Remote Work And The Great Resignation

Human Resource Management System

People quitting their jobs at the highest rates on record continues to wreak havoc on U.S. companies. Some surveys have found that nearly half of employees are looking to leave their current jobs, highlighting the labor crisis that many employers are encountering. Some are calling this “The Great Resignation” but maybe it should be called “The Great Meaning of Success Pivot.” OK, I am getting a little ahead of my blog thought points…sorry!

Drilling down into the causes for this unprecedented labor shortage in the USA, studies are finding the major cause to be the employee’s fundamental reassessment of work and the quest for more fulfilling careers. The Great Resignation is led by a Great Re-evaluation Pivot about the place of work in our lives. People aren’t just quitting their jobs, they’re rethinking what they want out of life. In other words, an employee’s job is the company’s but the employee’s career is the employee’s. As organizational psychologist Adam Grant put it recently in The Wall Street Journal, “For several generations, we’ve organized our lives around our work. Our jobs have determined where we make our homes, when we see our families and what we can squeeze in during our downtime. It might be time to start planning our work around our lives.”

Many companies assume that compensation is the top employee priority, but that is now an “old time” misconception. Money is important. We all need to be able to pay our bills and live a life to which we are accustomed, but it is not the end-all for post-pandemic workers. Someone once said that money can’t buy loyalty…it just rents it for a while. If employers believe that higher wages alone can stop “The Great Resignation”they’re probably in for a disappointment. The solution to this new meaning of success lies in finding out what the workers (those you need most) are searching for and then creating a plan to provide them exactly what they want when they perform well.

For instance, pre-pandemic workplace arrangements in which employees are expected to be in a central office 40 hours a week will NOT likely work in today’s Great Resignation environment. Research by Robert Half International found that 75 percent of employees say a flexible or virtual work arrangement would cause them to choose one job over another. A recent Gallop survey found that 67% of white-collar workers in the US are working remotely at least part of the time as of Q4 2021. Yes, you can be productive and effectively mentor remote work teams. Studies have shown that the long-standing fears about the perils of remote work are false. In fact, a study by Microsoft Office found 81 percent of workers at home to be more productive than at the office and a study by the Center for Advanced HR Studies at Cornell University, found virtual workers to be more satisfied than their in-office co-workers. According to a study done by HR Solutions, 60 percent of virtual workers have a greater intent to stay with their company versus traditional workers, so businesses should prioritize allowing them to continue to work remotely. Whether it was part of your HR plan or not, this suggests remote-first is here to stay. So, virtual employees need to be embraced and accommodated to have their needs met so that they are successful.

Of course, there’s a second reality about which you should be aware. Many employees just prefer to be “in the office.” There’s beauty to a strong in-office culture…the hallway conversations, the chats on the way to lunch, the white-boarding sessions, the after work happy hours and company-centered social lives. This reality of in-person networking also matters to many employees (young and old). Usually each in-office team within a company is structured with its own culture, workflow, clients and P&L, and a remote workforce deserves that same consideration. After all, remote workforces are largely different with efficiencies gained from the speed of digital communication as well as a heightened focus on work as opposed to socializing, easier to track decisions and statuses, and the dissolution of hierarchies making egoless collaboration the norm.

At the end of the day, those two worlds (remote and in-office) are different in a foundational sense. They have different cultures and different workflows driven by different DNA. So despite the impulse to stitch them together in the name of convenience and corporate unity and in order to realize the full potential of each group (remote and in-office), you should actually do the opposite and keep them separate. That means literally treating a remote workforce as its own office. This takes more than intent, it takes buy-in and a variety of logistical adaptations to make sure the “office” is best serving those remote employees. Here are some thoughts for accommodating your varying workforce offices:

