With a great many of us still working from home, how can you hope to get promoted if you aren't in the office? What's the best way to make your boss notice you, and to stand out from your colleagues?
Salesman John says that you have to regard the emails you send to your manager as an art form that needs to be perfected.
"If you are working from home, then when you email your boss you cannot be just to the point, instead you have to express your wider knowledge," says the 45-year-old, who preferred not to share his surname.
"But you don't want him or her to know that you are showing off, you have to be subtle.
"And then when you get an email from them, you have to really study the tone, and it is the same for Zoom calls. If you work from home, and want to get promoted, you have a fight on your hands. And much more so if some of your colleagues are still going into the office."
For anyone who remembers the advice columns in teenage magazines on how to get a boyfriend or girlfriend, then some of the tips on offer (in books, newspapers, and internet forums) on how to persuade your boss to promote you are strangely familiar - smile, be polite and flatter.
And then ask for what you want, because if you don't ask you won't get. Be it a new love interest, or a promotion.
But if you want to rise through the ranks at work, being based at home as a result of the continuing coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly makes it more of a challenge.
After all, if you are working from your kitchen table or study, you are not going to bump into your boss, see them in person every day in meetings, or have a chance to bend their ear in the corridor.
And from your boss's perspective, while he or she can easily tell how hard someone is working in the office, it is sometimes hard for them to resist the nagging fear that home workers are playing with their kids, walking the dog, or baking a sourdough loaf.
Melanie Wilkes, a senior policy adviser at the Work Foundation think tank, says it is important that employees working hard from home keep in close contact with their boss.
"We are seeing many workers taking on multiple responsibilities that they didn't do before the crisis," she says. "So make sure that is noticed and noted, even if it is just an email."
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Ms Wilkes adds that home workers need to make sure that existing HR policy is still being followed, such as regular feedback sessions.
"You should still be having regular meetings with your line manager to review progress, just like you would have before.
"It gives your manager a heads up in advance to what is working well and what you want to do. It is key for your journey towards that promotion."
Sharon Clarke, professor of organisational psychology at Alliance Manchester Business School, agrees that it is important for home workers to highlight their successes.
"Adaptability and innovation are going to be very important to a company's success [in the new coronavirus world], so being creative and coming up with ideas will be important," she says. "So try to put your ideas forward so you can be recognised."
Top tips to help secure that promotion:
- Keep in regular contact with your boss by email, phone, or video call
- Let him or her know how much work you are doing
- Ask for more responsibility
- Put forward ideas
- Ensure you have your annual assessment
- Make sure your firm follows existing HR policy
All this also works in the other direction - bosses must make sure they know which employees are working particularly hard and well from home.
"As a manager, how am I going to tell if people are doing well at home?" says Anne Sammon, a partner at law firm Pinsent Masons. "Bosses have to be mindful of getting more data, so they know what is going on."
After all, if employees suddenly discover that everyone who went into the office is getting promoted and all those who worked from home are not, there could be very good grounds for a discrimination case.
Anne Davies, professor of law and public policy at Oxford University, agrees that bosses need to closely study how well stay-at-home staff are performing.
"If you have people working from home, you should agree on how you are going to monitor their work, and have objective criteria for assessing how they are doing," she says. "When you promote someone, it is always open to challenge on discrimination grounds, and you have to be able to show that you are being fair."
Prof Clarke says that bosses have to remember that it is in their interest to find the best employees to promote.
"Managers are going to have to work harder to spot the workers who are making a real effort [at home]," she says. "If you [as a manager] are really hoping to make a difference in your business, you have to be able to spot the talented ones who are making a bigger contribution."
But back at his home study in the West Midlands, salesman John is still worried that his colleagues who have continued to go into the office are at an unfair advantage.
"If my work is of the same quality as someone who can successfully befriend and banter with the boss in the same room, then he or she is going to be promoted over me," he says.
"And it is not just about being recognised for doing a good job, it is also about being able to blame someone else if something goes wrong. Often things, good or bad, at work are a team effort. And if you are actually in the office with the boss, then if something does go wrong, you can sneakily say, 'It was John's fault.'"