The coronavirus pandemic has upended the workplace, with employees being asked to transition from the physical office to remote work. About half of organizations recently surveyed by Gartner said that at least 81% of their workforce is working from home during COVID-19. According to this April 2 report, 15% of the 229 HR leaders surveyed said that 61% to 80% of employees were working remotely.
But employees may be working from home long after the current crisis has subsided, according to Gartner.
“Almost anyone who has the potential to work remote is working remote,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner HR practice. “Before COVID-19, you still had 70% of the people coming into an office on a daily basis. Based on what we’re seeing now, we went from about 30% to 41% of employees who will work remotely at least some of the time.”
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Remote work presents several benefits to companies in this era, especially, by cutting the need for employee travel, eliminating physical office spaces, and making the commute obsolete. But it also presents new obstacles. Interviewing via video conference can be tougher, motivating the workforce without the normal social interactions can present a challenge, and onboarding has to be completely revamped. It can also mean that costs increase, as employees are submitting new expenses for the equipment for their home offices. Also, employee turnover can be higher—according to the 1Q20 Gartner survey, “48% of fully remote employees exhibit high discretionary effort, versus 35% of employees who never work remotely.”
Either way, it’s likely to become a permanent trend, with many managers now learning to do it for the first time.
But Kropp emphasized that it’s not just the short-term benefits and obstacles that should be considered when companies are trying to successfully transition to remote work—it’s about the long-term consequences. Namely: Can managers keep employees happy and productive?
Here are four ways to manage the new remote workforce, according to Gartner:
- Foster independence
Managers can no longer look over the shoulders of employees in the new age of remote work. And this is a good thing: Two-fifths of remote workers want more self-directed work, according to Gartner. This means that managers should give employees more leeway and encourage them to reach milestones through a focus on the product—rather than the process.
2. Encourage connection
Employees no longer have the break room, but they still need social connection. In the Gartner ReimagineHR Employee Survey, taken in 4Q19, 41% of employees reported missing the connection to colleagues, and more than a quarter, 26%, said they felt “isolated” doing this work. It’s vital, therefore, for managers to foster a sense of community and wellbeing among the workforce, according to Gartner.
“It’s easier and more productive to work with people you know well than people you don’t know well,” Kropp emphasized.
3. Look ahead
The aforementioned lack of physical contact has another effect: Managers may feel more detached. Corrective feedback, focusing on the employee mistakes, is much more frequent, as a result.
“Managers of remote employees are less likely to give them positive, encouraging feedback, and more likely to give them negative feedback,” Kropp said.
“They’re more likely to say ‘you did that wrong,’ than to say ‘good job at doing that,'” he said. It’s an important shift, and it’s important that managers make sure they keep a positive and upbeat management style.
4. Teach teamwork
Remote workers are far more likely to find themselves working on teams—3.5 times more likely, to be exact, according to Gartner data. In this new environment, “managers must make sure employees have the right technology investments, the coaching support, and so on, to make collaboration happen more effectively,” Kropp said.
The bottom line? Focusing on the employee experience is critical, Kropp said. Organizations “need to consider how they are managing their workforce,” he said in a press release, if they want to be successful in the future.