Pandemic Workforce Impact: Keeping Employees Involved When Working from Home

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Last Updated: July 22nd, 2022

Guest Post by Kristen Ruttgaizer, VP of People & Culture for Igloo     

When the CDC announced the first U.S. confirmed case of COVID-19 in January 2020, no one expected a pandemic that would change almost everything we knew about how to operate as a society, including how we work day-to-day.

According to a Flex Jobs survey, only 3.4 percent of Americans worked from home at the start of the pandemic, but 42 percent were working from home full-time by the end of the same year.

As the pandemic continued, having some form of remote work available became commonly accepted (if not necessary) and is now considered the norm. Another survey reported that 65 percent of employees would like to work remotely full-time going forward, while about 31 percent are open to a hybrid format.

In short: working from home will continue into the future as companies have adapted to the work model and employees now demand it. 

With this new expectation, employers now face the challenge of making sure their employees are in-the-know and actively involved in the workplace, no matter where they’re located. To guarantee profit growth and productivity for your business over the long term, it’s important to notice whether an employee is engaged or actively involved, as well as apply different technologies and methods to continually foster employee collaboration. 

Common remote work myths

There’s some concern over whether employees do as good a job working from home compared to working in the office. In order to implement effective strategies that will support the remote work environment, you should first remove any misconceptions about this work model from your mind.

Shared below are three common myths about remote work, and why working from home is a viable option that won’t affect your employees’ workflow or the company’s bottom line.  

Myth 1: Remote employees are not as productive

According to research, remote employees instead have the problem of doing too much work. A Buffer report shows that the biggest struggle shared by remote workers is unplugging after work, where they work after hours or check in more often than if working in-office. 

Myth 2: Collaboration and ideation are better done in person

Evidence suggests remote work employees collaborate and brainstorm just as well, if not better than workers who are in-office.

Associate professor of Harvard Business School, Ethan S. Bernstein, conducted a 2019 study that showed how the transition to an open office led to 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions among employees over time. With so many conversations taking place in an open environment, employees started to wear headphones and avoid the potential for constant interaction.

By contrast, virtual meetings tend to require an employee’s full attention and interaction with all participants on the call. 

There’s also further research that showed employees feeling more engaged and included — and less likely to leave their current job — compared to employees who were working in-office. 

Myth 3: Meaningful connections are not possible with remote work

Making connections at work, even a best friend, leads to better job performance, according to a Gallup workplace study. Meeting virtually might give the initial impression that making such connections are impossible. However, when coordinated and well-organized, employees have a chance to interact with a wider network of individuals, including people who live far away.

Remote interactions also help remove the concern of who can attend what event or activity, and give the chance for every face to be seen and voice to be heard in a given conversation, which proves invaluable for employees who are underrepresented or want to build their network and grow their career. 

Engaged or involved? There's a difference 

Now that you know remote work is a pretty good idea, you’ll want to make sure your employees feel included and are playing an active role in the workplace from a distance. Gauging whether an employee is engaged or involved is one way to help determine employee performance and figure out what can be improved. 

At first glance, employee engagement and employee involvement may seem interchangeable, but they're slightly different. 

An engaged employee is a worker who agrees and acknowledges a company’s goals; this employee is motivated to work because there is a sense of purpose behind their assigned tasks. However, an engaged employee is not proactively contributing to help build the business over the long term. For example, an engaged employee is not actively participating in activities that build the company’s culture or contributing to big, upcoming decisions. 

On the other hand, you can think of an involved employee as going one step further than a worker who is only engaged. An involved employee actively participates and helps plan ways for the business to improve by openly sharing their ideas and experience.

This kind of employee doesn’t just come in for the paycheck or agree to follow orders. Instead, an involved employee has a leadership mindset and contributes their voice to decisions that could ultimately impact not only their own career but the entire business as a whole.

An involved employee is more dedicated to the overall success of the organization, which inspires them to place their best foot forward to help achieve business goals and objectives.   

Having employees who are engaged and involved ensures that the business has a variety of perspectives and ideas that can achieve milestones that may have been missed without employee contributions from different levels of hierarchy. 

How to improve involvement with your remote employees 

Low employee engagement or involvement should be addressed when possible since disengaged employees can damage company morale and lead to serious financial burdens. A Gallup study found that a disengaged employee has higher absenteeism and lower profitability, and can cost the organization about 18 percent of their own annual salary.

Thankfully, there are three strategies you can implement within your organization to encourage the involvement of remote employees. 

1. Invest in flexible digital workplace solutions

Low-quality software will only lead to disgruntled employees who will try to dodge the next meeting or activity. As globalization and remote work continue to become the standard practice over time, using digital tools, like intranet software, can guarantee all employees are informed and connected about what’s going on within the organization.

Finding digital solutions that are customizable — and allow employees to interact whenever and wherever they work — will improve productivity and encourage employee collaboration. 

2. Have management lead by example

If you want your employees to be more actively involved, it’s important to make sure the individuals placed in managerial positions are actively engaged and involved themselves in company initiatives. The assigned manager sets the tone for how the rest of the team will work and interact with each other, so he or she should be invested in the growth and cooperation of employees under their guidance.

Having regular check-ins and giving employees the chance to express ideas and concerns is great for management to practice, but making sure they don’t micromanage is just as important. An interest or concern over what your employees are up to while working from home is understandable, but allowing your employees to work independently and take initiative will build trust, which allows employees to feel more confident about participating and sharing ideas that will benefit the organization.

The manager is also a key player in the overall communication within the organization and among employees; those in the management role are in an important, unique position that allows them to coordinate feedback and ideas across employees to determine the best strategy to achieve company objectives.       

3. Celebrate what’s going well for your employees

Giving a shout-out, a reward, or some form of recognition will not only show employees the quality of work to strive for but also lets them know that their job function matters and significantly contributes to the success of the business. As employees are recognized for exemplifying company goals and values, they will consistently practice their behavior and thereby build the brand as they interact with clients and customers.

Overall, you’ll want to treat employees as if they are customers themselves. Like selecting a product or service, employees can be picky about where they work and how long they stay there. If you earn their loyalty and attention, your workers are more likely to stay and become involved with the company over the long term. 

The future of remote work  

It's more important now than ever for employers to embrace remote work and learn how to maintain employee involvement from a distance as working from home becomes a more permanent work model going forward. Being open to new practices, along with a focus on the people who keep the business running, will guarantee profit growth and productivity for your business over the long term.

By implementing the right technology, having management on the same page, and rewarding your employees’ efforts, your workforce will still experience the same work ethic and company culture as a team working in an office environment.

Kristen Ruttgaizer is vice president of people and culture at Igloo Software where she uses over 15 years of experience to shape the variety of employee and leadership programs at Igloo. In her role, Kristen provides expertise in global organizational design by implementing global HR programs and initiatives, as well as providing influential leader and employee coaching to foster a positive employee culture.

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