by | Jun 25, 2020

In mid-March, employees across the country were suddenly told to pack up and plan to work from home temporarily. Now, after more than three months of remote work, it’s starting to look like they might be there a while.

In May, Tribe fielded a survey with HR and internal communications professionals at 59 large companies. This benchmarking study was focused on these suddenly-remote corporate employees and how companies would go about moving them back to the office.

Problems with quarantine — not remote work

Interestingly, the issues that our respondents’ companies were having with employees working from home were primarily challenges presented by lockdown, not by remote work. Over 46 percent said “Salespeople not being able to get on a plane to meet in person with prospects” was a problem and 44 percent said “Employees not being able to travel” was an issue. Not being able to work on-site at client locations and not being able to meet with clients in person were also major concerns.

Turns out they may not go back any time soon

The most interesting finding of the study was that many, many companies are considering remote work indefinitely. A stunning 92 percent of respondents said they expected more employees to want to work from home in the future. And 72 percent said they believed their leadership would be more inclined to support remote work ongoing.

Among companies who surveyed employees about their views on returning to work, the majority of their people expressed reluctance to head back into the office. But the reluctance was based not just on safety concerns around Covid-19. Many employees said they just liked working remotely and would like to continue to do so, at least for some days of the week.

Changing attitudes for leadership

In a panel discussion with about a dozen survey respondents, participants commented that there had been a shift in leadership attitudes toward remote work — primarily because they’d seen such high productivity with most or all of their corporate employees working from home.

While previously there may have been a perception on the part of leadership that people were not really getting much done when they were working from home, now they have evidence to the contrary. When we asked one panelist how her global organization had measured productivity, her response was that they were looking at increased revenue. It’s hard to argue with metrics like that.

What do employees need to continue working remotely?

Some of our panelists mentioned that employees had left the office with little forewarning, so now the company was providing tools they’d need to work remotely moving forward — like monitors. Instead of working from the couch for a few days, employees are now thinking about what they need to work from home offices over the long term. Internet speed in employees’ homes was also a consideration.

Building engagement without face-to-face

We predict we’ll have an ongoing challenge maintaining employee engagement. One of our clients has returned a first wave of employees to the office in a few of their global locations. Comments from employees seem to fall into two areas: being pleasantly surprised at how much thought went into making the office safe for them, and how much they had missed the face-to-face contact and casual break-room interactions with colleagues that are part of a day in the office.

We’ll need to find ways to build engagement digitally — and to make more robust use of intranets, video and other platforms, as well as strengthening leadership communications. (For thoughts on how CEO’s can build trust and employee engagement, you might like this Forbes article.) When employees have been part of the company for many years, they’ve built relationships with colleagues that can be nurtured without being in the same place physically. But with new hires and newer employees, this will be more challenging. (For more on engaging remote employees, see this Best Practices one-sheet.)

We’re happy to share the survey results

Interested in building engagement with employees who will continue to work from home? Tribe can help. (And if you’d like to see the results of our benchmarking study, just drop a line to [email protected] and we’ll send you the deck.)

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