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Throughout human history, black swan events have shuffled economic, organizational, political, and social structures. The COVID-19 pandemic was one such recent black swan event that provoked a fundamental shift in the way the world lives and works.
After initial hesitancy and anxiety, the world quickly embraced the changed realities imposed by the pandemic. Organizations, with remarkable agility, transformed their work processes to ensure business continuity even though they were compelled to shut down their offices and plants.
Businesses, en masse, sent their workforces home. They admirably scrambled to deploy technology solutions to equip their personnel to work remotely - from home or any place of their choice. Organizations assumed swift digitalization of their internal operations, readied the processes for remote work, and put in place the tech tools to enable employees to work productively from remote locations.
Many organizations that shifted to remote work, initially, viewed it as a temporary compulsion. However, over time, they recognized that it was set to be a long-term reality. Remote work is already no longer considered a perk. It is the norm. According to one estimate, by 2025, it is expected that 70 percent of the global workforce will be remote, and by 2027 the number of remote workers will exceed the workers on-site.
Organizations have adapted their workplace practices to leverage potential productivity gains from remote work. They have found that contrary to their fears, remote work, rather than negatively impacting productivity has, in fact, helped improve productivity.
Employee Engagement and Remote Work
Apprehensions about remote work arise in organizations, due to their failure to effectively manage employees and keep them engaged even when they are working on-site. Instead of being focused on business goals and employee experience, firms manage work by creating layer upon layer of management control.
Traditional approaches to employee engagement will not suffice to satisfy the expectations of remote employees about their workplace experience. Employee engagement strategies need to be adaptive to the evolving workplace environment and should place employees at the center - to create a personalized workplace experience. This will spur enhanced employee engagement and enable firms to drive sustained value creation.
An HBR study found that a majority (81%) of business leaders felt that superior business outcomes were achieved only when their workforce is engaged. Engaged employees deliver better work and are more productive.
At the best of times, fostering employee engagement is an uphill task. Remote work has made it all the more challenging. Remote work has led to the line between work and life getting blurred. This has accentuated the importance of employee experience and its impact on employee engagement.
There is now a greater onus on the organization’s leadership and HR teams to better understand employee engagement. The isolation, and the lack of human interactions in remote work, negatively affect team morale. The psychological impacts of remote work caused by extended virtual interactions (Zoom fatigue) need to be mitigated to maintain suitably high levels of employee engagement.
The Salience of Employee Engagement In Remote Work
Employees, especially those working in the knowledge-intensive and creative industries, expect to continue working remotely/from home. Although the traditional ways of working are likely to persist for some more time, remote work is also here to stay.
A McKinsey survey found that a mere 37% of the 5000 persons who participated in the survey expressed a desire to go back to the traditional, on-site mode of work. In fact, 30% of those surveyed declared that they would leave their organizations if their employers insisted that they be physically present in the office.
It is now, therefore, imperative for employers, to ensure Engagement Activities For Remote Teams to impact workforce productivity. Organizations that fail to pay attention to Remote Employee Engagement Activities, are certain to witness plummeting levels of employee morale and increased employee turnover. Employee-centric workplace policies are key to enhancing Engagement Activities For Remote Teams.
Some simple strategies that can help firms increase engagement among their employees and help them work productively in a remote working environment include:
- Employee Empowerment. To begin with, organizations must identify the requirements that will enable each remote employee to work at peak levels of productivity. Then, the employees need to be so equipped that they are able to work as if they are working on-site. Supporting and empowering employees keeps them engaged and enables them to deliver to their full potential.
- Light-touch Supervision. When remote work began, workplaces implemented strict security arrangements and controlled access rights. Now that remote work has grown to be a widely accepted workplace arrangement, the restrictive arrangements need to be discarded. Security arrangements need to be rationalized to levels essential for maintaining data security. Excessive control and restrictions at the workplace negatively impact employee engagement and productivity.
- Workplace best practices. Employees’ adherence to workplace best practices is essential for remote work to succeed. Remote employees need to be trained on workplace best practices for them to maximize collaboration and enhance productivity.
- Introduce some fun. Isolation and the absence of human interactions are inherent in remote work. This negatively impacts team morale and engagement. The negative psychological impact of remote work due to extended virtual interactions leading to effects such as Zoom fatigue needs to be acknowledged and guarded against. Breaking the monotony of remote work through periodically engaging in some fun games and team-building activities enhances engagement and softens the negative psychological impacts of remote work on employees.
- Leverage Technology. Remote work rules out the possibility of physical interactions. This makes it necessary for organizations to find novel and innovative ways to maintain connections with remote employees through video calls, group chats, newsletters, etc. Leverage tech tools to enable employees to stay connected, collaborate, and remain productive. Available tech tools allow remote teams to stay connected and increase team cohesion. Several social VR technologies are now available to help employees have informal conversations. The feeling of connectedness helps remote employees experience a sense of belongingness towards the organization despite the physical separation.
However, accurately measuring the impact of employee engagement initiatives is difficult. The best approach to measure the impact of improved employee engagement on organizational performance is by using outcomes-based metrics. The commonly-used metrics to measure the impact of enhanced employee engagement include - improvement in individual performance, reduction in employee turnover, improved productivity, higher profits, etc.
Employee Engagement - Impact on Retention and Productivity
According to an SHRM report, in the aftermath of the pandemic, during the period dubbed the ‘Great Resignation,’ an estimated 4.5 million people quit their jobs in the US alone. The great resignation drove home the point that retaining employees requires firms to implement strategies that enhance employee engagement and foster an enabling work culture. Employees value things beyond high salaries and attractive benefits. They value learning opportunities, avenues for professional advancement, flexible work arrangements, and autonomy at work.
There is fierce competition for top talent. When employee engagement is low, it leads to high employee turnover. At the same time, when employees feel engaged in their work and their organization, they will work hard and even exceed expectations to enable the organization to achieve its business goals. A Deloitte survey found that improving employee engagement by 15 percent can push profit margins up by 2 percent.
Remote working has special significance for the tech industry. In fact, tech talent expects to be provided with more than just remote work. They expect flexible work arrangements that allow them better work-life balance. According to a survey published recently, 92 percent of tech firms felt that their employees value flexible working arrangements - the freedom to choose their working hours, hours of work, work location, etc. and that these factors significantly impact employees’ engagement levels and loyalty.
According to a report in the business news daily, remote work increases organizational productivity. The study that forms the basis for the report, found that 40 percent of employees working remotely/from home, worked longer hours than when in the office and still enjoyed superior work-life balance. They also experience lesser stress than when in the office and save time on the commute - all contributing to enhanced engagement and increased productivity.
As workplaces become more accepting of remote work, the choice of the right strategies to address employee engagement can be expected to have a transformative impact on value creation and business success. Organizations will need to be open to flexible working arrangements, adopt innovative performance management models, provide greater employee autonomy, and periodically engage in some fun team-building activities to create a stimulating workplace experience.
Employees are engaged when they are doing work that is fulfilling and are led by individuals who are quality leaders. Leaders play a pivotal role in fostering and sustaining employee engagement. Leaders create the vision, communicate the vision to the team, and then drive the organization such that the workplace culture evokes a strong sense of engagement in the organization and imbues employees with the energizing spirit, energy, and a sense of purpose to go the extra mile to further the organization’s goals.