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Improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees

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Remote-work is a trending topic as we fight COVID-19.  Best case scenario would be to establish remote-work policies and training in advance, however, in this time of crisis, this level of preparation may not be feasible. As top executives, we are all exploring the best options for our employees. Today we unpack some research-based steps that managers can take without great effort to improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees.

Larson, Vroman and Makarius, in an article “A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers”, established up front the importance of understanding factors that can make remote work demanding. Otherwise, high-performing employees may experience declines in job performance and engagement when they begin working remotely, especially in the absence of preparation and training. The trio identified the following challenges inherent in remote work:

Lack of face-to-face supervision: Both managers and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Supervisors worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently. Many employees, on the other hand, struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication.

Lack of access to information: Newly remote workers are often surprised by the added time and effort needed to locate information from co-workers. Even getting answers to what seem like simple questions can feel like a large obstacle to a worker based at home.

They said that this phenomenon extends beyond task-related work to interpersonal challenges that can emerge among remote co-workers. Furthermore, research has found that a lack of “mutual knowledge” among remote workers translates to a lower willingness to give co-workers the benefit of the doubt in difficult situations.

Social isolation: It is thought that extraverts may suffer from isolation more in the short run, particularly if they do not have opportunities to connect with others in their remote-work environment. However, over a longer period, isolation can cause any employee to feel less “belonging” to their organization and can even result in increased intention to leave the company.

Distractions at home: In the case of a sudden transition to virtual work, there is a greater chance that employees will be contending with suboptimal workspaces and unexpected parenting responsibilities. Even in normal circumstances family and home demands can impinge on remote work; managers, therefore, should expect these distractions to be greater during this unplanned work-from-home transition.

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