The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered how and where we work. As many industries shifted their employees to fully remote work, people at every organizational level had to rethink their relationships to the workplace and relearn how to navigate their relationships with colleagues and clients in the face of virtual distance. According to LinkedIn data, remote work listings increased by 357% between May 2020 and May 2021.1 As the pandemic wears on and restrictions fluctuate, we must consider a major question: how will we redefine normal?
Employers and employees alike are reflecting on their experiences with remote work during the pandemic and making decisions regarding the future of their workplaces. Some reflect positively, viewing the remote work environment as a beneficial change, whereas others feel less positively about the challenges it brings. And the prospect of a return to the workplace? It’s controversial.
Recent reports have predicted a forthcoming “turnover tsunami” or “great resignation” when pandemic restrictions ease.2,3 While voluntary quits decreased substantially during 2020, evidence suggests last year’s downward trend is already reversing as 52% of workers in North America say they’re already looking for a new job in 2021.4 For context, this is a 43% increase over the number of people who expected to job hunt in 2019.4
Along with pandemic burnout and compensation goals, work environment preference is one of the major factors driving people’s job-change plans.4 Even before the pandemic, back in 2017, U.S. companies that offered remote work as an option saw 25% lower turnover than those that didn’t.5 Today, one-quarter of people who are considering switching jobs say it’s because they want to pursue better work-life balance.4 For some people, this means a desire for the flexibility that remote work offers, and for others, it means a desire to return to the office to avoid the productivity pressure they feel while working remotely.4,6
As organizations work to redefine normal, it’s critical to consider how that redefinition will shape the choices workers make about career changes — and how you will get ahead of the so-called tsunami. What kinds of actions will your business take to not only retain employees, but also keep them engaged and productive? How will you help them stay connected? What measures will you take to prevent burnout?
Assessing the Work from Home Landscape
We surveyed 880 workers across 25 different industries in both the United States and Europe to help you learn more about what people really want. Keep reading to find out how the pandemic and remote working arrangements affected workers’ productivity, engagement, relationships, and more.
Before COVID-19, were you encouraged to work remotely by your organization?
Most employees were not encouraged to work remotely before the pandemic. Therefore, the shift to working from home has represented uncharted territory for the majority of employers and employees alike.
COVID-19 has impacted my daily working schedule (i.e., tasks, meetings, calls, start and finish times).
Unsurprisingly, most respondents feel that COVID-19 affected their working schedule at least to some degree. Following is our analysis of the benefits and challenges of remote work and how these changes were viewed by employees.
How productive are you working remotely, compared to working in the office?
One of the most significant findings is that most employees feel equally, if not more, productive when they work remotely compared to in the office. While employers reap the benefits of this increased productivity, they should continue to identify any potential productivity barriers and employee satisfaction issues moving forward.
How would you describe your team’s productivity working remotely?
Most employees feel that their teams have been productive since they started working remotely. Employers and managers should strive to maintain this productivity by engaging employees’ perspectives on remote work and then crafting a plan to protect what’s working and change what’s not.
What is your favorite benefit in working remotely?
Flexible schedules are one of the most favored benefits of remote work, followed by the ability to work anywhere and improved work-life balance. To maintain an attractive reputation in a competitive talent market, employers should understand the significant improvements that these benefits provide in the daily lives of employees and candidates.
What is your ideal remote work schedule?
Only 13% of people prefer to be in the office every day, while 14% want a fully remote schedule. Meanwhile, the vast majority of respondents want the option to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers. Employers who are concerned about employee retention and the shrinking talent pool should be mindful of these preferences when making decisions about remote work policies. Those that do not plan to offer flexibility in remote work benefits should prepare for significant turnover and possible difficulty attracting talent.
What is your top challenge in working remotely?
Most remote employees found that communication and collaboration were the most challenging aspects of working in a remote environment. With face-to-face communication removed from the equation, employers, managers, and employees alike must take an intentional approach to staying connected. Proactively keeping lines of communication open, routinely setting aside time for collaboration, and delivering updates in a timely manner are all practices that will increase teams’ productivity.
Do you feel that remote collaboration is more challenging than in-person collaboration?
