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01 Why Is Remote Work So Important Right Now?

The COVID-19 crisis upended the status quo of the American workplace.

Overnight, remote work went from being a mark of flexibility in the workplace to a business necessity. Faced with few alternatives, organizations began working remotely just to endure the crisis.

While most organizations had just a few days or weeks to move employees home at the onset of COVID-19, leaders now must take care to ensure the right work-from-home strategies are in place for maintaining a positive, productive approach to remote work for months and years to come.

Get more COVID-19 news and resources. Learn how to Lead Through Disruption.

02 How Are Employees Experiencing Remote Work Life Amid the Coronavirus?

During the sudden shift to remote work, stress and worry among Americans quickly hit an all-time high but by mid-April 2020, there were indications of improvement since the initial spikes.

Early in 2020, stress and worry spiked in the United States. Stress and worry peaked in March and April, with 60% of U.S. adults reporting feeling stressed and worried.

Since the outset of the crisis, worry and stress have been worse for people who work from home than for those who do not. However, at the same time, many at-home workers have developed a taste for remote work, reporting a desire to continue working remotely after restrictions on businesses and schools are lifted.

Stress and worry have been consistently higher for remote workers than they are for people who do not work from home throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Challenges of Working Remotely During COVID-19

Many employees are struggling with challenges associated with performing their work from home jobs -- challenges like they have never experienced before. This is likely because at-home workers are not just working from home; they are working from home during a pandemic -- taking video conference calls from the kitchen table, absorbing troubling health-related news and adapting to new life routines.

Employees at home, especially those who are not married, are more susceptible to feelings of loneliness.

For families with children, their home isn't just their new workplace. It's also a classroom and a day care.

Learn more about perfecting your remote work strategy in our paper "COVID-19: A Leader's Guide to Developing a Work-From-Home Strategy."

Why Leaders Should Care About Remote Workers' Stress and Worry

High levels of stress and worry among U.S. employees should be as concerning to business leaders as their financial hardships and the staggering unemployment rate.

After all, when employees become chronically stressed, burnoutemployee burnout becomes a genuine concern, and you can expect a trickle-down effect that will influence performance and customers.

Reduce employee stress by getting these three elements right: strengths, wellbeing and employee engagement.

Remote Work Is an Art That Improves With Practice

Notably, our findings indicate that the more experience employees had working remotely before COVID-19, the more prepared they have felt working remotely during the pandemic.

So, as people continue to adjust to the changes caused by the pandemic, employers and employees have a genuine opportunity to learn and ultimately improve the outcomes of remote jobs.

03 How Fast Is Remote Work Growing?

Here are some remote work statistics to consider: In just three weeks -- from mid-March to early April 2020 -- the percentage of American employees working remotely doubled, from 31% to 62%, totaling nearly 100 million employees working remotely.

Working from home increased considerably during the pandemic. Before COVID-19, 25% of people worked from home more than half a day each week. During the pandemic, 65% reported working from home in the past 7 days.

04 Will the Coronavirus Prompt Long-Term Adoption of Remote Work?

It's very likely. About half of employees at home say they would prefer to continue working remotely.

Managers with employees working remotely say they will allow their employees to perform remote work more often than they did before COVID-19.

Moving forward, the American workplace will be more complex and dynamic, with economic volatility, potential spikes in COVID-19, and work teams comprising employees both on-site and working remotely.

6 in 10
managers with employees working remotely say they will allow their employees to perform remote work more often than they did before COVID-19

These challenges make it all the more critical that leaders manage in strategic and adaptable ways that make sense in a radically new marketplace.

05 What Are the Best Work-From-Home Jobs?

In job categories that are a good fit for remote work, engagement climbs and employee burnout with your remote team declines as the amount of time working remotely increases.

But not all roles transition well to remote work. Leaders should evaluate each job's suitability for remote work by analyzing job demands and factors that affect productivity.

Such evaluations, however, require caution. Making uninformed generalizations about specific jobs may hide opportunities and risks related to remote work.

Our Analysis

Gallup researchers mined our database of 550+ jobs summarized into 35 roles across 20 industries to assess how remote work influences success in each job, both historically and during COVID-19.

