Unlocking the Benefits of Remote Work – Correlation Between Flexibility and a Positive Employee Experience

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By Logan Mallory, Vice President — Motivosity 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, few business leaders would have told you that remote work was a good idea. Most could rattle off a long list of drawbacks to having employees work from home, pointing to technology issues, communications barriers, and concerns that employees would be challenged to stay focused amidst the distractions caused by kids, pets, and the other trappings of home life.

But Covid was a crisis, and in a crisis, we are willing to do whatever it takes to make it through to the other side. Remote work was the “whatever it takes” that kept many businesses afloat during the pandemic, as stepping into the office was simply not an option. If businesses were going to stay open, it was going to be through empowering their employees to work “in place.”

Yet, as the controls triggered by Covid were lifted, business leaders found themselves facing a new challenge. Employees who had a taste of remote work decided they liked it. And you can’t blame them, there is a lot to like.

Now, let me add a disclaimer to this article: I don’t believe there’s a one size fits all approach required here. There are a lot of ways to win when it comes to remote work.

Different companies have different circumstances. Different departments have varying requirements to execute on. We can’t pretend that remote work has to be the policy of every single organization. And so that I don’t sound hypocritical, Motivosity has a flexible policy but not a fully remote policy. I spend a lot of time with my team in the office — partly because we enjoy working together and the office works for many of us. 

Regardless, we can look at the merits of remote work and make a solid argument on its behalf.

Why many employees like remote work

Remote work saves employees time because it does away with their commute. It also saves them money. Not only do they need less gas, but the work-from-home wardrobe and menu are more affordable.

And then there’s the flexibility. Stats show the flexibility that remote work offers is the thing they love best. This isn’t exclusive to remote employees though — even if a company has an onsite expectation, they can still meet employee needs by providing as much flexibility as possible. The bottom line is that having more flexibility means having more control over your schedule and your life, which is something that appeals to everyone.

The big question is whether or not employers can find reasons to love remote work. It might feel unnatural or counterintuitive, but my answer to that question for many employers is, “For sure.” Here are three of the top benefits businesses will experience when they make a commitment to a remote work model.

Remote work can prompt higher productivity

If you ask remote workers, they would tell you that they are much more productive at home. One study found that 90% of employees say working from home, as compared to working in the office, allowed them to be as productive or more productive.

Most employers, however, find that hard to believe. A recent Microsoft study on remote productivity found that only 12% of that tech giant’s leaders are fully confident that their teams are being productive in a hybrid work environment. Microsoft coined the term “Productivity Paranoia” to describe the disconnect between how leaders and employees perceive the impact that remote work has had on worker output.

Source: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work-is-just-work

So, who is right? It appears that the employees are. An ongoing study conducted by academic researchers found that the shift to remote work boosted productivity rather quickly, leading to a 5% increase in May 2020. Two years later, the same study found remote workers to be 9% more productive than they had been in the office.

What has to be true for this to be accurate? You’ve hired the right kind of people — those who are honest, self-driven, and reliable. If you couldn’t trust your employees before, a remote policy clearly won’t solve that. Your hiring approach is a key factor in this being a reality.

Employees: If you want to help yourselves in winning the “WFH” debate, then consider being even more intentional about your communication and visibility when you’re away from the office. Lack of dialogue and visibility only make the “Productivity Paranoia” more prominent — so be intentional about how you engage while at home. 

Remote work can inspire increased work engagement

Most leaders know how important employee engagement is to the success of their organization. Employee engagement creates positive cohesion in the workplace, inspires company loyalty, and increases productivity, to name just a few of its benefits.

Most leaders also know that today’s workplace is suffering from a pandemic of disengagement. According to Gallup’s most recent State of the Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged at work. That means more than 4 out of 5 employees are either indifferent to how well their company is performing or resentful of the treatment they are receiving in the workplace.

Source: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/349484/state-of-the-global-workplace.aspx

Here’s the good news: employees report that remote work leads to higher levels of engagement. Statistics show that 62% of remote workers find that their work arrangement positively affects their work engagement.

To understand why remote work impacts engagement, it’s helpful to look at what leads to disengagement. One of the top complaints from disengaged workers is that their job lacks flexibility. Remote work fixes that problem, paving the way to greater engagement.

Isolation can be an obstacle here though. If you’re going to embrace remote work, you have to give your employees the right resources to stay connected and maintain the community. An employee experience platform or peer-to-peer recognition software can make all the difference.

Flexibility alone doesn’t solve engagement, but adding it to your already meaningful effort to build a great culture will. Remote work that doesn’t have that in the mix will most likely continue to suffer from engagement problems.

Remote work can foster a culture built on ownership

Remote workers have the same “what” they would have if they were working in the office. Sales associates still need to sell, assistants still need to assist, and managers still need to manage. The “how” is what changes when workers shift to a remote setting.

The flexibility that remote work affords allows workers a lot more latitude when it comes to how they meet their responsibilities. As a result, the onus is on workers to create an environment in which they can be effective. Unlike an in-office setting where managers control most of the workflow, the remote worker needs to take ownership of the process.

Integrating ownership into the corporate culture goes a long way toward improving employee engagement, performance, and loyalty. Organizations with a strong ownership culture have employees that work with leaders rather than for leaders.

Once again, keep in mind that an ownership culture is not exclusive to remote work settings. Organizations can allow onsite employees to take ownership of their workflows as well. 

Unlocking the benefits of remote work

So, how can organizations unlock these benefits? Here are three quick action steps.

First, reimagine what remote work could deliver to your organization. During the pandemic, remote work was a fix — now, it’s an opportunity. Organizations that reframe their thinking will see that remote work allows them to attract more talented employees and provide them with the flexibility that they need to thrive. 

Second, don’t assume remote work will fix productivity problems. The ongoing academic study that revealed a 5% increase in productivity in remote work also found that the increase has a lot to do with the employee. Those who are productive in the office will be productive at home, with the opposite also being true. Remote work improves productivity — it doesn’t create it. Before you make the shift to remote work, make sure you address productivity issues.

Finally, don’t let out of sight become out of mind. In other words, find a way to make sure remote employees are connecting. Isolation has been shown to be one of the biggest drawbacks to remote work. Ownership, engagement, and productivity all flow from a sense of being a valued and appreciated member of the organization.

Remote work isn’t going to disappear, though expect companies to find their own spin on how they will implement it. You’ll of course see some employers demand five days a week in the office. Others will take a “work from anywhere” approach. Many will realize the real lesson here: employees want flexibility and, if you’ve hired the right talent, that flexibility will increase the right metrics instead of negatively impacting the business. It takes a very intentional approach, but that flexibility will help organizations foster a happy, healthy, and engaged workforce. 

About the Author: Logan Mallory is the Vice President of Marketing at the leading employee engagement and recognition software, Motivosity. Mallory is a public speaker, professor, and thought leader on culture and leadership in the workplace to achieve employee retention. Motivosity helps companies promote gratitude and connection in today’s digital era of work.

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