  • Treat your remote workforce as its own office…remote work is creating its own culture that may need a different approach to managing employees. So why not treat virtual work “offices” as businesses do with central in-person offices. For instance, remote work offices should be provided with needed equipment just like the central offices.
  • Managers of remote workers need to change the approach to setting and assessing the performance for all work tasks…management needs to focus not on the process, but on the result. In other words, business owners need to return to management by objectives (MBO). Some are now calling this objectives and key results (OKRs). The essence of this concept lies in managers and ordinary employees jointly determining the goals of their work, choosing the direction of action and making decisions. An important part of MBO is measuring and comparing the current performance of employees against each other and a set of established standards. First formulated in 1954 in the book “The Practice of Management” by Peter Drucker, the concept of management by objectives implies that when employees are involved in the process of setting goals and determining the direction of actions necessary to achieve them, they become more motivated to perform their responsibilities. As a reminder, maintaining high motivation is one of the main problems that arises from remote work.
  • Organization will be key for teams working remotely. Itʼs a good idea to set up a  cloud-based project management tool so that everyone can access the files and information they need at any time. These tools also offer ways to organize  projects between different department locations and set deadline reminders. A few of  the most popular project management tools for remote teams include Trello and Basecamp. For document and file sharing and management, Google Drive,  DropBox and Box are popular options.
  • Networking solutions need to be developed for remote workers. An employee’s network is often tied to a fixed entity: the company; the job ; or their chosen profession. As the millions who have quit recently realized, their entire network was tied into the organization they just left. Employees actually need two networks: An inner network and an outer network. The inner network is composed of those who understand their profession and their work. The outer network is composed of those who are not part of the company who care about the worker, but are in completely different lanes. So, encourage building networking for remote workers that utilizes the tools they use most.
  • Managers need to develop new performance appraisal procedures to eliminate location proximity bias. Proximity bias is the tendency for employees in close physical proximity to their colleagues and leaders to be perceived as better workers than those working remotely. This clearly plays a role at performance review time…even though the results were on full display, from an in-office manager’s point of view, the work that went into achieving them was not. In-office managers only saw the outcome and not the effort. This is true for employees work remotely or even following a hybrid schedule and might influence a manager’s perception of the worker’s relative performance and promotability. It may influence the opportunities that a manager gives them to demonstrate their skills, which further impacts their prospects. The result? A proximity bias ripple effect that rewards presence over outcomes. What you see is certainly important, but what you get matters most. Make sure you reward and promote the people who generate results.
  • Here’s the benefit that more than two-thirds of workers want and yet only 17% of employers are offering, according to a recent study from employment recruiter Robert Half who surveyed 1,500 workers and 600 HR managers across the country to see which benefits, perks and incentives employees want most and where employers miss the mark. Overwhelmingly, employees surveyed asked for perks that helped them control their time such as flexible schedules, compressed workweeks and telecommuting options that have shown to also increase productivity, effectiveness and morale. Management needs to start critically thinking how to achieve this. For instance:
    • To compete with the hiring offerings of large companies, small businesses might offer a four-day workweek…small businesses simply have more flexibility than larger companies. Small businesses can tailor their four-day workweek program to whatever they want it to be. Those “four days” could be four 10-hour days or four eight-hour days, as long as employees meet their agreed-upon deliverables, rather than just logging in time. It can be implemented during certain less-busy times of the year. Small businesses can make the program available in lieu of a work from home arrangement – or to complement it. Within reason, small businesses can offer it to some employees but not to others, based on their job requirements. If it’s not working out for certain people you can change the rules.
    • Responding to your employees needs brings the opportunity for a win-win because in the end, if the business is getting the work they need out of their employees then what should manager care whether the employees do it in four days or two days? This is just compensation for a job performed. I believe smaller companies have much more flexibility in how they can these perks compared with their larger competitors. Don’t forget: being the first small business in your town to offer a four-day workweek is going to generate quite a lot of positive PR too.

Some of these perks and thoughts about remote work, flexible schedules, compressed workweeks and telecommuting options are trending. Many are attractive, no-cost benefits to offer (if done correctly). They are a great recruiting tool for a small business. And they are a great way to retain your best workers in these times of tight labor supply. So the key to employee retention and hiring is to be sensitive to the varying needs of your varied workforce. Beyond that, talent retention is not a great mystery. Read another blog about why employees really quit.

For more thoughts on human resource management, view the free video entitled Human Resource Management.

Copyright ©John Trenary 2022

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