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Remote work and remotely invested employees

Three years after the global workforce was forced to experiment with mass remote options, there’s enough data to reveal its impact on work culture.

So far the results are mixed.

A 2022 study conducted by Tracking Happiness found that remote employees were roughly 20% happier than in-person workers. The increase in happiness is likely due to improvement in their work-life balance. A 2022 Cisco study found that over 78% of those surveyed said that hybrid work improved the balance, mainly due to the time saved commuting.

Yet other reports suggest that the bosses disagree. Studies by Microsoft and Citrix revealed a “productivity paranoia;” that is, “leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, number of meetings, and other activity metrics have increased.”

While many bosses accepted remote work as a necessity due to COVID-19, many are not eager to keep their workplaces remote or hybrid. According to a Q1 2023 survey by Robin, 67% of leaders are currently mandating that employees work from the office two or three days a week, and 43% plan to introduce new mandates this year. More importantly, 62% of managers said in-office interaction with an employee was a key factor in whether that employee gets a raise or promotion.

The Robin survey also reveals that over 40% of leaders also want more "in-office collaboration," and believe that remote employees are not as productive as in-office ones.

In other words, too many bosses miss the days of peering over the cubicle wall at employees they treat like cookie-jar kids who can’t be trusted. And they wonder why their charges feel no sense of engagement: more hours, more meetings, more activity and yet, less faith.

Less trust, less engagement

Meanwhile, workers with a remote-capable job — yet forced to be fully on-site — saw the biggest engagement drop during this period: a five-point plunge, coupled with a seven-point surge since 2019. Nearly a fifth (16%) of job seekers now want remote or hybrid options, and this presents an opportunity for workplaces to help engagement by offering this option.

Put simply, disengagement is rising across the board. Engagement declined for all types of employees — remote, hybrid and on-site — from 2019 to 2022. Forcing people to report to the office when they truly don’t need to can put an even bigger dent in worker enthusiasm.

Fortunately, this wave of disillusionment is not universal across the American workforce. Some employers enjoy much better engagement and their best practices can be replicated by others to revive workplace enthusiasm this year, Gallup found.

Four office keys: How to revive enthusiasm

Winners of Gallup's 2022 Exceptional Workplace Award saw 70% employee engagement on average. That’s more than double the rate of the national average. Surprisingly, these organizations reported similar levels of employee engagement — even during “disruptive times.”

These top performers shared four key elements:

  • A values-based culture, which results in decisions based on clearly communicated guidelines
  • Flexible work locations that offer employees remote or hybrid options
  • A focus on employee well-being that was clearly connected to higher performance
  • Giving managers the right tools to help employees understand and embrace the organization’s culture.

Bottom line: if you feel disengaged at work, maybe it’s not so much location, location, location as your organization.

While some bosses may see regular in-person interaction as essential to career success, some HR professionals argue that remote work levels the playing field. As quoted in a Forbes article, Diana Brown, head of people at Eco, believes that remote work cuts out the chance of workers being critiqued due to biases about their physical appearance, such as weight or dress. Brown also finds that remote work cuts down on the chance of work cliques developing.

Every company is different. See if you can find an ally or start a positive conversation with an open-minded supervisor. It could begin with something as simple as peering over their cubicle wall.

Vishesh Raisinghani Freelance Writer

Vishesh Raisinghani is a freelance contributor at MoneyWise. He has been writing about financial markets and economics since 2014 - having covered family offices, private equity, real estate, cryptocurrencies, and tech stocks over that period. His work has appeared in Seeking Alpha, Motley Fool Canada, Motley Fool UK, Mergers & Acquisitions, National Post, Financial Post, and Yahoo Canada.

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