As it stands today, more than 70 million workers in the U.S. are working from home. Furthermore, only 2 in 10 remote capable employees are working on-site, and the trends show that this will not likely change any time soon!
In an interesting finding, recent studies by Microsoft show that 82% of business decision-makers want employees back in the workplace, yet 73% of their employees want a better reason other than company expectations to return to on-site work.
So what’s the right approach?
In my opinion and experience, the dominant answer is “we are still learning”. Despite the prevalence of remote work, we were abruptly thrust into a remote world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers and managers alike have worked hard to navigate this change, but the dynamics are continuously shifting, and some issues still need to be resolved.
Leaders and employees should stay curious and open to learning about themselves, their teams and their work in this new reality.
As a coach, I find answers to be overrated and prefer raising questions, so here are six straightforward questions to reflect on the impact of remote work, some of its challenges and the appropriate pathway forward for managers and employees. Let’s get into it!
#1: Are Remote Workers More or Less Engaged?
There have been significant challenges with engagement since the pandemic. Some current research says that up to 59% of hybrid and 56% of remote workers said they have fewer work relationships than when they were in the office full-time. However, other studies have rejected this—indicating that engagement is an issue only for some firms.
The substantial decrease in the teamwork environment and the number of socialization employees engage in daily caused a silo effect that made engagement more of a personal choice and less of a company culture.
Many team leaders have turned to business coaching and consulting to sustain team engagement. Team collaboration workshops are among the most successful form of talent solutions I’d advise for teams. However, leaders may need to visit additional organizational design solutions (hierarchy, Job Descriptions, processes and more) to ensure proper infrastructure is in place to boost engagement in fully remote teams.
#2: Are Remote Workers More or Less Productive?
When many workers were forced to go to remote work because of the pandemic, productivity was one of the most significant concerns. However, managers and leaders have seen reports that 80% of all remote workers are just as productive—if not more effective—than before the pandemic.
Even though workers have said that they are more productive or similarly productive, 54% of leaders fear that productivity is lost. Evidently, there is a massive disconnect and miscommunication regarding productivity, and more research might have the answer as to why.
This “gap” triggers more questions:
How do leaders and employees define and measure productivity? How can they get aligned on that? And how relatable are these measures to the business goals?
The sooner a leader addresses these questions, the more they avoid productivity derailing.
#3: How Do Remote Workers and Managers Know When to Come Into the Office?
For hybrid workers, there are common miscommunications and misunderstandings about when they come into the office. One study showed that 38% of workers are unsure how or when to go into the office.
Conversely, 28% of leaders have created team agreements about when to come into work and why. Clearly, there is miscommunication and a lack of change management on behalf of the leaders, which could alleviate their worries, and tackle employee concerns, too!
#4: Do Employees Have a Preference for Their Work Environment?
Employees in hybrid work environments find their conditions adequate, but most miss socialization. Over half of Generation Z, Millennials, and Generation X said they want back into the office to socialize. However, Baby Boomers were against going back to work for that reason.
Many workers want to be home but also want their socialization back! They feel that they lack the right tools and that the hybrid work environment can be improved. 51% of individuals reported that they wished to socialize with their peers and wanted the capability to do so from home, stating that they wished to find ways to replace the “water cooler talk” and their lunchtime chats, as it were.
To overcome these challenges, managers can find ways to create new socializing opportunities at a distance. These can happen during meetings, by using and creating platforms for employees to chat, or even by having company mixers and networking events from time to time for remote and hybrid workers.
#5: How Prevalent Is Remote Work Today?
Remote work today is far more prevalent than people might imagine. Today, 66% of employees have stated that they would find other work if remote or hybrid work is unavailable with their current position. They even said that they would do so within three months!
As we discussed, more than 70 million remote workers are in the United States, and the number is only growing. Today’s generations desire flexibility and prioritizing themselves, which is why remote work appeals greatly. Generation Z is the most mobile generation of them all.
Generation Z has migrated to remote work more than any other demographic. Nearly 23% of Gen Z workers look exclusively for remote work or hybrid work environments. Today’s generations will direct the nature of work—and all signs point to increased remote work options!
#6: How Does Remote Work Impact Employees?
Before the pandemic, employees considered the opportunity to work from home as a “nifty perk”; accordingly, working remotely resulted in lower burnout levels compared with on-site employees 100% of the time. After two years of living on the “greener grass”, fully remote workers experience a higher burnout rate and desire to quit more than their remote or on-site counterparties.
This change is primarily related to the significant reduction in human engagement, poor preparation and reaction to the new reality, and the disturbance of work-life balance. Managers may not experience as much burnout at work, but they need to find a way to support their teams by “sharing the pain.”
Managers need to be more available to deal with the new reality of isolation and burnout. This means scheduling meetings and opening more lines of communication, which would help to facilitate better team engagement and allow employees to deal with the personal challenges of remote work.
That said, some remote workers experience a higher burnout rate when forced to work in an environment they don’t prefer (return to the office).
The challenge is not whether a particular arrangement causes more burnout than the other; rather, it is the fact that “personal” preferences are now a new reality that leaders need to deal with.
One of the best ways that many leaders have resorted to is using behavioural profiles to understand their employees’ preferences, stressors and values. These profiles provide the leaders and team members with objective guidance to lead constructive communications and overcome limiting perceptions to make the best of the available environment (remote, hybrid or on-site).
What Are Your Thoughts?
I’d like to hear from you. What do you believe will ultimately help mitigate these challenges of remote work? Have you seen any instances that could indicate a need for change or shift, like work? Are there other questions you feel are essential to ask remote workers and leaders?
Share your thoughts in the comments! Be sure to check back in for more content to help you mitigate remote work challenges.