You get out of bed at 7:40 AM, maybe change out of your flannel jammies, put on some slippers and stumble downstairs to the kitchen. After firing up a pot of coffee, you flip through social media while your laptop boots up. You’re a remote worker, and this is your life - alone in the kitchen, for the remaining seven hours and 50 minutes of the work day.
Sound familiar? For millions of remote workers in the United States I’m sure it does. Gallup says that 43% of U.S. workers work remotely in some capacity. It’s the new reality for business, whether we like it or not. Most studies suggest that some amount of remote work makes us happier employees, more productive, and improves our relationship with our employer. But, it isn’t without challenges.
Shifting Employee Expectations
The Gallup study shows that “Fully remote workers are 29% less likely to strongly agree that they have reviewed their greatest successes with their manager in the past six months. Also, compared with employees who spend at least some time in the office, fully remote workers are 30% less likely to strongly agree that they have talked with their manager about steps to reach their goals in the past six months.”
Some companies, like IBM and Best Buy, have called their employees back to the office due to these challenges. However, the trend toward the gig economy and remote workers has really just begun. Most companies, especially those in technology and professional services, include some flexibility in work location. And as companies compete for talent, the ability to work remotely is an attractive item many employees are looking for today, especially younger candidates. In fact, 80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part time. This study reported “Two to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot that allows for a balance of concentrative work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office).”
Jacob Morgan, author of “The Employee Experience Advantage” has developed a model for the Employee Experience Equation. I found his equation very interesting: “Culture + technology + physical workspace = Employee Experience.” Physical space is a key component of building a strong employee experience and fostering employee engagement. Most of us know intuitively that the environment in which we work has an impact on our mood, happiness and productivity. Great workspaces support the culture, and create opportunities for shared space and interaction. But what about remote employees?
Remote employees need a way to connect with their co-workers as if they were bumping into them in the hallway. Many studies support the need for this informal connection between employees to foster culture. The benefits of it are clear. “Questionnaire studies...suggest that physical proximity supports frequent opportunistic conversations which are vital to the planning and definitional phases of projects. Other questionnaire studies support the effects of proximity and hence informal communications on social and cultural knowledge: Researchers are more likely to be familiar with, and to respect the work of colleagues who sit close to them.” (HPL, Informal Workplace Communication: What is it Like and how Might We Support It?).
Supporting a Remote Workforce
In Structural’s 2017 Employee Success Survey we asked 150 organizations about how well they communicate, and what technologies (if any) they use to do so. When asked: “How well does your organization communicate?” the average rating was 3.0 on a 5-point scale, with most respondents rating themselves average at best at communicating with our organizations. Poor communication has the biggest impact on remote employees.
Remote employees also find it more difficult to ‘promote’ themselves inside of their organization, and have their talents recognized. In our survey we asked: “What approaches / tools are used to expose employees skills and connect them to opportunities and teams where skills can be used best?” The answers showed that most organizations have a long way to go to improve their ability to locate employee skills and talents. 94% of organizations surveyed rely on word of mouth to find employee skills. Just 23% report using an internal resume database.
Today we’re at a unique time in history with Human Capital Management technology. The folks at PeopleStrategy have a great model to explain how Human Resources and HCM technologies have evolved over the past several years from “First-generation – designed with the HR administrator in mind, and used by 1% of company, to Second-generation – with more focus on engaging employees, but limited to specific areas (e.g. talent management). And now Third-generation – Holistic HR systems designed to be used by 99% of the organization.”
Few Third-generation technologies really exist yet. However, I believe that these technologies will tap into three new technologies that have only recently become available at the same time: APIs, big data, and the mobile phone. The coexistence of these create a new reality for HCM and employee engagement technologies, one that allows companies to aggregate all of their employee data from multiple systems and make it useful to all employees (especially those working remotely) right on their mobile devices. For employers and remote workers, this could help bridge the physical distance barrier and create those critical communication and promotion opportunities they would have otherwise missed.