll be on more video calls than ever before, prepare for them. Dress for work and always be ready to jump on a video call if needed.

    You probably don’t need a suit at this point, as expectations have changed. But wearing your torn up college-era concert tee probably isn’t your best look either. Turn your camera on and be engaged. Smile and nod. Watch your body language. Check your space too. Clear away clutter and don't forget to check your décor. Get yourself some decent equipment to avoid the up-the-nose angle of your propped up tablet. Use a headset to diminish background noise disruptions.
  6. Know yourself. Understand how you work and decide where you want to go. For some, working from home has maximized productivity and improved mental health by providing a better work-life balance. For others, working from home is isolating, distracting and the lack of in-person contact can become downright depressing. Find how you work best, and if the opportunity to make a choice about how you may or may not return to the office, act accordingly. Holcomb said to give yourself the flexibility to try something new, but also have the wisdom to acknowledge if it’s not the right fit. “There’s not a standard career path anymore. What do you value and does your work fulfill those values that you have?”

Scientists and researchers have experienced a bit different pandemic work experience than that of the corporate office. Many never stopped working in the lab and it’s thanks to their commitment that we have the testing tools, treatment options and vaccines needed in the fight against COVID-19.

Susana Hernandez shared some of her experience while working at a biopharma during the pandemic. During the past year she never stopped working at the lab but rather experienced a mix of lab time and working from home. “We did our best as a team to organize schedules and restrict the number of people that worked in the space at the same time.”

Hernandez was recently promoted from a senior research associate to associate scientist at Umoja Biopharma. While she doesn’t see her boss every day, she utilizes that first tip of constant communication on virtual platforms.

Working at a smaller company has helped her grow professionally, even amidst a pandemic. The lockdowns began just two months after she was hired at the startup.

“At Umoja I feel I have the support and guidance of the whole team to continuously grow and really get out of my comfort zone, learn new skills and improve in the areas that will help me to develop my career, not just to produce more and more experiments,” Hernandez said.

A good team is what’s been essential to her growth – both at home and at work. She advanced her career during these unprecedented time through “an incredible amount of support from my family and my team at work.”

Dr. Leigh Holcomb cut her teeth in the life sciences field as a neuroscience researcher, then spent ten years as a medical science liaison. After a successful stint as a pharma/biotech recruiter, she’s now working from home again as CEO of Career Catalyst Edge.

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