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Are remote workers more or less engaged than their office-based counterparts?

We know that, even before the Covid pandemic hit, the number of employees working flexibly and/or remotely was on the climb. And, we were led to believe, this was what people wanted.

According to Harvard Business Review, about one-third of employees globally “work remotely always or very often”. That’s up by 115% on the previous decade. Worryingly, though, the same report claims that two-thirds of remote workers don’t feel engaged and over one third never get any face-time with their team.

In contrast, research frequently shows that remote workers are more productive, and that flexible working is what people want. We wrote recently about how important this is to the Millennials in the workforce.

So, which is it? The preferred option with increased productivity and retention, or a recipe for a disengaged workforce?

As the Covid pandemic has skewed things intensely, we have to go a little further back for a more typical picture of employees’ views and positions regarding flexible working.

The International Workplace Group’s 2019 Workplace Survey showed that more than four out of five people would, if presented with two similar employment offers, turn down the one that didn’t offer flexible working. It claims that over half of employees globally are already working outside of their main office headquarters for at least half of their working weeks, and that 75% of their respondents cited flexible working as “the new normal”.

It’s also interesting to note that UK businesses are second only to those in Australia for using flexible working to attract top talent.

Of course, flexibility can describe both location and worktime patterns.

When it comes to the importance of location, over half of those surveyed said that having a choice of work location was more important to them than working for a prestigious company. Half also claimed that it was more important to them than increased holiday allowance. A whopping 70% cited it as a key factor when evaluating new career opportunities.

Similarly, Gallup found that over half of office workers said they’d leave their job for one that offers flexible work time.

So, it’s fair to say that flexible working is what our people want.

Gallup research has also shown us what we already suspected - that engagement and performance have a strong direct correlation. And that this can be quantified: highly engaged workplaces can claim 41% lower absenteeism, 40% fewer quality defects, and 21% higher profitability.

So, if workers want flexibility and that’s what they’re getting, why the low engagement rating from Harvard?

It’s a case of a required compromise, really. That compromise should consist of offering the best of both worlds where possible, and maintaining meaningful comms regardless of working locations and patterns.

That Gallup research discovered that engagement seems to peak when workers spend 60% - 80% of their time working remotely. It’s the perfect combination of some face-to-face contact time with their managers and colleagues, with the much-reduced commuting time and the flexibility they crave.

But the biggest trap employers fall into when they have remote or flexible workers is not maintaining meaningful comms. It’s no surprise that two-thirds of remote workers aren’t feeling engaged if half of them are getting no face-time with their leaders or teams.

Working remotely -autonomously, even- should not mean working alone, unsupervised or unsupported. Regular check-ins, clear targets and objectives, and transparency around company initiatives, decisions and changes are vital. Comms should be all-inclusive and two-way. Listening to your remote workers is of paramount importance and should be a priority.

In short, having an internal comms strategy that considers and caters for your remote workers will pay handsomely in engagement, productivity and, ultimately, loyalty and retention.

Technology is your friend. There are many options for enhancing your virtual meetings to make them more inclusive and more meaningful. For example, adding live polling and anonymous Q&A functionality to your virtual meetings will involve everyone, encourage honest feedback, and spark meaningful conversation.

Another multi-function platform that has become invaluable to many in the past 12 months is MS Teams. If your organisation uses Office 365, you already have access to this. As well as its “Together” mode, which presents your attendees side-by-side in a variety of settings (a great ice-breaker on top if its screen-fatigue-busting benefits), you can now use break-out rooms for those times when smaller group sessions or even one-on-one time are required as part of a wider meeting.

There are many other ways in which you can increase the engagement and sense of belonging that is so important (and so easily lost) with your remote workers. Get in touch with us if you’d like to discuss options. Just please don’t overlook this vital piece of the jigsaw – your remote workers need to be engaged, and you need your engaged remote workers to function as a successful business.


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