The Secret to Retaining Productive Remote Workers Is Remembering They Are People
Remote workers are no longer young 20-year-olds as many might think. In fact, more and more age groups and industries have significant numbers working remotely, typically from home. A 2017 Gallup poll shows that part-time remote workers climbed from 39 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2016. And those who worked remotely 80-100 percent of the time climbed seven percentage points.
Clearly the traditional, in-office, 9-to-5 job is in decline. Because research shows that remote workers are often more productive than their in-office counterparts, the numbers of remote workers will continue to rise.
However, remote workers have needs that should be addressed so they feel connected and engaged with their coworkers and the company. Ignoring these needs will result in low retention, disruption and higher hiring costs canceling the productivity benefits these remote workers bring. What can employers do to address remote worker’s needs?
Technology, technology, technology.
The obvious collaboration tools such as video conferencing and use of online document and collaboration repositories are a must. But also consider your firm’s internal processes. For example, are there processes that require forms to be signed and scanned? Can these be transformed into purely digital steps?
Many companies are putting their efforts into digitizing customer-facing processes neglecting the processes that employees endure. Digital internal processes benefit the in-office worker as well raising the productivity of all workers. However, paper-based processes are a higher burden for remote workers since most remote workers don’t have sophisticated printer/scanning devices making these manual processes even more cumbersome in a world that is rapidly going digital.
“Out of sight, out of mind” is a remote worker’s biggest fear. Managers often treat remote workers differently than in-office workers in subtle ways. For example, remote workers are not often asked about their career or personal growth goals even though remote workers have the same aspirations in this regard as their in-office counterparts.
The same Gallup research shows that managers are hesitant to have long conversations with remote workers or to discuss career goals as they do not think there are as many opportunities compared to in-office workers. However, career and personal growth may not lie in promotions but in additional areas of responsibilities.
Managers should have regularly scheduled calls to discuss ongoing work and additional opportunities. It also gives managers the opportunity to review and praise work well done as well as to think about ways to recognize the work of remote workers within the team and department.
One such way to recognize remote workers is through a company’s internal job board. Typically internal job boards list available jobs but it can also be used to highlight existing employees. In-office workers are typically exposed to other functions of the company and different positions organically. In contrast, remote workers are not exposed to this and therefore not aware of what is possible in other areas of the company. The internal job board can be a way to expose all opportunities.
Equal soft benefits.
Beyond the usual set of medical, holiday and vacation benefits -- typically known as hard benefits -- remote workers are not able to receive the soft benefits that most in-office workers enjoy. These can be in the form of free lunches, holiday parties and, in some companies, perks such as dry-cleaning pick up, messages and company swag. Hearing about the great time everyone had at a company celebration can be demoralizing for those who are remote and not invited to attend.
Managers should be mindful of this and, when practical, find ways to include remote workers or let them know they are part of the celebration by either sending them a memento, encouraging them to take an equal amount of time off or providing other benefits that are suitable for remote workers such as a stipend for internet access.
Flexible gig economy.
As noted earlier, many remote workers are part-time workers. In fact, they may have several jobs that when added together equal an eight hour or more workday. What this means for employers is that these remote workers may be completing their work at non-traditional work hours. There may be some times of the day that remote workers need to be working during traditional hours to attend online meetings for example, but for the most part, they can be left to work hours that are flexible.
Many managers may have difficulty managing what they cannot “see” but the research shows that remote workers are more productive and working hours are working hours no matter what time of day they occur. The emphasis should be on the quality and quantity of work agreed upon and performed.
While there are benefits for remote workers (flexible hours, no commute, to name two), there are also some burdens. These include higher electrical and heating costs and lack of human connection, and constantly being online to stay informed and missing out on hallway conversations. Making remote employees as welcomed as their in-office counterparts is not hard and only requires thought, time and flexibility.
Since most people change companies when they change jobs, employers should make sure that remote worker’s needs are taken care of as much as in-office workers. After all, as a growing type of workforce, remote workers should be heard.