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Remote Work Outcomes Depend on the Manager

Remote Work Outcomes Depend on the Manager

by Marco Nink

Story Highlights

  • Workers in the U.K., France and U.S. are warming up to remote work
  • Managers heavily influence the success of remote employees
  • Businesses need a full-fledged remote work strategy

A Gallup study of remote work in France and the U.K. shows a preference among employees to continue working from home, even when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted: 56% of British workers want to stay remote, as do 51% of French workers.

That's significant and leaders should consider this in forming their COVID-19-era transition plans. Employees' feelings about the workplace strongly impact engagement, productivity and wellbeing, which affects business outcomes.

Leaders should also know that certain support systems make remote workers more effective. The most important of which is the manager.

Employees' current remote experience affects how much they want a remote future.

In the companies that ramped up remote work to support social distancing, the impetus to work from home (WFH) seems to relate to employees' assessments of their own effectiveness away from the office.

The majority of the British workers who think virtual meetings are no more or less effective than in-person ones would prefer to work from home (64%), while the majority of French employees with that view would prefer go back to the office (56%).

But among those who say online meetings are more effective than in-person ones, the majority - 66% in the U.K. and 81% in France -- want to stay remote. And in both countries, roughly one in two employees say the coronavirus safety protocols have made it harder to do their jobs.

That tracks with a Gallup Panel study conducted in the U.S., where 66% of WFH employees say they're meeting the requirements of their job very well, a percentage that has been steadily rising since March as employees became more accustomed to remote work.

Leaders should also know that certain support systems make remote workers more effective. The most important of which is the manager.

People want to be where they're most productive and least frustrated and, clearly, many of them feel that place is at home.

In the U.K. and France, internet access is no barrier -- 99% of full-time workers have internet access, Gallup research shows, with little or no difference between rural and urban residences.

That's the employee perspective. But it leaves open the question of how working from home affects business outcomes. Gallup's answer is: It depends.

Remote outcomes depend on the manager.

Gallup has been studying remote work for over a decade, including a research into remote work since the outbreak of the coronavirus. The data show that WFH employees can be as or more productive and engaged than in-house workers and tend to have higher wellbeing.

But the way a job is structured and managed has far greater impact on remote workers than any operational factor -- team size, the hierarchy and size of the company, tenure, etc. -- and job requirements, such as close collaboration, can make some WFH jobs difficult to perform successfully.

Managers of remote workers must be exceptionally clear in their expectations and even more intentional about connecting and coaching through conversations. Managers can learn to do that and should. The outcomes of their WFH employees depend on it.

However, only every fourth worker in the U.K. and every third worker in France says that they currently feel well-prepared to do their job.

That will certainly impact their productivity, and their managers should find out if the problem relates to a lack of equipment, infrastructure, clear expectations, or an understanding of their priorities or responsibilities -- common inhibitors of successful remote work, Gallup finds.

Many managers have noticed that leading employees who work from home is a whole new experience with different demands. Open communication helps, allowing managers to learn and mutually solve the challenges facing WFH employees.

So as leaders draft their transition plans, they should indeed take employee preferences into account. It can affect a host of metrics -- including engagement, burnout and wellbeing -- that have substantial impact on profitability.

But remote work requires certain support systems, and the most important one is the manager.

Prepare your managers to succeed with remote teams.


Marco Nink is Gallup's Regional Lead in Research and Analytics, EMEA.

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

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