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The Shocking Truth About Remote Workers

IBM surprised the working world in May when it announced a move away from the remote working environment it has championed for decades. The company boasted for years that more than 40% of its employees worked outside traditional offices, while a blog post on the company’s Smarter Workforce blog just days before the announcement stated that “telework works.” Now, as the Wall Street Journal reports, affected remote workers are being asked to move to company-maintained office spaces (some that are hundreds of miles away from their homes), take 90 days to seek another role within IBM, or leave the company altogether.


The real reason behind the bold move is anyone’s guess. The Wall Street Journal cites IBM leaders as stating the move will improve collaboration and accelerate the pace of work. But will it?


Time after time it’s been proven that productivity is higher among remote workers than those who work at the office. But productivity isn’t everything. With remote workers, it’s hard to strike the right balance between productivity and engagement, which is also necessary for an organization to thrive and innovate.


“The problem with remote work is that you work remotely,” jokes talent management expert and journalist John Hollon. “For all the upsides of remote work—and yes, there are a lot of them—the one big downside is that you lose the collaborative aspects of working around other people.”


That doesn’t mean you should scrap the idea of a remote workforce altogether. It only means you need to be more strategic about incorporating the practice into your company culture and setting clear expectations in the process, perhaps creating a hybrid solution of requiring some in-office time.


Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report reveals that engagement climbs when employees spend part of their time working remotely and the other part working in a location with their co-workers. Optimal engagement happens when employees spend 60-80% of their workweek (about three to four days) working offsite.


When workers spend a significant amount of time offsite, it’s important also to encourage the use of collaboration tools that keep them engaged with their teams. Nearly all respondents (98%) in a recent Polycom-Future Workplace study said that collaborative technologies make it easier to get to know and to build relationships with co-workers. Almost half said that they know colleagues better on a personal level thanks to videoconferencing. Other collaboration tools like Slack can help, too.


Giving remote workers more face time in the office can help with retention, too.  A study of employees who work from home found that 50% of telecommuters don’t get promoted, despite productivity levels 13% above their on-site colleagues. Another study shows nearly 2 in 3 employees who work remotely say they are more productive now than when they worked onsite but nearly the same amount admit feeling guilty and misjudged; they’re afraid that their onsite colleagues don’t think they are working as hard as them. Both issues can affect job satisfaction in a big way.


The remote workforce has grown 159% since 2000 and, while it hasn’t won over every organization, the phenomenon is certainly here to stay. Offering telecommuting is good for recruiting and it’s great for workforce productivity, but only if you strike the right balance. For more ideas on how to make it work, read our blog post “3 Ways to Win With Remote Workers.”


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