Remote work is still important work – here’s how to remind your talent they matter July 9, 2023 by Belinda EganRemote work was once a welcome reprieve for office workers – but things have changed. While remote work is still the preference of most employees – a reported 85% of job seekers saying they prioritize jobs with a remote work option (Robert Half, 2023) – there has been mounting pressure to have employees return to the office. The reasons for asking employees to return to the office range from the reasonable to the downright capitalistic – or at least, that’s what some narratives would have you believe. As a leader in today’s world of work, you’ve likely been exposed to the conversation about how to make remote workers return to the office, and you’ve also probably heard both sides of the issue. Leadership and remote team members both have legitimate reasons for their positions. On one hand, developing and maintaining a healthy workplace culture can be a struggle when workers remain out of the office. Leaders may have a harder time connecting with remote talent when it comes to progress reports, construction feedback, and discussing opportunities for improvement. Team members may experience a lack of social cohesion when they work remotely over a long period of time, missing out on in-person context, body language, and interactions that office workers experience daily. On the other hand, having experienced the flexibility, freedom, and comfort of working from home, it’s understandable why remote workers aren’t jumping at the request to return to shared spaces. In the past, I’ve written extensively about how to cultivate healthy workplace culture in remote, in-person, and hybrid work settings. Today, we’re taking a closer look at some of the struggles remote talent go through when they stay out of the office for long periods of time. I’ll be sharing some practical-use pointers on opening up the conversation around remote work with your team and how you can help them stay engaged and connected with their in-office colleagues and leadership team. Remote workers have increased their “quiet quitting” rate and feel disconnected from workplace culture. A workplace engagement survey by Gallop in 2022 resulted in disheartening statistics for all employers, particularly those who employ remote workers. “Quiet quitting”, a term coined in late 2022 and made a viral concept on TikTok, increased four points over the 2021 average in remote workers. Employees who “quiet quit” don’t necessarily quit their jobs but instead disengage emotionally and do the bare minimum to keep their positions. Quiet quitters are often withdrawn, miss meetings, delay email responses, and don’t engage as much with colleagues and leaders. What this means for you as a leader: Employee disengagement is always a bigger issue than just one team member – it’s contagious. A fallen domino at one end of a chain can result in total collapse if not stopped in its tracks. “Quiet quitting” by anyone on a team makes fellow workers, both remote and in-office, feel less in control and engaged in their own work. What you can do to help: Employees reported on the same Gallop survey that they feel disconnected from their work when they: Don’t have clarity on goals and expectations Don’t feel like a part of the team or that their role matters Don’t feel like they’ll be considered for new opportunities With these things in mind, you can do what you do best as a leader and make it obvious to your remote team members that you care. Schedule quick check-ins to see how they’re feeling. Ask about their vision for the future. Ask about future roles they’d like to be considered for. Ask them what they’re struggling with. Remind your remote team members that they are an integral part of the bigger picture in your organization. This is very important. Remote workers worry more about being laid off, affecting their productivity. According to a recent meta-analysis conducted by Humu of employee engagement surveys of over 80,000 employees, remote workers expressed concern about layoffs 32% more often than in-office workers. As a result of this anxiety, 67% of the respondent remote workers reported a reduction in their productivity. What this means for you as a leader: If you manage a remote team and there have been whispers of restructuring or layoffs, your team members are likely struggling with anxiety and worries about their job security. What you can do to help: Connect with your remote talent and talk about it. Bring up the rumors of layoffs. Be honest about what you know (if you’ve been given the go-ahead to do so), and empathize with any anxiety that’s expressed. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine feeling disconnected from office culture and the “in the group” and hearing that culling might take place. Feel that empathy and use it to gently talk your team members through their worries. Prioritize and schedule these chats. It will be worth it. Your remote team members will feel seen, understood, and respected. There will be times when you, as a leader or on track to be one, feel disenchanted with your role and your organization. Often these times will correspond with your remote talent also pulling away, as they might sense a shark in the water. You should know that this is normal. Organizations of all sizes go through painful transformations throughout their life cycles: multiple restructures, a change in vision and mission, and a big market loss that blindsides shareholders and sends them into a panic. When these things happen, you will feel the heat. During times of pressure, you can either decide you’re not strong enough to rise up and meet the challenge, or you can be brave and show your talented team members what a leader does best during tough times. If you feel called to rise up and be a beacon of strength and resilience to your team, you’re in the right place. I’ve created a coaching tool for use in check-ins with team members, and I’m pleased to offer it free to readers of the Leader’s Edge blog. This coaching tool will align you with your talented team workers on common goals, understandings, and a clear path to success. Access your FREE coaching tool right here.