Are remote workers more satisfied with their situations, or more isolated and discontented? Do they feel more valued — or less? Are they more productive — or not?
With remote working arrangements becoming increasingly common, these are some of the valuable management questions addressed in a new survey, “What Leaders Need To Know About Remote Workers” from TINYpulse, an employee engagement firm. (Full disclosure: I’m quoted in the survey report as a management expert, but I had no influence on the report’s content and have no contractual or financial connection to TINYpulse.)
Regarding logistics, the survey included 509 full-time remote U.S. employees, and compared their responses to benchmarks calculated from “over 200,000 employees across all work arrangements.”
What were the survey’s key findings? Here are four of them.
Remote workers are happier - In the aggregate, according to the survey, on a 1 to 10 scale (in answer to the question, “How happy are you at work?”) remote workers scored 8.10, compared to all workers’ score of 7.42. Not surprisingly, employees score consistently higher when they work remotely because they “enjoy the freedom and flexibility” than when “they are required to work remotely by their job.”
Remote workers feel more valued - This to me was an interesting finding, since remote workers often have problems related to feelings of isolation and lack of daily contact with co-workers. In answer to the question, “How valued do you feel at work?” – remote workers scored 7.75, compared to all workers’ 6.69. While remote employees do rate their “relationships with co-workers” lower than do all workers (7.88 compared to 8.47), this social drawback was outweighed by the multiple benefits remote employees perceived.
Remote workers — overwhelmingly — feel they’re more productive - According to the survey, 91% of remote workers believe they “get more work done when working remotely,” compared to only 9% who feel they don’t. While it’s worth noting this is an employee self-assessment (as opposed to managers’ assessments), the large margin here does seem significant.
Remote workers’ amount of contact with managers is detailed - In answer to the question, “How often do you have contact with your direct supervisor?” – 52% of remote employees responded either “once per day” or “multiple times per day.” At the lower-contact end of the spectrum, 34% reported contact “once per week,” while 10% reported only “once per month,” and 3% reported the alarming frequency (from a management standpoint anyway!) of “never.” Which brings me to my final point: Given the increasing frequency of remote arrangements (37% of workers now at least occasionally use them, the report notes, compared to only 9% in 1995), what are the implications for management?
I believe there are two fundamental ones.
Communication counts more than ever - While management communication always matters greatly, in the absence of direct in-person contact, and the potential for isolation and confusion that implies, it’s critical that remote managers stay in frequent contact to ensure they know what’s being worked on and the progress being made. Very fair bet, I’d say, that the managers who are in contact “once per month” or “never” just aren’t doing their job.
Clarity of employee goals and objectives counts more than ever - Given the distance and potential to not know exactly what employees are working on and how they’re spending their time, it’s incumbent on managers (and remote workers) to know very clearly what the expectations are, and the work that must be delivered. If these expectations are completely clear, and preferably mutually agreed-upon, it will help bring the entire remote working arrangement into clearer focus.
It makes the experience more objective than subjective – as good management should always be.
This article first appeared at Forbes.com.
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Victor is author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World.