Author: Annamarie Mann, Gallup
Working remotely can be a dream come true for some employees. No commute means more money, more time and less stress. Alone at home, remote workers can be less distracted and more productive. They may also have greater autonomy — and may be able to focus on actual work rather than banal office politics.
Gallup’s research and experience back this up, as those who work remotely some of the timeare more engaged and report a more positive workplace experience than those who never work remotely.
However, one group of remote workers is not experiencing this boost in engagement: those who work remotely 100% of the time.
Although fully remote workers are more likely to say they have the opportunity to do what they do best, these employees have lost connections to their organizations that could increase their performance. According to Gallup’s research, employees who work remotely 100% of the time are the least engaged of all remote workers. This directly affects an organization’s retention, productivity, customer experience and, ultimately, profitability.
Gallup research suggests there are three areas in which managers struggle to engage their remote workers:
- You don’t recognize or praise good work.
Compared with employees who work remotely 60% to 80% of the time but spend some time in the office, fully remote workers are 29% less likely to strongly agree that they have reviewed their greatest successes with their manager in the past six months.
When an employee is in the same office as their manager, it’s easier for the manager to see and recognize that team member’s successes. When they are in different locations, however, there are few natural moments to see, let alone praise, good work.
What’s more, some employees don’t always share their successes since it can be seen as bragging about themselves. Sometimes managers simply aren’t aware of what is occurring and what employees are most proud of.
Most managers we work with don’t want to take up too much of their or the employee’s time, so they keep their “quick connects” focused on what needs to get accomplished. But this simply isn’t enough to keep an employee engaged and performing.
To increase the frequency of these important conversations, both the manager and the employee need to be more intentional about connecting and sharing. Managers need to make use of existing touchpoints to ask about the employee’s most recent successes. We’ve seen managers do this in team meetings where teammates recognize each other (even over the phone), in weekly emails where team members share their or others’ successes, or during scheduled check-ins.
The employee also needs to share successes with their manager. This is more realistic when the manager invites and sets an expectation that the employee share. It may feel odd at first, but our experience shows that employees value the opportunity to share those successes.
- You don’t talk to remote workers about career goals and personal growth.
Compared with employees who spend at least some time in the office, fully remote workers are 30% less likely to strongly agree that they have talked with their manager about steps to reach their goals in the past six months.
Regardless of remote status, “career growth opportunities” is the No. 1 reason employees leave their company. If companies want to retain their remote workforce, they must take action to quickly correct this mistake.
One tactic companies can use is to rethink their internal job postings. The problem with most job postings is that they only reveal jobs that need to be filled. Employees don’t need to only see what is available; they need to see what is possible to achieve within the company. Being in an office can more naturally expose workers to people in their organization performing different functions or holding different positions. These natural exchanges and visual cues can spark feelings of hope and growth as employees envision their future with the company.
In contrast, remote workers are less likely to find those same organic exchanges. For this reason, companies need to consider redesigning their internal career sites to include more than available positions. They should also spotlight people in their current roles in an effort to bring those roles more fully to life.
Some managers avoid career-advancement conversations with employees because they assume that there may not be as many opportunities for fully remote employees. But growth doesn’t have to mean a typical promotion; it can also mean expanded responsibilities and more challenging assignments. When managers “onboard” employees to their teams, they should ask about career and growth goals and serve as a resource to help employees achieve these goals. Then, in formal progress reviews, career and growth goals should be a mandatory topic on the agenda.
The struggle to retain talent is a challenge regardless of remote status: 91% of employees change companies when they change jobs. The dynamic of remote working only exacerbates this problem.
- You don’t provide opportunities to connect with coworkers.
Our research shows that the optimal amount of time to work remotely each week is three to four days. Spending all of your time at the office or all of your time away leads to the lowest employee engagement.
Human beings need connection — not only to their coworkers, but also to the organization. Fully remote workers do not get that opportunity to connect, which can make them feel isolated and disconnected. While it is often impractical to bring remote workers into the office with any frequency, organizations and managers need to find ways to connect these employees to their teams and the company.
Managers are increasingly using technology to create these connections across different locations. Many of our best clients use internally designed social media intranet sites or collaboration platforms like Yammer or Chatter to virtually bring their teams together.
If only a few team members are remote, some managers require every worker to video conference in so everyone feels like they’re part of the same conversation. The key here is that managers and leaders promote video conferencing as a viable and important alternative to face-to-face meetings and take them as seriously as the latter. People on video or Skype shouldn’t be made to feel like outliers.
At the organizational level, companies are also taking advantage of opportunities to welcome employees into their culture. When possible, companies should conduct onboarding training at the “home base” and include onboarding activities that allow employees to meet some of their coworkers in person. Bringing in these employees for recognition ceremonies, formal training or conferences is another way that some organizations help remote workers connect. These in-person touches are important.
Remote Workers Have Basic Human Needs Too
No matter how much the workplace changes, one thing remains the same: Every employee has human needs that their company must meet. And the needs of remote workers have great implications for companies today, as 43% of U.S. employees now say they work remotely in some capacity.
Working remotely can quite literally hide the signs of burnout, unhappiness and despondency in employees. But that doesn’t mean they are doomed to a future of unfulfilling work. Intentional and thoughtful management, with a focus on a few key needs, can make all the difference.
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