Combining the job structure information with our extensive Gallup Panel survey data, we examined how working from home affected key aspects of the employee experience, such as employee engagement, burnout, meaningful feedback and job preparedness.

A Look at the Obviously Good Positions for Remote Work

Remote knowledge workers tend to experience positive outcomes, having higher engagement and lower burnout rates associated with a greater proportion of time spent working remotely.

Based on remote-ready criteria, some broad categories of jobs are obvious candidates for increased remote work.

Knowledge workers, for example, who generally spend most of their day exercising technical skills, experience more positive outcomes when working remotely most of the time.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees in knowledge worker roles were already doing at least some work from home.

Nevertheless, within the broad knowledge worker category, remote worker experiences vary significantly from role to role, making careful evaluation of each role necessary.

Using 3 Criteria to Evaluate Positions for Remote Work

Examining our extensive databases, Gallup found that an optimal remote work role meets three criteria:

Clearly, the starting point for evaluating if a role could be performed from home long term is to consider whether the job can even be completed in a work-from-home environment.

Tasks and processes that are well-defined have clear timelines, expectations and measures of evaluation.

Highly interdependent work means the work needs more than simple communication and collaboration. It requires simultaneous or synchronized input from multiple partners to complete tasks and move a project forward.

These three criteria are not a formula for guaranteed success or failure. Workers who do not meet all of these criteria may still be able to work from home.

But based on Gallup's analysis of remote worker engagement and burnout, roles that do not meet all three criteria will likely require additional support from the manager and organization to produce exceptional performance.

An Example: Two Job Types, One's Ready for Remote Work, One's Not

Consider some seemingly similar knowledge worker jobs that Gallup studied within the financial services industry.

In this study, we compared two job families, that is a grouping of closely related positions. One job family was composed of financial advisers and insurance and real estate workers. The second was composed of accountants, CPAs and auditors.

While both sets of roles require financial expertise, meaningful differences shape an employee's experience and success working remotely.

Job Type 1: Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Remote Work

The finance, insurance and real estate roles studied require consultations with clients in a sales or account-growth capacity.

People in these jobs often are responsible for their own portfolio of accounts or clients and can fulfill their responsibilities without frequent interdependent work with colleagues. That is, the roles naturally require a fair amount of autonomy and independent decision-making.

Therefore, the flexibility gained by working remotely in these roles helps elevate employee engagement.

Additionally, at-home workers in these roles report receiving even more meaningful feedback than their counterparts working in a traditional work environment.

However, unlike most knowledge workers, these financial professionals experience higher levels of burnout when they primarily work from home. Perhaps their intensified focus on clients and productivity makes it particularly difficult for them to set boundaries related to work-life integration.

Managers of people in finance, insurance and real estate roles need to be mindful of how they can support the wellbeing of their employees at home to reduce the impact of burnout on their team members.

Job Type 2: Accountants, CPAs and Auditors Working Remotely

Accountants, CPAs and auditors also have well-defined duties that can be performed through remote work, and their work can be done independently in many ways. However, their work often requires checks and balances with colleagues.

Interestingly, they are highly engaged in a traditional work environment (49% are engaged), and their engagement does not improve when they work from home more often -- two unique findings within this knowledge worker category.

This flat engagement trend corresponds with the lack of meaningful feedback they receive, suggesting that a lack of meaningful communication and poor collaboration inhibit these at-home employees from experiencing the full benefits of remote work.

Burnout is also of concern for employees in these roles, as it substantially increases when these employees work from home most of the time.

The challenges of coordinating handoffs and reviews of work by colleagues and the employees' lack of physical access to a manager are notable issues for individuals in these roles.

These considerations do not necessarily indicate that accountants, CPAs and auditors should not work from home. Rather, they demonstrate that people in these roles should not be managed in the same way as those who are in roles that optimally fit a remote work environment.

Learn more about managing your remote employees and teams.

Each Organization Faces Unique Remote Work Circumstances

Keep in mind that generalizing and making assumptions can be risky when evaluating jobs for work-from-home suitability.

We provide the above examples simply to demonstrate how the employee experience can vary between seemingly similar role families.

