Apparently, remote workers are more disengaged and more likely to quit. That’s the result of the Work Connectivity Study, citing loneliness and a disconnect to the workplace as the main reasons. The article on HBR highlights the lack of face to face time for remote workers resulting in reduced loyalty and human connection.
The article recommends eliminating the work from home option to allow people to “walk over to my office”. Saving money by promoting remote work is juxtaposed to investing money in well-designed offices that encourage people to spend time in the same physical space. Instead of holding team leads accountable for not engaging with remote workers, let’s blame remote work instead.
Human connection requires humans to connect
In a co-located office, employees can connect seemingly without effort. Put up a coffee machine, maybe a sofa, and people will start to interact with each other. Leave your office door open, and people might pop in to ask questions. Employees will engage with managers to make sure they are being noticed, even if it’s just to compete with their peers for visibility.
In a remote environment, you need to create spaces for human connections. The bare minimum is a weekly video call for the team and weekly or bi-weekly 1:1s for each employee. As a manager, you can design little challenges that require remote workers to talk with each other and collaborate on little projects. Since there is no watercooler or coffee machine, it is your task as a manager to facilitate these connections.
In a co-located work environment, managers have teams to solve tasks/projects. Leading from a distance means using a task/project to develop a team. Paradoxically, leading remotely requires more presence of mind, more attention to detail, and more human connection then sharing joint office space.
Investing in your employees – no matter their location
The problem is not remote work. The problem is a lack of social connection and a persistent sense of loneliness after not having left the house for five consecutive days. Loneliness isn’t created by a lack of an office, but by a lack of consistent communication.
Forcing everyone to come to an office is one way to solve the situation, risking to lose those employees that cannot afford to commute or move.
The alternative is to help remote workers to create meaningful relationships inside and outside of work. It requires managers to accept that their employees have a private life, encouraging non-related social activities. In return, you’ll get new ideas and diversity of worldviews.
It’s not easy, but it is not impossible.
(And my book can help you to create the processes you need. Sign up here to get it.)