It’s been said the ongo­ing COVID-19 (coro­n­avirus) out­break has cre­at­ed the largest remote work exper­i­ment ever devised.  In fact, there are many recent­ly doc­u­ment­ed cas­es where com­pa­nies have asked at least some of their employ­ees to work from home.  Three of those com­pa­nies are Ama­zon, Twit­ter and Microsoft.

Remote work, of course, is not some­thing new.  In the past, remote work has been large­ly reserved for cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives but that’s changed now with remote work being a real­i­ty for many dif­fer­ent indus­tries across the board.  There’s been a 173 per­cent increase in peo­ple work­ing remote­ly since 2005.  Addi­tion­al­ly, 75 per­cent of work­ers say they’re more pro­duc­tive at home.  The reasons:

  • Few­er distractions
  • Less com­mut­ing
  • Low­er instances of office politics

The coro­n­avirus aside, there are some real chal­lenges for HR when it comes to look­ing after a remote work­force.  Chief among them is the strat­e­gy for keep­ing those remote employ­ees engaged the company.

Remote Work

Employee Engagement

Employ­ee engage­ment is not an easy thing to accom­plish.  By and large, it real­ly depends on the type of orga­ni­za­tion and the type of work­ers typ­i­cal­ly employed by said orga­ni­za­tion.  What works for one doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly work for the oth­er.  When a com­pa­ny then adds remote work­ers into the mix, one can see how it gets more dif­fi­cult to see suc­cess in a strategy.

In some ways, it’s easy for human resources to devel­op this idea remote work­ers don’t need engage­ment.  The oppo­site is actu­al­ly true.  Remote work­ers tend to be very pro­duc­tive.  Most sta­tis­tics back up this claim.  A sol­id remote work­er is typ­i­cal­ly described as:

  • Self-Dis­ci­plined
  • Adapt­able
  • Flex­i­ble
  • Strong com­mu­ni­ca­tors
  • Inde­pen­dent
  • Con­fi­dent
  • Reli­able

Even with all of that said, remote works want to feel like they belong with the com­pa­ny.  It’s imper­a­tive they believe they are impor­tant and val­ued mem­bers of the com­pa­ny cul­ture and its com­mu­ni­ty.  Remote work­ers, just like on-site work­ers, are sus­cep­ti­ble to cer­tain trends such as leav­ing the orga­ni­za­tion with­in the first year and leav­ing to pur­sue career advance­ment opportunities.

Facilitating Remote Work

All of that said, there are things com­pa­ny lead­ers and man­agers can do to set the engage­ment of the remote work­force on the right path.

  1. Expec­ta­tions

The whole point of remote work is not hav­ing to go into the office.  As such flex­i­ble work sched­ul­ing is typ­i­cal­ly a piece of the over­all remote work­ing strat­e­gy.  To be more to the point – work­ers prob­a­bly aren’t work­ing a 9‑to‑5 shift if they’re off-site.  That being said, man­agers can set par­tic­u­lar expec­ta­tions such as times the employ­ee is expect­ed to be “on the clock.”  Some peo­ple refer to these as “busy hours” or “office hours.”  It’s dur­ing this time remote work­ers should be expect­ed to be prompt in their respons­es to emails and phone calls as well as be avail­able to col­lab­o­rate with the team.

  1. Inclu­sion

Nor­mal­ly when the word inclu­sion is used, it’s in con­nect­ed to diver­si­ty.  In this par­tic­u­lar instance, the focus is not on the inclu­sion of work­ers from any oth­er per­spec­tive than the fact they are part of a team.  If a team is meet­ing at the office to dis­cuss strat­e­gy or any­thing for that mat­ter, remote work­ers should be allowed to par­tic­i­pate.  They should actu­al­ly be expect­ed to do so.  With tools such as Zoom and Skype avail­able, there’s no rea­son they should not be includ­ed in the conversation.

  1. Rewards

In a lot of instances, brick-and-mor­tar employ­ees tend to think remote work­ers don’t work near­ly as much.  That’s actu­al­ly a mis­con­cep­tion.  In most instances, remote work­ers work longer hours than those in the office; about 46 hours a week.  That being said, it’s impor­tant to reward these work­ers.  If they are hit­ting their goals, that needs to be recognized.

Productivity Case Study

One area where com­pa­nies tend to cringe when it comes to remote work is in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty.  There are some real fears pre­sent­ed from lead­ers with respect to work­ers not being as pro­duc­tive when work­ing from home as com­pared to those brick-and-mor­tar employ­ees.  Some of it, like it or not, stems from the need some lead­ers have with respect to see­ing their direct reports work.  Is this fear found­ed or unfound­ed?  If the results of one case study (and sev­er­al oth­ers) are to be believed, the answer is def­i­nite­ly unfounded.

Look to CTrip, China’s largest trav­el agency.  A pro­fes­sor from Stan­ford stud­ies whether or not remote work was “ben­e­fi­cial or harm­ful for pro­duc­tiv­i­ty.”  It took two years to com­plete the study and what the pro­fes­sor found is a pro­found increase in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty for a group of remote work­ers over their in-office coun­ter­parts.  It was­n’t all “sun­shine and rain­bows”, how­ev­er.  Those remote work­ers did report an increase in feel­ing lone­ly and many report­ed they didn’t want to work from home all the time.  In the end, the rec­om­men­da­tion was to cre­ate a hybrid of sorts; one that bal­anced work­ing from home and in the office.

In summation

Here’s what we know.  Right now, there are some 26 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who work, at least part of the time, from home.  And that num­ber is only going to grow.  Accord­ing to a report from Buffer, 99 per­cent of employ­ees say they want to work from home some of the time for the rest of their careers.  Addi­tion­al­ly, IWG says their research indi­cates 80 per­cent of work­ers would choose a posi­tion with flex­i­ble work over one that didn’t offer the benefit.

It can only be hypoth­e­sized the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic will con­tin­ue to push employ­ers to test the bound­aries of remote work­ing.  In doing so, they will have to take a very hard look at their cur­rent employ­ee engage­ment strate­gies to ensure work­ers still feel con­nect­ed to the orga­ni­za­tion and each oth­er.  While it’s not the sin­gle most impor­tant thing when it comes to con­tin­ued prof­itabil­i­ty, espe­cial­ly in an econ­o­my rocked by a world­wide coro­n­avirus out­break, it will go a long way to ensur­ing com­pa­nies can con­tin­ue deliv­er­ing on busi­ness promis­es and sup­port­ing the bot­tom line and the com­pa­ny workforce.

By Mason Stevenson

Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on hrexchangenetwork.com