- Nearly half of all U.S. employees are working from home right now
- Stay in the game with this primer on engagement and remote workers
In The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff, physicist and former NASA engineer Jack Nilles wrote that technological advances "have the potential for acting as catalysts that could radically change the structure of American society in much the same way that the automobile acted as a catalyst on our way of life during the first half of this century."
Nilles wrote that in 1973. He was a little ahead of his time, to put it mildly. But contending with the coronavirus is forcing organizations, from national governments to individual households, to catch up to Nilles quickly.
For many, that involves working from home -- as of last week, 63% of U.S. employees said they have worked from home in the past seven days due to their concern about the coronavirus according to Gallup Panel data.
Very few companies were ready for that transition.
Gallup was. We've been researching telework -- a word Nilles coined along with telecommute, by the way -- since 2008.
Occasionally, over the past 12 years, conventional wisdom seemed to be at odds with our analysis. While others posited that working remotely alienated employees, we knew that employees who work remotely were among some of the most engaged. And in 2019, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 7% of civilian workers in the U.S. have access to a "flexible workplace" benefit (or telework), our tracking reflected that more than four in 10 in the U.S. worked remotely at least some of the time.
More often than not, though, our research hasn't challenged existing data, because there was no other such analysis. For many years and in many ways, Gallup was first off the block in remote workplace research.
That research has never been more important to leaders than it is now. Here are our top findings:
1. Those who spend 60% to 80% of their time working remotely are the most likely to be engaged. And the less time they spend in the office, the more progress they say they make.
2. Managers need to have five different types of conversations with remote workers to encourage performance: role and relationship development, quick connect, check-in, developmental coaching, and progress review. And these conversations need to focus on an employee's individual achievements, collaboration with their team members and their customer value.
3. Remote employees are 3x more likely to be engaged if they receive feedback from their manager at least a few times per month. But if they have conversations with their managers on a weekly basis or more often, they're also 3x more likely to strongly agree they're motivated to do outstanding work.
4. Isolation and loneliness are two different things, and managers need two different solutions for them. Isolation can be resolved by access to people, decisions, technology and equipment. Loneliness reflects a lack of meaningful connection -- and the definition of "meaningful" depends on the worker. Managers need to know that definition for every person on their team and individualize accordingly.
5. Remote workers are 27% more likely than nonremote employees to strongly agree they have the materials and equipment to do their work right. Managers of remote employees can make better decisions about materials if they ask, "How will this new tool or piece of equipment help you as an employee, help our company, and help our customers?"
For many years and in many ways, Gallup was first off the block in remote workplace research.
These data points can serve as coordinates to navigate a whole new landscape. Leaders need them to orient their companies during an upheaval. But data don't equal analysis. Analysis is richer and more constructive than numbers alone, and leaders need that kind of insight. With it, they can perform as well or better than they did before COVID-19. With it, they can be ready.