Job titles are not a sufficient measure of job similarity and, thus, cannot be the only factor considered when making projections to inform strategy and decision-making, so it should not be assumed that our findings reflect the exact jobs and experiences at your organization.

To ensure your work-from-home strategy is on point, Gallup can conduct a professional assessment and analysis of the experiences and needs of employees in various roles within your organization.

06 How to Manage Remote Workers

Expect Remote Work to Present Challenges for Employees

Working remotely can -- and does -- go badly.

The following are common negative outcomes of remote work:

  • miscommunication
  • poor collaboration
  • uncertainty about relationships

Additionally, fully remote employees often report feeling isolated from the team and confused about what to prioritize.

But with an informed approach, managers can help employees at home overcome challenges and maintain high performance.

In fact, when they are managed effectively, fully remote teams can substantially outperform on-site teams. Management makes the difference between success and failure.

Managers: Give Remote Workers Frequent Feedback, and Make It Meaningful

Effective management of employees at home requires that managers have frequent, meaningful conversations about employees' needs and work.

Give feedback.

Help your employees adapt as their situations change. Create accountability for meeting the immediate needs of the business. Set clear expectations. Create an agile work environment by adjusting performance goals as needed.

Make feedback frequent.

When managers show up for their remote employees by communicating frequently, they drive employee engagement.

When remote workers who work from home most of the time rarely receive feedback from their manager, their engagement nosedives and is as low as that of employees who work on-site and receive similarly infrequent feedback.

Yet, when fully or nearly fully remote workers receive feedback a few times per week, their engagement exceeds both fully on-site and partially remote workers who receive the same frequency of feedback.

Make feedback meaningful.

Be present and tuned in to employees' needs and priorities. Meaningful communication elevates engagement and performance even further.

In fact, fully and nearly fully remote employees who strongly agree they received meaningful feedback in the past week are 4.6 times as likely to be engaged than those who do not strongly agree.

Line graph showing frequency of receiving feedback from manager

Employees who work remotely 80% to 100% of the time in a typical workweek and receive feedback a few times per week tend to be more engaged, at 63%, than employees who also work from home that often, but who only receive feedback once a year or less, at 10%.

Bar graph showing proportion of total hours that worked remotely in a week

Meaningful feedback elevates employee engagement for all employees and has a greater effect on those who work from home more frequently. Among employees who work from home less than 10% of their typical workweek and agree they received meaningful feedback last week, 82% were engaged. Compare this with 91% engaged among employees who agree they received meaningful feedback last week and also work from home 80% to 100% of the week.

4 Criteria for Creating Individual Remote Work Plans

Individualize your approach. Create individualized work-from-home plans that reasonably honor the needs of your employees. Evaluate the following criteria for each person on your team:

  1. Readiness and comfort:
    Is this person comfortable with the protocols and precautions that the organization is implementing? What are the individual's health and safety concerns -- for themselves and their family members?
  2. Life circumstances:
    What personal demands is this person experiencing regarding child care, elder care or responsibilities for tending to sick family members? What type of transportation is required for the person to return to the work site, and is that type available? Does the person have a well-defined space at home that is suitable for productive, engaging long-term remote work?
  3. Performance:
    How has this individual performed before and after shifting to remote work? Tracking and supporting low performers may be more difficult from a distance.
  4. Strengths:
    Even if a role aligns well with remote work, it is important to consider that people have different talents and, therefore, different ways of achieving the same outcome. Some people work remotely with a high degree of success despite minimal interventions. Others may be in the same role, but they perform better with the interactions and structure of a traditional work environment.
Employees' Top Needs From Managers

Instead of gathering tips for managing remote workers, many managers should simply reinvent their approach to management. After all, despite the rush to remote work, employees still have essential needs from managers:

  • job clarity and priorities
  • ongoing feedback and communication
  • opportunities to learn and grow
  • accountability

of employees clearly know what is expected of them at work

To meet these needs, managers should move from being a boss to being a coach, basing their approach on three core principles of performance management:

07 How to Manage Remote Teams

Many employees are feeling more team-oriented right now. Employees have performed heroically to support one another and adapt to a new, challenging work environment.

