Image: Zoom

While most workers have gotten used to hybrid or full remote work setups in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, executives say they do not believe employees operating virtually and are not engaged on camera will have staying power at their companies. A new survey from Vyopta illustrates that nearly all (96%) of the 200 decision makers surveyed said remote employees are disadvantaged compared to those who primarily work in-office.

“The people who make up our workforce are and have always been the soul of the organization, the lifeblood of our operations and core to making everything work,” said Alfredo Ramirez, President and CEO of Vyopta. “We appreciate the importance of attracting and keeping great people who have faced various challenges and disruptions in both their personal and professional lives during the pandemic.”

SEE: Hiring kit: Data scientist (TechRepublic Premium)

Businesses can’t be choosers, or can they?

While many companies still struggle with workforce shortages due to the pandemic and the Great Resignation, it is interesting that executives are still dividing the workforce based on where an employee is located. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November 2021, and 4.3 million people quit or changed jobs in December 2021. Yet, executives are putting the onus on their employees to be more engaged in order to get ahead at their places of work.

Reportedly, those at the highest levels put a value to on-camera employees working remotely. Of the executives surveyed, 92% said workers who are less involved, muted regularly or do not have video enabled likely do not have long-term futures ahead of them at work. Decision-makers view this as a signal that subpar work performance will be a problem down the road, as 93% said employees who turn their camera off are generally less engaged in their work overall.

With less engagement by employees or subpar work performance comes assumptions from those who are at the executive level, as 43% said they believe these employees are internet browsing, texting or talking with someone instead of being more productive in their roles.

Executives take some blame for workplace disconnect

While decision-makers largely believe the employees in question are responsible for their own actions, those at the higher levels are being introspective about who is due criticism. Forty-six percent of U.S. executives said they have not given their employees the tools they need to be as engaged as their in-person counterparts. Nearly half (49%) say those at the C-level are the most responsible for this disconnect, followed by HR (28%) and those at the managerial level (10%).

From an employee perspective, the frequency and bulk of virtual meetings has contributed to a significant portion of those being disengaged. Zoom fatigue is a real factor, as 48% of executives admit the reason why many employees are not being as involved is due to too many meetings. For many workers, superfluous meetings are also a large issue, as some meetings are viewed as being a waste of time and many simply could have been able to be communicated through email.

This in turn is leading to many remote employees falling behind their in-office counterparts, and it is illustrated by the way executives think. Of the decision-makers surveyed, 94% believe that the remote workers are disadvantaged compared to those in-person employees and this has led to fewer opportunities for employees operating virtually.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: Why women are leaving their jobs and how to get them back to work (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Ways to get virtual employees more involved

Three steps suggested in the study included:

  1. Highlighting employees individual accomplishments
  2. Providing direct feedback on performance
  3. Investing in making virtual tools more accessible

Some of the potential fixes for these issues are simple, but require an honest evaluation of what organizations can do better. For example, cutting down on the number of virtual meetings and being communicative via email or through work channels like Slack and Microsoft Teams can mitigate some of the Zoom fatigue seen from remote employees. Of those surveyed, 54% say their company employs official channels such as Slack or Teams, so brief messages can be disseminated via these channels rather than booking yet another meeting.

All companies surveyed said they have taken greater steps to get both in-person and remote workers on the same page since the start of the pandemic, and these steps need to be continuously taken to keep all employees on a level playing field. Half of executives surveyed do say remote workers need to take further steps to remain engaged however, and 50% said they required additional training for remote collaboration.

While executives do deserve some of the blame in keeping employees engaged no matter where they are based, it is imperative that both organizations and workers strive to iron out any issues when it comes to putting all employees on equal footing.

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