Understanding Remote Employees’ Current Experiences and Perspectives
One key way to understand employees – what their daily life is like and what is important to them – is to ask them directly. We recently conducted a poll of 400+ remote employees to find out what they like and dislike about working remotely.
It is important to note that a key factor leading to misunderstanding employees is to assume that all members of a group are similar. This seems to be the current case with regards to remote employees. Most discussions are about “remote employees,” as if they are all the same. But this is clearly not the case. Remote employees differ according to the:
- Frequency of working remotely (1 day/week, 2-4 days/week, full-time)
- Role of employee (front-line employee, supervisor, executive)
- Type of work (administrative, data-based, customer service, sales)
- Location / Distance (same city; across the state, country, world)
For example, it would be a mistake to believe the experience and perspective of a full-time remote employee who manages a group of accounting associates in different states is the same as a customer service representative who works remotely two days per week in the same community as their colleagues.
Gaining Some Clarification About Remote Employees
While conducting a large-scale study of remote employees would be ideal, this is quite difficult to do. An alternative approach is to examine a series of smaller groups and then combine the results obtained.
This study examined a group of over 400 employees. The vast majority of participants reported working remotely (1% indicated they supervised remote colleagues). Their frequency of remote work was: 40% full-time remote; 41% work remotely two to four days each week; 19% work remotely one day a week. Their distribution, according to age range, was somewhat interesting: 85% of the respondents were at least 40 years old (and over 50% were 50+ years old), and only 3% were younger than 30. Therefore, this group (and their perspectives) are not representative of the general workforce in the U.S. But the results do provide insight into older employees who work remotely.
A relatively easy way to obtain quantifiable data is to ask close-ended questions (yes/no; multiple choice) and tabulate the frequency of responses. The limitation of this type of data is that the researcher determines the potential variables explored. The alternative, utilized in this study, is to ask open-ended questions and let the respondents determine the issues most important to them.
Obviously, an ongoing discussion in this transitioning world of work relates to the benefits and negative consequences of remote work. Obtaining input from employees seems to be an important step to take. Two questions focused on this group’s experiences of working remotely. (Their answers were analyzed for themes and coded appropriately.)
Q1. What do you enjoy about working remotely? What are the benefits of working offsite?
Four clear themes emerged. The most frequently cited benefit (38% of all responses) related to not having to commute: “Less time commuting,” “Reduced cost of transportation.”
Secondly, 27% of responses indicated working remotely allowed them to be more productive and deal with less distractions (primarily due to unwanted social interactions with others): “I’m more productive,” “Get things done without interruption from others.”
Flexibility in one’s daily life schedule was a third benefit reported in 21% of the responses:
“Able to work when I’m most focused,” “Start or end my day outside of regular working hours.”
Finally, improvements in work / life balance comprised 14% of the responses, either stated directly “Better work / life balance,” or by a specific example cited “Eat healthier,” “Able to exercise or take dog for a walk in the middle of the day.”
Q2. What are the downsides of working remotely?
One predominant theme and four secondary themes were evident in the responses to this question. Overwhelmingly, 57% of employees in this group identify loneliness and a lack of social contact with colleagues as the main negative result of working remotely: “I get lonely,” “Less personal interactions,” “Lack of connection with colleagues.” This theme is consistent with other data reported of increased levels of loneliness in the general population of the U.S. (adolescents and adults, those who work and those who don’t).
Two additional problems were reported by 12% of the respondents (for each issue). Practical challenges in work-based interactions (specifically, difficulties in collaborating with colleagues and challenges in managing team members) were cited: “Miss out on spontaneous collaboration,” “More difficult to connect with those I supervise.” And concerns about being less productive due to distractions and unavailability of needed resources were also reported: “Can be easily distracted when tired or bored,” “Don’t always have the equipment I need.”
A final negative consequence related to working remotely was the experience of working longer hours, which was cited in 9% of the responses: “Difficult to make a ‘hard stop’ in my workday,” “Work longer than I did onsite”.
Interestingly, 9% of the respondents proactively reported that they saw no downsides to working remotely. Clearly, there are employees who feel strongly that working remotely is the best option for them.
The findings from this study point to four areas of need to address for older (40+ years old) remote employees. First, the high level of loneliness and desire for more social connection with their colleagues is critical – with over 55% of respondents reporting this is an issue for them. Developing strategies, processes, and activities to facilitate social interaction among team members is key to maintaining an emotionally healthy workforce. It is important to note, however, as our previous research with remote employees demonstrated, that the need is for personal connection, not just better communication overall.
While one benefit of working remotely cited is having to deal with less distractions, interestingly, this is also reported as a challenge. Developing training and tools to assist remote employees better manage the distractions they experience working at home or off-site will help in this area.
The lack of opportunity to interact with colleagues on collaborative projects or get input from a coworker in their area of expertise is another process that needs attention. Figuring out ways to have more collaborative interactions and how to structure opportunities for team members to brainstorm together seems important.
Finally, some employees need assistance in learning how to set boundaries between their work responsibilities and personal life, and exploring the issues underlying their struggle to limit the amount of time they work.
Remote and hybrid team members are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Let’s work together to understand them (and ourselves) better – so we can continue to collaborate successfully to serve our clientele and attain the goals of our organizations.Tags: connectedness, Remote Working
Categories 5 Languages of Appreciation, Employee engagement, Managing By Appreciation, Relationships, Remote Employees, Virtual teams, Working From Home, Workplace Culture