Remote work isn’t for everyone… who on your team will flourish (and who won’t)?
Shiran Danoch | I/O Psychologist
September 23, 2020
Remote work is here to stay, at least for now. According to a recent Gartner report, 74% of companies – including the likes of Slack, Facebook, Twitter and Shopify – plan to permanently move to more remote work going forward.
This trend isn’t surprising given the benefits of remote work: employers can decrease costs dramatically by reducing office space. Employees are often delighted by the improvement in work-life balance. And when these benefits are achieved without sacrificing performance, that’s a clear win-win.
However, while some people flourish working from home, enjoying a commute-free life and other work-life balance perks, others see their performance plummet when working remotely. In just one example, shown in the chart below, three employees working at the same insurance company displayed markedly different responses to working remotely, ranging from a significant increase in work productivity to a major decrease in performance.
So who should work from home?
While it is clear that not everyone has the same experience – and outcome – working from home, the question is: how can you, as an employer, know who will do well and who won’t?
From our work across industries, we have identified five key factors that impact success in working from home, which you should consider – and quantify – when determining if an employee is a good fit for working from home. Some of the questions are relatively straightforward, such as assessing whether an employee has an appropriate work environment at home. Others are more nuanced, as they speak to soft skills and motivations, which are critically important to this new work style.
Soft Skills: Soft skills, such as an employee’s adaptability, ability to collaborate with colleagues, or how self driven they are, have traditionally been very hard to assess, but are key in predicting likely success in remote work: will the employee be able to easily adapt to new processes? Will they collaborate well with colleagues over zoom and email or do they need a face-to-face connection? How to measure: Collect data from the employees themselves, but make sure not to ask questions where the “right” answer is obvious. Rather, you can provide two equally positive responses. For example, choose between these two statements: “I like working in a high-energy environment” vs. “I like working in an environment where I can effectively get work done.” In addition, have managers provide a perspective on these factors, and check alignment between self reporting and the manager’s perspective. (Here, like in many of the other factors, using technology, especially if it’s driven by behavioral science, allows you to get a far more nuanced understanding of each candidates’ soft skills and motivation and to do so at scale.)
Physical Environment: Employees need a physical environment that will allow them to succeed, whether they’re working from an office or from home. While this isn’t a deal breaker, since companies can help improve an employee’s home office space, it is important to figure out in advance: does the employee have strong and stable wifi at home? A comfortable desk and chair? Do they have a quiet place to work? How to measure: Ask employees directly, making sure you ask about all the factors likely to impact working from home, such as whether they have a computer camera and if there is a quiet place for them to work.
Motivation To Work From Home: Some employees are highly motivated to work from home, reducing their commutes and improving work-life balance, while for others working from the office provides important benefits. How to measure: Ask employees explicitly – “Do you want to work from home?” “Do you prefer working from the office?” – but also ask indirect questions, such as “What has been your experience working from home?” or “Do you prefer to communicate face-to-face, via email, over the phone?”
Employee Engagement: Ideally all employees are engaged, but that is a rarity at most companies. Knowing who is less engaged allows you to have those employees work from the office, where you can apply more interventions and provide more supervision. How to measure: Ask the employee directly and indirectly about their level of engagement, and compare that to the reports on the part of managers. Also, check on indirect indicators, such as absenteeism.
Employee Performance: In the end, you need your employees to perform well, wherever they work. Compare their performance at work vs. home to ensure that, at minimum, there is no drop in productivity. How to measure: Some positions lend themselves to a relatively straightforward analysis (sales, for example), with easily-available performance data. For positions where output is less quantifiable, seek input from managers to see how the employee has been performing.
Remote Work Success - Top Factors to Consider
*E: Employee as data source
*M: Manager as data source
*P: Performance data
Empirical’s Co-Founder and CPO, Shiran Danoch, recently discussed this topic in a webinar held by Littler, the leading global employment and labor law practice. To hear Shiran’s take, and get more insights on how to best assess who will flourish working remotely, listen HERE.
Stay posted on Empirical’s research and insights from the hiring trenches. Or reach out to us if you have any comments, questions, or you want to learn more.
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