How Business Leaders Can Engage a Remote Workforce

Joel Landau
Dialogue & Discourse

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“Remote” has become a very important word during the pandemic. Telemedicine platforms are also far more widely used for remote care than was the case before COVID-19, and that usage is expected to continue once the pandemic subsides. But by far the most common usage of the word “remote” is as it pertains to the workforce in various professions.

Remote work has become commonplace, and figures to remain so in the years to come. This will in turn present various challenges to leaders, not the least of which is how they might go about maintaining team engagement in such a setting.

The website GlobeSt.com reports that when the pandemic was at its peak, roughly 35 percent of U.S. workers, most of them in the finance, management, professional services, IT and telecommunications sectors, worked from home. That is striking from two perspectives. First, only 11.9 percent worked remotely before the pandemic, and second, it is estimated that no more than 37 percent of American jobs can be done remotely (and perhaps as few as 22 percent).

Moreover, research by Ladders.com indicates that one in four North American jobs will continue remotely through the end of 2022, and that that number will only increase moving forward. Ragu Bhargava, CEO at Global Upside, a global expansion technology and services company, told Forbes in February 2022 that “the world of work will never truly return to the way it was before,” despite the expectations of many employers. He added that the pandemic has served as “a massive wake-up call,” as it revealed the extent to which jobs could be performed remotely, as well as how much more schedule flexibility workers would prefer.

The latter is particularly true of those employees from Generation Z — i.e., anyone born after 1997 — who comprise nearly a quarter of the workforce. Their presence is at least one reason for the Great Resignation, which saw an average of 3.95 million American workers leave their jobs each month in 2021, an all-time high. Monster.com noted that at one point in mid-year 95 percent of workers were mulling a job change, and 92 percent were considering another line of work entirely.

Curtailing that exodus is just one potential benefit to those employers who allow their workers flexibility, including the remote-work option. Companies also save on overhead (while workers stand to save as much as $5,000 a year working from home), and studies show that most employees are of the opinion that they are more productive doing their jobs outside an office setting. One survey concluded that 77 percent believe that is the case, while another revealed that 94 percent asserted it to be true.

Those calculations would, however, appear to be at odds with a Gallup study that put U.S. employee engagement at 36 percent in 2021, the same as the year before. That brings us back to the question of what business leaders can do to engage their teams, especially if, as expected, they continue to work remotely.

Clearly technology plays a role, as has been shown by the rise of Zoom during the pandemic. That, as well as such platforms as Skype, Slack, Google Meets and FaceTime, serve as vital links among teams. But leadership consultant Carol Kinsey Goman, writing for Forbes in October 2021, cautioned that things can be lost in translation:

The risk for all leaders is to overlook the importance of basic communication skills, such as showing empathy, ensuring inclusion, active listening, telling stories, asking open questions, co-creating guidelines for team interaction, breaking into small discussions groups, and all the other attention-enhancing strategies that can get overlooked when staring at a computer screen.

She advises keeping such meetings short, as there is little doubt we have all reached the point of Zoom overload. Additionally, she made it clear that small things loom large — that it is vital to project warmth and understand that large, sweeping gestures (the kind that may play well in an in-person setting) mean little in a virtual meeting. Finally, she wrote that it is important to drive home the point of any presentation at the end.

Certainly there are other means to keep your remote team engaged. Frequent one-on-one check-ins, whether for work reasons or otherwise, are advisable as well as informal gatherings.

Overall, leaders need to go the extra mile to cover the gap between them and their team members. There is much to be gained by doing so, and everything to lose by relying on old methods that do not translate to the world today.

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Joel Landau
Dialogue & Discourse

Joel Landau (http://joellandau.com) is an experienced healthcare professional in the NYC community.