Many Americans favor the flexibility that comes with working from home, a sentiment captured in recent surveys showing that more than two-thirds prefer remote work options, and nearly a third would willingly accept a lower salary to maintain this work style.
While introducing remote work or hybrid models can meet employee desires for greater autonomy, it raises concerns of potential disconnect, reduced team synergy and decreased retention rates. Employers are faced with the challenge of evolving a work environment that respects individual preferences and maintains the integrity and collaborative spirit of a cohesive workforce. Finding a balance is critical.
In a recent Keynote webcast, “Work from Wherever,” Nick Fabrizio, a distinguished senior lecturer at Cornell’s Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, shared his views on the return-to-office debate and key perspectives of both employees and employers.
What are the main causes for dissatisfaction among remote employees?
Fabrizio: “In a new Gallup survey, it’s stated that only 28% of workers feel connected with the organization and that is at an all-time low. Last year it was 32%. You would think that with a variety of different work arrangements, people would be really satisfied. But in terms of being connected with the organization, it’s not there. And that should be alarming to organizations.
People complain that they don’t really know what’s going on in the company. They know what’s going on with their projects and their responsibilities, but they often feel they are losing connection to the whole organization.”
Why do companies want employees back in the office?
Fabrizio: “There are a few things that are complicating this. One is the feeling of disconnectedness at work, one is retention and another one is losing bright young workers because there is no process for them to be evaluated, connected and advanced in the organization. Organizations feel like they can’t create those opportunities being disconnected.
A lot of these organizations now are paying a lot of money in real estate for empty offices. That can’t continue. Some industries are going to force people back because of that. While others are going to force workers back because they are working on recruitment and retention, and others will force people back because they have a hybrid arrangement strategy.”
How can remote leadership be practiced in virtual work environments?
Fabrizio: “As an organization, what you want to create is touchpoints. Managers must deliberately try to create connections so that remote workers can make connections with other people in the organization.
There are five or six different modes for us to communicate, and some workers are saying they feel overwhelmed by that. Organizations should pick one method and do that. It’s very hard even for the worker then to realize and look at a Teams meeting at 3 p.m., [a client Zoom meeting] at 2 p.m., something else happening at 4 p.m., so they start to feel disconnected because there’s so many different mediums to keep track of.”
How can employers encourage productivity among remote employees?
Fabrizio: “Certainly not more forced interactions, but I think it’s the employee’s responsibility to be deliberate about keeping track of what they’ve accomplished. Sort of your value to the organization. It’s like a personal self-inventory of what you have accomplished, what you feel like you mean to the organization, how the organization is a benefit to you.”
Which work arrangement will become the new standard in the future?
Fabrizio: “I’m very effective working at home. Now, [I’m] hybrid, so I have that client-facing part of my work, but when I come back to the home office, I’m very productive.”
I think we’re going to quickly go to a hybrid scenario where better-performing organizations will have to define what their work arrangements are for different business units within the organization. I think organizations will have to do a better job of defining within the same organization what roles [will] be five days a week in office, two or three days in office and what roles are going to be completely remote.”
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This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Experience the full Keynote “Work from Wherever” online.
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