Is the Remote Workforce On the Rise?

Remote work is in demand, but managing remote workers and telecommuters is a whole new ballgame. Recent research has revealed the best combination of remote work and in-office work for productivity– here’s the sweet spot.

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America is having a love affair with remote work, and according to Gallup’s State of the American Workforce, remote work is slated to continue in boisterous growth. Throughout 2015 and 2016, over 31 million people responded to the Gallup Q Client Database. The results? Both businesses and employees are loving remote work.

Unsurprisingly, technology is at the heart of the growing remote workforce. However, the changes (including the technology) that organizations are facing are ever-evolving, making it exciting, yet sometimes challenging for offices to keep up. This is particularly true in the context of management.

What is the size of the remote workforce?

According to the survey, more people than ever are working remotely and virtually. They tend to work throughout the day instead of the traditional eight to five. Within organizations, teams are meeting face-to-face less and are largely communicating via email, conference calls, and instant messaging.

Gallup reports that between 2012 and 2016, the remote workforce increased by four percentage points– 39 percent to 43 percent. There was also an increase in partial remote work; from 2013 to 2016, those who reported working remotely 80-100 percent of the time increased by 7 percent.

Are remote workers less engaged?

Some workers prefer to work from an office, which previously had been thought to improve engagement, collaboration, and productivity. However, Gallup found that remote workers are actually more engaged.

Optimal employee engagement occurs when employees work remotely 60 – 80 percent of the workweek, the remainder of the time being spent in the office. In other words, remote work has the highest ROI when employees still have a little balance and get some face time with colleagues and managers. Regardless of how an employee may set up the remote work structure, the study indicates that any amount of remote work leads to better engagement.

The Balance between Remote and In-Office Work

Of remote workers who have found that sweet spot of remote work and in-office work, 31 percent think they make more progress than their counterparts who work in the office full time. Even so, managers worry that remote workers who never come into the office might miss out on necessary connections. In the past four years, the number of people who work remotely 100 percent of the time jumped from 15 to 20 percent.

Interestingly, the faction of workers who never come to the office reports being some of the least engaged. The other group that reports such low engagement? Those who never work remotely. The most engaged group is comprised of those who work remotely 80-100 percent of the time, indicating that a balance between both working styles is best for productivity.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Working remotely has increased in most industries, but companies in insurance, real estate, and finance saw the biggest increase. Businesses who offer flexible work arrangements should keep that “80-90 percent” sweet spot in mind. This analysis also suggests that the key to managing these types of workers is intentionality.

Managers should embrace deliberate communication with remote employees. This doesn’t equate to check-ins every half hour, but consistent connections in whatever way works for both people is critical. It establishes accountability and trust without disrupting independence.

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