Despite the advantages remote workers bring to an organization, several big-name organizations have been in the news for bringing employees back into the office. One of the most recent, IBM, told thousands of its workers last year that they had to come back from working at home — or leave the company.
This is a mistake, and not just because companies can lose out on productivity and engagement — they’ll miss out on the leaders of tomorrow as well, says Bryan Miles, CEO of Belay, a fully remote virtual staffing company. “There’s a deficit in 40-somethings that companies need to hire for the next wave of leadership, and they don’t want to be in the office 40 hours a week,” he says. “There are enough remote jobs at that tier that they will find them. If that’s a hard stop for your company, you’re going to have struggles.”
Here’s what your company needs to know about remote work.
Companies Are at a Crossroads
Miles says there’s a growing rift between what hiring managers hear from front-line employees and what high-level leaders want for their organizations. “Midlevel and executives and business owners will say ‘it’s my way or the highway,’ but if they take that approach to remote work they’ll find themselves without good workers,” he says. “That’s clearly being communicated to hiring managers, but I’m not sure the message is resonating with executives.”
In the past, if employees brought up remote work there was often pushback from employers that didn’t want to let go of control, Miles says. “Employers think they’re losing something when they can’t see employees,” he says. But with advances in web-based technology and high-speed internet access, employees are actually able to provide better work more efficiently.
Remote work is no longer a fad, Miles says. It’s what employees expect and managers have learned to provide. “There’s going to be a leadership deficit for organizations that fold their arms against workplace flexibility,” he says. “Hiring managers tell me they can’t attract certain levels of talent no matter how much money they offer them, because those workers are used to working off their back deck at home. There’s a tsunami coming, especially to larger employers, when it comes to remote work.”
Building Engagement Through Remote Work
The advantages of remote work are well known — higher productivity and better employee satisfaction. A report by TinyPulse says remote workers are happier, while Gallup finds that employees who spend 60 to 80 percent of their time working remotely report getting through more tasks in a workday. But there’s more to it than that, Miles says. Telling employees that they can work from home is telling them that you trust them. “When trust goes up in any relationship, including employee and employer, you generally have higher engagement,” he says. That means employees will be more connected to the mission of your organization and the work they do, and will have a stake in providing a better result.
In addition, remote employees tend to be loyal, Miles says. Trust builds loyalty, and that’s a powerful currency. By giving employees a chance to work remotely, you’re giving them the opportunity to balance their life in a way that works for them. They shed long commutes and travel costs. “Think of the freedom it gives back,” he says. “That all comes back to the organization.”
Making the Change
Offering remote options isn’t a switch you can flip on your business, Miles says. If you’re thinking of migrating some or all of your workforce to remote work, you need to prepare to get it right. Miles suggests starting with a survey to determine which employees would value a remote-work option, and why. Then identify the kinds of technology and resources everyone would need to be effective in working remotely. Miles even suggests establishing a remote-like environment for employees to practice in, such as a co-working location that sounds like a coffee shop.
Through it all, companies need to communicate with employees about the change: “ ‘This is the direction we’re headed, we trust you and want to give this to you because it’s a growing need as well as a powerful growth strategy for our business,’ ” Miles says. “It’s a great opportunity for employers and employees.”