People are inviting team members into their homes via video chats. They are sharing more about their personal lives, swapping strategies for working from home and bonding through new virtual experiences.

Those are positive outcomes, and hopefully they last. But not every team will thrive long term in a virtual work environment. Here are some ways to help your team succeed with remote work.

A factor for success is the amount of meaningful feedback that team members are getting from each other, their managers and their leaders. In general, fully remote workers should receive meaningful feedback a few times per week.

Gallup asked more than 10,000 people, or followers, what the most influential leaders contribute to their lives. Based on the initial study, the following basic needs emerged: trust, compassion, stability and hope.

Whether it's helping teammates navigate new ways of working or tough relationships, your responsibility is to steer the team to prosperous waters. Learn more about the manager's role in teamwork.

When teams know their strengths and are able to use them every day, they get better results. Learn more.

4 Criteria for Creating Team Remote Work Plans

To evaluate how well-suited your team is for consistent remote work, consider the following:

  1. Interdependency of team members:
    Do team members frequently work on detailed, complex projects that require intense partnership? Interdependent work requires more than simple communication. To complete the work, multiple team members must provide direct input in a coordinated way.
  2. Dynamics of team member contributions:
    Which roles may cause bottlenecks that could affect downstream work?
  3. Team engagement:
    Are you equipped to manage well through remote work challenges and ensure team engagement needs are met?
  4. Trust:
    Has the team achieved past accomplishments in the face of challenges and proven the team members' ability to depend on each other when it counts?

08 Safeguarding Company Culture When Teams Work From Home

When determining a sustainable work-from-home strategy, leaders should weigh their financial risks and opportunities, but financial considerations should not be the only factors that influence their strategy.

When making decisions, leaders also need to consider the following questions related to company culture:

  1. Consistency: Does our decision convey our company culture?
  2. Clarity: Is there a hidden or unclear agenda behind the decision?
  3. Authenticity: Is our rationale credible?

Decisions that affect the employee experience reflect what the organization stands for and how leaders want the organization to be known. These decisions can leave a lasting impression on an organization's reputation with employees, customers, investors and communities.

09 Remote Work Productivity

Working remotely can be a highly engaging or seriously disengaging experience for employees.

When structured and managed effectively, remote work unlocks potential for improved performance, higher wellbeing, and better work-life integration.

When executed haphazardly, a remote work structure can curtail remote work productivity and sour the employee experience.

The Link Between Employee Engagement and Productivity
When asking about remote work productivity, look to employee engagement.

Why? Because employee engagement is linked to a whole host of business outcomes, including employee productivity. Simply put, engaged employees are more productive than their disengaged counterparts -- by as much as 17%.

When managed poorly, remote work can dramatically erode employee engagement. When managed well, remote work can unleash the engagement of teams.

Full-Time Remote Work and Engagement
The effects of performing work from home full time are different than those of working from home part of the week, and various frequencies of remote working present unique opportunities and challenges for employees.

Overall, we find a curvilinear relationship in the shape of an inverted U between the frequency that full-time employees work from home and their employee engagement -- meaning there is a tipping point at which the benefits of working from home start to diminish.

In a survey taken before the pandemic, Gallup found the benefits of remote work peak when an employee spends 40% to 60% of their time working remotely in a typical week.

Many recurrent workplace productivity killers, such as unwanted interruptions and time spent observing or discussing office politics, are not part of a fully remote worker's typical workday experience. With experiences like these, fully remote workers tend to have lower levels of burnout results than most other employees.

Bring Gallup learning to your home or office. Discover our virtual courses.

10 How to Show Flexibility in the Workplace

Flexibility in the Workplace: A Good Option for Wellbeing, Engagement and Productivity

For leaders who want to increase performance organically without increasing costs, offering flexible work arrangements is a good option -- if they know how to structure and manage it well.

Gallup finds that, in general, workers thrive when they have flexible work schedules with the option to work from home during part of their workweek.

In fact, engaged workers who also have reasonable flexibility in the workplace experience higher wellbeing even as they work more hours per week.

People who are given the flexibility to do some work from home gain the benefits of working on-site (in-person collaboration, access to materials and equipment, and spontaneous conversations, among others) while having reasonable control over how and when their work gets done.

