In light of the shifting business landscape due to the pandemic, a large-scale retreat from office-based work to home-based offices is occurring, which requires organizations to rethink the typical supports they provide to their employees. In doing so, there is one key differentiator that is hard for organizations to ignore. That is the impact that managers can have on remote workers’ experiences.
Prior to the pandemic, part-time remote workers had the best of both worlds. They were able to be remote when it was convenient for their work-life balance while maintaining access to the people and resources they needed to do their jobs. They could also be present in the office when it mattered most.
Now that office visits are sporadic at best, many employees who were formerly unfamiliar with the demands of full-time remote work are making a big adjustment. With so little time to prepare, there are undoubtedly some who are experiencing setbacks to productivity. This additional strain can result in lower job satisfaction and may even translate to a decrease in organizational commitment, leading to higher turnover.
Research shows there is a curvilinear relationship between the time employees spend away from a central office location and their job satisfaction. Specifically, those who work remotely more than 50% of the time cite impediments to their work that create inefficiencies and stress. They also report feelings of isolation as a result of being distant from their co-workers. The good news is that there is also evidence that managers can make the difference.
Good managers can help buffer the deleterious effects of remote work by building stronger relationships with their employees and adapting their leadership practices to attend to the following key features of their remote team members’ experiences. Below are some ways managers can keep their connections with employees strong in a remote environment.
Encourage Social Support
To combat the feelings of social isolation that are often reported by full-time remote employees, managers can increase the frequency of communication and encourage more socialization amongst their teams. Virtual coffee breaks, luncheons, and happy hours are helping employees stay connected to one another and promoting knowledge sharing and collaboration. These informal gatherings help people feel supported and ensure there are open lines of communication between team members, so they feel comfortable reaching out for help when they need it.
Ensure Resource Availability
There are additional resources that people can access in an office-based job that they simply do without when working remotely. This can present unique challenges and decrease efficiency. From technology resources (monitors, printers, etc.) to physical workplace conditions (privacy, ergonomic chair, etc.), most people are unable to work with the same level of ease when they are remote. Each person’s office-based situation is unique, and managers should take the time to understand what resources people are lacking and help close the gaps if their employees will work remotely with any regularity in the future or if they intend remain remote ongoing.
The extent to which managers demonstrate that they trust their employees also helps bolster employee satisfaction. However, managers that are new to remote work may find themselves struggling with the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality, assuming their employees may not be working since they are unable to directly observe their efforts.
By providing clear expectations for success and taking an outcome-oriented approach to performance management, transparency and trust can be achieved. Managers should work with their employees to set specific milestones and timelines for their goals and then allow them the discretion to figure out the details. Offering employees the autonomy to determine how, when, and where to do their work can help them achieve a healthy work-life balance, but being too hands off can lead to additional strain for some. Managers should be careful to strike the right balance for each of their employees, checking in with people early and often so they can provide guidance and support to help their team members overcome obstacles that may arise.
The trend to remote work is likely to continue to increase. After experiencing full-time remote work, more than 50% of employees indicate they prefer to remain remote despite the challenges, and 75% of CEOs confirm they will not bring all employees back to the office. Clearly, post-pandemic worksites are unlikely to return to their pre-pandemic states. Therefore, it is important that managers take the time to consider their leadership style, strengths, and potential development needs to determine how they can uniquely improve their remote team members’ experiences. Doing so can help ensure key talent are retained by bolstering employees’ satisfaction, engagement, and productivity.