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Don't Mistake Forced Remote Work for a Job Perk
Workplace

Don't Mistake Forced Remote Work for a Job Perk

by Adam Hickman, Ph.D.

Story Highlights

  • Forced remote work doesn't count as a job perk
  • Best practices can ease the struggle of remote work
  • Remote workers need well-prepared managers

Since mid-March, millions of Americans have made the transition from working in an office to working from their home; further, some employees have added being a teacher or caretaker, with the expectation of balancing these priorities perfectly.

As an organization that has studied remote work for years, Gallup says with confidence that you should not confuse this current situation with traditional remote work.

Over the past 25 years, there has been a surge in remote work -- between 1995 and 2020, Gallup has tracked an increase of more than 400% in the percentage of U.S. employees who say they have ever worked remotely. Remote work is often considered the epitome of flexible work and was once a perk only available to certain roles in some organizations.

Gallup knows that for most companies, the ideal balance involves remote workers getting some time in the office. Employees who are mostly remote but still get regular office connection (specifically, those who work remotely 60% to 79% of the time) are the most engaged.

But remote work doesn't work for everybody. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all kinds of employees into remote work situations without the materials, equipment and resources -- including prepared managers -- that they perhaps had at the office. Working remotely during a crisis is not a perk for everyone. For many, it's a struggle. The perk for these individuals will be getting back to the office.

Some employees without previous work-from-home experience might find themselves wondering what all the fuss was about -- this doesn't seem so great. But it's important to not confuse this abrupt shift to remote operations with traditional remote work.

Working from home during a crisis is different than traditional remote work in four areas: flexibility, connection, environment and expectations.

Flexibility

Remote work usually offers the flexibility of completing your job's demands from different locations, as time allows. This means working when and where you want to -- which can include working from a coffee shop during the afternoon, deciding to take an important meeting at the office or visiting a client's work site. The variety is part of the draw of flexibility. But working from home during this crisis significantly reduces any flexibility that typically accompanies remote work.

Sustain engagement and performance by:

  • being clear about what is expected of employees per their job demands
  • sorting through and classifying priorities as short-term and long-term
  • discussing expectations for peak times of performance throughout the day
  • identifying everyday distractions that affect performance, and making concessions whenever possible

Connection

Typically, remote employees engage with their colleagues using the formats that work best for them, depending on the purpose and the day: email, chat, phone, video, etc. While working under crisis, many workplaces are (rightly) emphasizing maintaining social connections -- but on different terms. What used to feel organic for many remote workers can now feel obligatory, pushy and prescribed, with constant videoconference meetings, Zoom happy hours and impromptu calls.

Sustain engagement and performance by:

  • ensuring your organization's bandwidth can handle the new remote traffic so connections are not interrupted
  • streamlining passwords use with what technology is available
  • ensuring that employees know what their options are when software fails

Environment

Remote work -- especially for parents with kids at home -- involves a lot of planning, from home office setup to child care and after-school activities. Parents working remotely through this crisis who previously worked in a quiet home environment without kids at home are now trying to balance and multitask -- getting work done while teaching and caring for children. This is a vital part of the current crisis that does not reflect normal remote work.

Sustain engagement and performance by:

  • individualizing your approach to what different employees need during this time, understanding that there are a variety of factors that may be adding to the stress that your people are experiencing and making adjustments when possible
  • considering the natural talents and strengths of your managers and employees and assigning work accordingly
  • communicating with your managers to ensure they are well-prepared to engage remote employees and taking proactive steps to provide the coaching and resources they need

Working remotely during a crisis is not a perk for everyone. For many, it's a struggle. The perk for these individuals will be getting back to the office.

Expectations

Employees who fit into a longer-term remote work strategy understand their role expectations and balance their schedules and routines to fit their needs, as well as those of their internal and external partners. Those who transitioned to working from home overnight, however, may still be sorting through new workloads (either working more or less), figuring out new tasks or different ways to get their jobs done (as employers determine exactly what workers can accomplish from home), and finding ways to meet new expectations as client needs change to accommodate restrictions based on industry, geographic location or disease incidence. Right now, your employees need to know that you have a clear plan of action, and they need managers who are well-prepared to lead their teams through this disruption. This starts with communicating clear expectations.

Sustain engagement and performance by:

  • recognizing and acknowledging that this is different from typical remote work, and avoiding making conclusions about what works or doesn't work for longer-term remote teams based on the current experience
  • clarifying and readjusting role expectations so managers and employees feel well-prepared to do their jobs, no matter where they're working
  • communicating frequently and openly about expected outcomes, project deadlines and performance measures and encouraging managers to build trust through individualization

Leaders should consider that while many of their employees may be working through this crisis rather successfully, with the materials and equipment they need to be productive and engaged, others may be experiencing increased stress and a lack of control -- not necessarily the perks of autonomy and flexibility associated with traditional remote work.

These employees need more support from their leaders and managers through increased individualization, empathy and communication.

As people look back on this experience, it will be essential to do so within the context that none of this is normal. In the future, when a fully remote colleague raves about working from home, they will likely be referring to something very different than this. Give your people something good to remember by focusing on the factors you can control: Help keep them connected, establish clear expectations, set them up for success, and remember that they're people, first and foremost.

Dissolve barriers to remote worker productivity:

Author(s)

Adam Hickman, Ph.D., is Content Manager at Gallup.

Sofia Kluch, Ph.D., contributed to this article.


Gallup https://www.gallup.com/workplace/322337/don-mistake-forced-remote-work-job-perk.aspx
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