Is Your Work-From-Home Workforce More, or Less, Engaged?
Remote Working and Employee Engagement
New Means to Enhance Engagement
A recent Fast Company article called into question whether employees “working from home” or “working virtual” are less productive. We found this to be an interesting question, not because it was timely but rather because this question seemed to have been answered years ago through multiple research papers and studies which led to conclusive evidence that remote workers were in fact more productive when it came to completing more (read increase in volume or output) of core/key tasks than their contemporaries working in traditional work settings.
“We are all in the largest global experiment in change management that we have ever seen.”
However, like everything in life, there is a devil in the detail. The nature of the work and design of the job have everything to do with whether or not the person in the role is actually more productive. This is by far the number one reason why some jobs are simply more adaptable to a remote work environment than others. Secondly, the behavioral competencies required for someone to be successful in working remotely also matters. Therefore, careful attention to both job design and the required competencies for success (e.g. ability to work independently) are the two top things to pay attention to when asking the question, can this job be set in a remote work environment or in the case of the recent pandemic, should we consider bringing this role back into a traditional setting.
The other key topic, “Are employees more engaged working remotely?” is certainly a very valid question as well. These two points, productivity and engagement, are intertwined. When employees are more engaged, they tend to be more productive. This is found to be true in multiple studies and surveys for the last twenty-five or more years. Once again though, a deeper exploration of engagement is required to understand the individual and collective drivers of engagement and how remote work may be influencing engagement.
Let’s take a look at an example, Tonya who lives in Chicago, is currently working remotely due to the stay at home orders issued by state and local officials. She is thrilled to avoid her one hour and ten-minute commute each way to the downtown Chicago office. She has set a whole new routine for herself and loves the flexibility to use that “saved time” to work out thirty minutes each morning, grab a light breakfast and be at her desk about 15 minutes earlier than if she were commuting. Additionally, she finds herself taking fewer breaks and having less “hallway” chats with her colleagues. Because of this additional time, she is getting her work done with less distractions and meeting her goals prior to her normal quitting time. This is all great right? You think that she is probably more engaged and more productive as well given the flexibility she is now experiencing. So what’s the downside?
In the example above, we also find that Tonya has back-to-back Zoom calls much of the day. These regularly scheduled meetings are back-to-back leaving little time for even quick breaks. On a couple of calls last week, she found herself placing herself on mute (video and audio) and running to the bathroom before she was due to speak on the call. (That was a close one!). Additionally, a new member on her team who’s only been with the company a week before the pandemic caused the company to move to “remote” is struggling to learn some new procedures in the system. This has caused Tonya to take on some additional work until her manager can find time to train the new team member. Tonya feels if they were back in the office, it would take her only an hour or two to sit next to her coworker and get her up to speed. However, she’s finding it difficult just to make the time with everything going on.
So what does this begin to tell us?
First, every new situation requires a new perspective. In the example above we find the employee, Tonya, enjoying several aspects of her new routine. Likewise there are things about the situation that can be potentially frustrating her as well. Therefore, broad assumptions about productivity and engagement are dangerous, particularly when the situation, as it is right now, is fluid. Careful, perhaps more frequent measurement and understanding of what employees are experiencing may be necessary. Therefore, conducting mini pulse surveys, focus groups and the like will help you dig deeper into the situation and allow for course correction and avoid missteps.
Secondly, little things matter. Never mind arguing that meeting time should be dictated by the agenda (we know, we know!), however most meetings continue to be booked on an hour-by-hour basis. A simple fix to help Tonya to avoid some of things frustrating her, adjust meeting routines and cadence. This simple fix will make sure you are not unnecessarily inviting disengaging factors to become a factor. One of our clients instituted a 50-minute meeting cycle to allow people to prepare for their next meeting. Subtle adjustments like these help and can have a positive impact on productivity and engagement.
Finally, if you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s time to double down on exploring new ways of operating, accepting new trials and opportunities and perhaps letting go of some things from the past if they are no longer working for you.
We are all in the largest global experiment in change management that we have ever seen. Through rigorous insight and understanding you can make important adjustments to not only achieve productivity in our new world, but also enhance engagement.