We’ve all seen the ads - people working from the beach in Mexico or some other exotic location. It certainly looks a lot more inviting than any cubicle we may have been assigned to in the past. That’s great for those who can work totally remotely. It’s a great concept for attracting talent that doesn’t live anywhere near your office or working physical spaces. Suddenly we have access to talent in a different way.
Forty years ago, no one would have guessed that working remotely in a different geographic location would be possible. We couldn’t have imagined virtual meetings or collaborating on platforms like Slack or Teams. Leadership would also have not believed that employees would have any say in how work gets done. For most employees, remote working is not about logging in from Bali. The bigger benefit for employees is having the flexibility to successfully manage a career and a complicated home life.
Many organizations are challenged with viewing a remote employee the same way as those that show up at the office. It makes sense that if we physically walk by someone, say hello, share a story while getting a cup of coffee outside of scheduled meetings, we view them in a different way; it can be another form of bias. That employee’s value may not be based on the work that person does on a daily basis, but also what they contribute to the team and the company. It’s based purely on seeing them more regularly in-person.
If your remote employee is producing in the way you need them to, how are your managers and leaders recognizing their work? Are they all treating the entire team, regardless of where they are working, in the same way? Companies have technologies in place to be able to evaluate an employee’s productivity more fairly, even if they work from home. Are your managers effectively measuring productivity or is there room for training? No remote employee wants to feel like their work goes unnoticed, especially if they are putting in the time and actively contributing. All employees need to feel seen and heard, even if they are fully remote.
Some more seasoned managers and team leaders may feel uncomfortable talking about how they view remote workers. Many of them worked most of their career in a physical space. It makes sense that they would feel uncomfortable with team members working remotely, even after the past two years. However, not discussing this issue only hurts the organization. If your company has a blended working environment, it’s important that all team leaders at all levels are treating employees fairly. If there is an unconscious bias about people working from home, there should be opportunities to have an open conversation about this issue. We are all products of our experiences. Decades of doing something one way can get in the way of a new approach if bias isn’t addressed. If you are seeing more turnover in a specific location or department, that is a red flag. It can be an opportunity to help a manager succeed with their team and reduce turnover costs. Technology can help us challenge our own thinking around who is getting what done, particularly in a working environment. We can reward actual work versus hours in a space.
For employees, having more autonomy over their work schedule can also have a very positive impact on mental and physical health. When employees have more flexibility, it can potentially help them schedule in better ways to support their own health and wellbeing. The data clearly shows they want that. We all know that back-to-back meetings for hours on end are not good for us. Allowing employees to pick “no meeting” times to block off on their calendars sends a clear message that the company cares about their health and wellbeing. Some companies provide one or two health days or half days a year. This is paid time that they can use for needed annual checkups. It encourages employees to take the time to take care of themselves.
For employees with team members in different time zones, giving the team more opportunity to pick times to meet can also be very helpful. You can’t always avoid conflicts, but an open discussion about the best days/times for calls and the ability for the team to make their own compromises to get the work done allows them to have a voice. If a team member has a special occasion or challenge - maybe a wedding of a close friend, getting to see a grandparent that is end of life, a pet dying, a child that is ill, taking a loved one to their first chemo treatment - having that time and knowing leadership supports their personal life is something that any employee values. Remote workers or those working part-time from home or another location need to be treated in the same way. It’s also an opportunity for their manager to share benefits and resources the company provides to support whatever they may be going through, including your EAP, dependent care benefit, financial counseling, education about your FMLA policies, and how to use them.
Whether you see your employee in-person every day or only see them virtually, it’s important to remember that they all start out wanting to succeed. They all start out wanting to contribute and be able to contribute. When managers and leaders are seen by employees as treating everyone fairly, no matter where they are working, it benefits the company. More employees want the flexibility to contribute to their company and meet both personal and professional goals. It’s not always about revamping employee benefits. Sometimes it’s about clearer messaging and making sure there is consistent, fair treatment by leadership at all levels.
Employees want to be treated fairly. If an employee feels they are being marginalized, ignored, or outright unfairly treated, it can destabilize a team and have a negative impact on the organization. Understanding what your workforce wants, balanced with the bottom-line goals, can mean giving your organization the ability to attract and retain the talent you need to be successful. Great employees can work in-person, remotely, or on a hybrid schedule. We’ve already seen that during the pandemic. When you give employees ways to have some control over their work schedule and their working environment, it’s not just the employee that benefits, it’s also the company.