Of course, many roles simply do not work well with location and time flexibility. But, for those that do, greater flexibility significantly improves employee outcomes.

For example, a medical worker may find relief in doing some paperwork and replying to emails at home without hospital or clinic distractions.

In the same way, a marketing employee who leaves the office early to pick up their children and then finishes their project after the kids' bedtime may experience engaging work-life integration.

11 What Are the Advantages of Employing Remote Workers?

In an uncertain business climate, finding ways to increase revenue and cut costs before eliminating jobs can seem like a leadership imperative.

When handled well, increasing an organization's remote workforce can lead to real estate and overhead savings, as well as the following:

The ability to work from home can expand an organization's hiring pool from local to national talent, with relocation no longer a requirement.

A more remote and flexible work culture can be a powerful tactic for attracting and engaging top talent -- the pandemic may turn those aspects of work that used to be seen as perks into requirements for securing quality hires.

Offering remote work could benefit the employee experience. Flexibility in the workplace, including flextime and remote work, is important to American employees. Before COVID-19, 47% of employees said they would change jobs for flextime (some choice over the time of day one works), and 43% would do the same to have a flexible working location at least part of the time.

Remote employees working in the right roles with the right support can significantly outshine on-site workers.

Drawbacks of Expanded Remote Work

Becoming ready for long-term remote work is a heavy lift. Remote work is more complicated to manage than on-site work. When managed poorly, remote work can dramatically erode engagement and productivity.

Leaders must anticipate and guide their teams through potentially adverse effects on:

  • performance
  • culture
  • brand
  • customer relationships

Should You Expand Remote Work Capabilities? There's No Easy Answer.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every organization needs a clear plan for transitioning from their solutions created in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis to a long-term remote work strategy that makes sense for their unique business circumstances and employees' career wellbeing. Learn how Gallup can help.

12 How to Overcome Challenges of Working Remotely

Not all problems faced by employees working remotely can be easily solved by managers or leaders. But our research indicates that managers have a disproportionate influence on whether employees have what they need to succeed when working remotely.

In fact, managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units.

13 Building Work-From-Home Strategies

Your work-from-home strategy will help or hurt your business. There is no standing still.

Organizations need a clear remote work blueprint to create a competitive advantage while supporting employees' wellbeing in the long term.

Build your work-from-home strategy based on:

  • research about the most optimal structure for remote work
  • a careful review of your organization's job families, considering the unique sets of responsibilities that may differentiate seemingly similar roles
  • the impact of COVID-19 on people's work and wellbeing
  • the evaluation of individuals' fit for long-term remote work, taking into consideration their role, team and individual needs

Create a Plan for Transitioning to Long-Term Remote Work

Once your organization has a well-informed strategy defining which roles can and should be performed as remote work and the degree to which people will work from home, leaders must create a targeted plan for transitioning to a long-term remote work approach.

Your transition plan should provide the necessary structure and support for remote work to be successful.

Before acting on your work-from-home strategies, ask the following questions to prepare for the transition:

  1. What conditions are necessary for success in the off-site work environment? Do employees have the tools and equipment they need to perform their best while working remotely?
  2. Are the expectations of employees laid out clearly by their managers? What tools and training foster critical ongoing conversations between managers and employees at home?
  3. What are the essential employee experiences that managers need to support their company culture and create a strong sense of belonging for at-home workers?

15 How Gallup Can Help With Remote Work

We can help you analyze your organization's workforce, providing ongoing monitoring and expert insights and advice that reflect how your people are experiencing the new American workplace.

Gallup can help your organization:

  • craft a work-from-home strategy informed by Gallup's extensive database and analysis to build a resilient culture
  • train managers to coach, develop and lead remote workers effectively
  • design a remote work onboarding process to prepare for and address the needs of remote teams
  • provide strengths-based development for individual contributors and teams to enable optimal remote work
  • refine your talent acquisition strategy to build your remote workforce for the future

Succeed With Remote Work

Partner with Gallup to explore next steps for developing your organization's work-from-home and other workplace strategies amid COVID-19.