Want happier, more productive employees? Seriously consider the impact of remote work

Father working from home in backyard with daughter 720x440

5 mins, 37 secs read time

The 2020 pandemic ushered in a new era of work—remote work. Hundreds of organizations transitioned to a work-from-home model. And millions more employees adjusted to a new way of working.

Our LinkedIn live with EVERFI’s SVP of workplace culture, Elizabeth Bille, explored:

  • The impact of remote work

  • Executive sentiment around flexible work arrangements

  • How remote work can promote and hinder DE&I

Why are employees unwilling to return to the office?

Post-pandemic, many organizations mandated return-to-office policies. But is that what's best for you and your workers? Employees say no.

Greenhouse surveyed 1,200 US-based employees to understand what matters in the workplace. Seventy-six percent. That’s the percentage of people who’d search for a new job if their company got rid of flexible work options.

Elizabeth explained the driving factor behind this: the impact of remote work is powerful – it's much better for employees. Countless studies back this up:

  • According to a recent Owl Labs survey, employees feel they are more focused when they work from home. They can think more creatively, and almost 60% are more productive.

  • Remote workers have fewer distractions at home, which enables their best work.

Many employees feel they can’t perform best when working in the office five days a week. They want to work where they can thrive, which is often remote.

What’s one of the biggest misconceptions about remote work?

If you’re like many execs, you worry you can’t confirm your employees are working if they’re not in the office. But physical proximity isn’t a reliable measure of productivity. Workers could be on their phones or scrolling social media instead of working.

According to Elizabeth, countless studies have “looked at [employee] productivity levels and they show employees are more productive, have higher productivity rates and are more efficient in their work tasks when they work remotely.” They also work more than their in-office counterparts.

How are return-to-office mandates impacting your business?

Have return-to-office mandates made employees more productive (as executives expected)? Not quite.

Elizabeth explained some challenged companies have—and continue to—experience with return-to-office policies. According to The Conference Board's survey of HR executives:

  • 71% of companies requiring employees to return to the office say they're struggling to retain workers. For companies not mandating a return to the office, the number drops to 46%).

  • Turnover rates have skyrocketed, doubling at companies calling employees back to the office.

Pamely also recommends considering your employees. Are you creating these policies without contemplating how they'll affect your workers?

How does flexible work promote or hinder DE&I?

Are you thinking about the impact of remote work on your DE&I efforts? Many companies have added remote work to their strategy because of its clear benefits on DE&I:

  • Employees—especially employees of color—reported experiencing fewer microaggressions in remote settings.

  • Black employees' sense of belonging has doubled since working remote. Not experiencing daily microaggressions plays a crucial role in this.

  • People with disabilities can avoid a laborious commute. And, working from home, they don’t need to worry about mobility. Instead, they can focus on being productive and engaged.

  • Workers with social anxiety, sensory processing disorders, pregnant employees—everyone benefits from a more flexible workplace.

Despite its ability to build more inclusive workplaces, flexible work isn’t flawless. It can have negative effects on DE&I if you’re not intentional.

  • If your team's distributed, exclusion activities might pop up that isolate remote colleagues.

  • Manager biases—like proximity bias—can lead to favoritism toward in-office employees. A Gartner study showed that 64% of managers view in-office employee performance more favorably. This can cause problems later, especially with promotions and developing employees.

  • Remote teammates don't always receive crucial information because people forget about them. Out of sight can be out of mind.

  • New forms of microaggressions can show up in different ways. Messaging platforms make it easy to tell jokes in poor taste. Coworkers can also make negative comments in virtual settings. It could be commenting on a background or ignoring a raised hand.

Best practices for remote organizations to stay fair and inclusive

There are dozens of strategies to build workplaces that foster inclusivity and belonging. Elizabeth suggests focusing on a few to start:

  1. Set up safeguards. Make managers and decision-makers aware of proximity bias, especially before performance evaluations. Examine your evaluation process and make sure managers are consistent. Verify you're using the same criteria to assess remote and in-office employees.

  2. Create new norms for inclusivity. Remote and hybrid environments are new for much of your workforce. Teach your employees how to be inclusive in these settings, like making sure all voices are heard. Elizabeth's inclusive meeting checklist can help build the foundation. But you'll need to go beyond that to promote inclusion across every facet of your business.

  3. Connect with employees in meaningful ways. A top concern is keeping employees connected to their teammates and the organization. You can combat this by connecting in ways that matter to your workers. Informal chats with senior leaders promote employee advancement and foster connection. They also fill opportunity gaps for teammates who don’t get to meet with management often.

  4. Train employees. No one is born knowing how to be inclusive and call out bias. We need to teach these skills, especially to managers. And everyone should practice them in everyday moments. Do our colleagues and leaders know about microaggressions and different forms of biases? Everyone must learn these skills to create an inclusive workplace.

These are just a few ways you can create a more inclusive environment. Pamely also suggests leading by example and showing your employees that DE&I matters.

Balancing employee happiness, productivity and DE&I

Can employees feel included and happy while being productive? If you have flexible work policies, the answer is yes. While there's no one right way to do remote or hybrid work, these tips can help you find a policy that works for you:

  1. Ask employees what they want and need to be successful.

  2. Leverage data to make smarter decisions about where employees are most productive.

  3. Ask the right questions. How would a return-to-office mandate impact DE&I and employee happiness and productivity?

And remember, there's more than one way to build flexibility into your organization. Explore options that balance DE&I with productivity and flexibility.

Want to learn more about promoting inclusion and belonging? Read our blog to learn how ERGs can create inclusive workplaces in-office or remote.

Read now
Sheena Fronk

Sheena Fronk

is a writing-obsessed entrepreneur who founded her all things writing passion project turned small business, wanderluster co. She works with SaaS and tech companies, transforming jargon into conversations using human-centered copy. When not working, Sheena eats doughnuts, plays with her pup and travels the world.

Ready to become great at hiring?

Request a demo today