Remote work vs. engagement: the trick to motivating your remote workforce
Want to get in the head of your remote workforce? First you’ll need to better understand what they’re up against; what drives them, what puzzles them, and what (sometimes) prevents them from fully integrating into your team.
Numerous studies have shown that remote workers are more productive, more loyal, and work longer hours than their office-bound counterparts. In fact, a recent study saw productivity increase 13. 5% when employees switched from in-office to remote environments. There is absolutely no evidence to support the claim that we spend our time napping and watching reruns of The Office – but ample examples of how remote work can drastically benefit productivity AND morale.
But here’s the kicker: none of those studies matter at all. What matters is the long-held anti-remote-work bias – exemplified in smaller raises, less recognition, checked-out managers, and strained team dynamics – that too often leads to dedicated workers feeling demotivated and undervalued.
The remote-work bias
A UC Davis study found that “employees who work remotely may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office — even if they work just as hard and just as long.”
Humans are flawed, even those of us sitting at home writing articles from our home offices. Each and every one of us relies on bias to help sort through the millions of data points and situations we interact with every day, and for the most part these biases serve us well.
But smart leaders know when a bias is no longer serving a productive purpose. We’re not saying to start hiring remote workers – that’s a choice only you and your team can make. But IF you’ve hired remote workers, don’t let bias get in the way of fully supporting and investing in them. Everyone loses in that situation.
3 ways to keep your remote workers engaged and reverse remote-work bias
Sending your people home and hoping for the best isn’t going to suddenly increase profits or maximize productivity. A successful remote program requires planning, protocols, and a steadfast dedication to the system. It also means you need to be hiring the right people – not everyone appreciates such extreme professional independence.
1. Team projects
Whether you have one remote worker or one hundred, it is your job as a leader to architect the situation so that your remote workforce is happy and successful. If you’re not going to schedule regular video meetings, pair your workers with ‘buddies,’ and include your telecommuters on important projects – then why hire them in the first place?
No remote worker should be entirely responsible for their social integration in a company that exists potentially thousands of miles away. This is your job – to make them feel as though they are part of something bigger.
In the absence of such measures you open your company up to the leading cause of remote worker attrition; loneliness.
2. Well-tended manager relationships
There’s little worse than finding out weeks after the fact that a colleague you liked left the company – because no one told you. This experience makes you feel like an afterthought. You aren’t part of the company, you’re just a resource when something is needed. As their primary ally, it is their manager’s responsibility to schedule weekly or daily check-ins, to inform them of what’s going on in the company, and to make them feel necessary.
75% of employees identify a positive manager relationship as essential to job satisfaction. In recruiting we always say – you don’t leave your job, you leave your boss. It’s no different for remote workers.
3. Mission-critical tasks
It’s scary to entrust important tasks to someone you can neither see nor supervise. What if they don’t give it the time and attention it requires? How will you check in regularly? Wouldn’t this be better done in-office?
That sense of fear – the gnawing feeling urging you to not assign this task to a remote worker – is exactly why you need to do it. The more ‘scary’ tasks you offer, the more you’ll make these people feel necessary, engaged, and productive, which will result in better work product. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The reverse is also true. If you avoid assigning impactful work to your remote workforce, they’ll fail to feel fully engaged and trusted, and they’ll likely legitimize your low expectations of them.
Have you tried remote work?
You’re either reading this article as a remote worker looking for validation – in which case, congratulations! You’re doing a great job – or you’re reading it as a leader grappling with the knowledge that your company is not fully harnessing the savings and productivity potential offered by remote work.
We’ve already addressed the former; continue working hard and make us remote workers proud.
To the latter – humor us with a little experiment. Work from home for two consecutive days, then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us how it goes. We’d love to hear your pre- and post-remote-work stories.