Composing a message or attending a virtual meeting certainly requires more mental labor than walking across the hall to brainstorm with a coworker, and employees agree that collaboration feels more taxing in remote work environments. Employers should reduce the burnout risks associated with those feelings by encouraging employees to focus on quality over quantity in their communication practices — for example, by consolidating meetings and being proactive and intentional when using collaboration platforms. Fostering an environment with healthy boundaries and offering mental health resources can also help prevent burnout.
The shift to remote work has made it harder to maintain professional relationships with key stakeholders.
Nearly half (46%) of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the remote work environment has made it more difficult to maintain professional relationships with stakeholders. Meanwhile, the remaining 54% of respondents report not finding it more difficult to maintain stakeholder relationships or not experiencing enough difficulty to indicate it as a challenge. This ambiguity means that employers would be wise to understand the underlying factors driving this divide. Is it merely an issue of stakeholder accessibility? Or does it speak to the complex web of individual differences in relationship management and perception? Gaining a nuanced understanding of what is working for some personalities and what isn’t working for others is the best way for managers and employers to address this potential threat to employees’ productivity and engagement.
Managing Remote Employees
While it helps to understand the pros and cons of remote work for employees, what does it mean for organizations as they try to adapt temporary changes into post-pandemic policies?
What’s the relationship between employee communication and organizational response to COVID-19?
Respondents who reported more frequent communication with their colleagues also reported higher satisfaction with their organizations’ responses to COVID-19. This reiterates the importance of proactive and intentional communication at all job levels. Whether the frequency of communication occurs by way of networking or informal check-ins, feeling connected to colleagues plays a significant role in employee satisfaction and engagement.
What’s the relationship between employee engagement and manager support?
Individuals who felt more supported by their managers also reported greater engagement with their organizations overall. Managers who are trained to understand the individual differences in employees’ work styles, preferences, and motivations are pivotal to employee engagement. Empowering managers with this information using personality test results can help them communicate with employees more effectively, spot potential risks to individual and team performance, and cultivate a more intentional interpersonal approach.
What’s the relationship between employees’ desire to work remotely and difficult professional relationships?
Most respondents indicated a preference for a hybrid work schedule, regardless of their reported difficulty in maintaining professional relationships. However, individuals who reported the most difficulty with relationships do prefer to work more days in the office, while the opposite is true for those at the other end of the spectrum. Rather than jumping to the conclusion that more networking opportunities will solve the problem, organizations should work to understand the underlying factors contributing to the vast difference in employees’ approaches to work and relationships.
What’s the relationship between employees’ productivity and desire to work remotely?
People who reported greater feelings of productivity while working remotely also desired a work schedule with more remote days, while those reporting the most difficulty with productivity would prefer to return to the office full-time. The vast difference in these responses reiterates the need for employers to understand individual personality differences.
Remote Work in Review
With employee and team productivity at an all-time high and flexible schedules representing a new standard, employers must seriously consider the effect remote work policy changes will have on their workforce.
In addition to proactive communication plans, collaboration opportunities, and developing managers to be supportive, organizations should also focus on gathering local feedback to understand their employees’ specific preferences and perceived challenges when it comes to remote work. Organizations that recognize the significance of individual personality differences will be able to provide more targeted support for remote employees and put action plans in place to help develop those who may be struggling.
We’ve put together an evaluation checklist to help organizations and managers navigate the benefits and challenges of remote work. Download a copy below!
1. Anders, G. (2021, May 26). Employers Catch On: Remote Job Posts Rise 357% as Tech, Media Lead the Way. LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/employers-catch-remote-job-posts-rise-457-tech-media-lead-anders/
2. Maurer, R. (2021, March 12). Turnover ‘Tsunami’ Expected Once Pandemic Ends. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/turnover-tsunami-expected-once-pandemic-ends.aspx
3. Gardizy, A. (2021, June 22). ‘The Great Resignation’ Is Looming: Why People Are Quitting Their Jobs Post-Pandemic. Boston Globe. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/06/22/business/burnout-is-one-key-predictors-turnover-what-know-about-great-resignation/
4. 2021 Engagement and Retention Report. (2021, March 10). Achievers Workforce Institute. https://www.achievers.com/resources/white-papers/workforce-institute-2021-engagement-and-retention-report/
5. The State of Remote Work. (2017). Owl Labs. https://resources.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work/2017
6. Covert, B. (2021, July 20). 8 Hours a Day, 5 Days a Week Is Not Working for Us. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/20/opinion/covid-return-to-office.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage