Remote work, accelerated by the pandemic, has changed how employers recruit people, how employees approach potential employers and how managers and leaders should think about interacting with their teams.
Nearly six in 10 American workers (59%) work from home at least some of the time, according to Pew Research, up from 23% who telecommuted before the pandemic. Indeed, most companies have come to understand the benefits of remote work for maintaining work-life balance.
And although remote work is not a right in the US (unless one is taking advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act), other countries are starting to codify the possibility into their laws. In one example, the Dutch Parliament’s lower house recently passed legislation to make working from home a legal right.
To be sure, remote work is having a global impact on the way many businesses hire and manage their workforces. “A global marketplace for remote talent means that companies would be able to tap into talent regardless of where it is located in the world,” says Dr. Mauro Guillen, a management professor at the Wharton School, as quoted in Economist Education.
To get the most benefit from your remote work policies — which ideally will increase productivity, reduce staff turnover and attract talent — there are a few things to keep in mind.
Many workers expect remote work
In the wake of the pandemic, 92% of people surveyed expected to work from home at least one day per week and 80% expected to work from home at least three days per week, according to research by Owl Labs. In fact, more than half (59%) of respondents said they would be more likely to choose an employer that offered remote work over one that didn’t.
But it requires a new approach to communication
Americans saved an average of a week by not commuting to an office over a 12-month period, and this extra time can be turned into productivity gains for the company — and ideally result in better work-life balance for the workers.
However, remote work can result in some people feeling lonely, so it’s doubly important to support them. Stay connected using every means at your disposal, from joining teams’ daily online huddles to messaging individuals (instead of the whole company at once) and encouraging your management team to do the same. Most importantly, demonstrate empathy. This isn’t micromanaging; it’s microcommunicating.
And use technology not only to enhance productivity but also to help employees feel more engaged and less isolated. Some suggestions:
- Encourage collaboration through brainstorming sessions with digital whiteboards.
- Use video conferencing tools for casual hangouts.
- Video conferencing overload is real, however. To minimize burnout, encourage remote workers to connect with others 1:1 through informal “walk and talks” — dialing into a meeting from a smartphone while taking a walk.
- Improve employee engagement with polls, surveys and regular Q&As.
Try to avoid a two-tiered system
Remote workers don’t want to be forgotten when it comes to project assignments and promotions, yet some report feeling “isolated and neglected” with an “out of sight, out of mind” sense around their career, one professional association found.
In fact, “proximity bias” — the assumption that employees who work on site are more engaged and committed — is real. And it can have a negative impact on remote workers in many ways, potentially favoring on-site employees over remote workers when it comes to new opportunities and promotions.
A policy memo on equity in remote work noted, “Among those who can work remotely, there may be disparities in performance appraisals and promotions compared to in-person workers… that, if left unaddressed by policy, may risk unequally distributing the benefits of remote work.”
So, while more than half of employees say they are happier when working remotely, many still need to feel like a part of the culture and fabric of the business. Some even reject the phrase “remote workforce” (WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg prefers to use the phrase “distributed workforce” instead), making it even more important to foster a sense of equality between remote and on-site workers.
Ultimately, leaders and managers must look for ways to demonstrate that they care about remote employees’ mental health, well-being and chances for advancement. Start by promoting a sense of inclusion, belonging and community — for all employees.