Remote work hasn’t been kind to the tech workforce in the past year.
According to a survey by Blind, a whopping 68 percent of the 3,000 tech workers polled, from companies including Amazon and Microsoft, said they are more burned out than when they worked in an office pre-pandemic.
In addition, the poll found 60 percent of those surveyed are working more hours than prior to the health crisis.
Clearly, the survey demonstrates that the almost-overnight shift to telecommuting put many IT professionals in an unfamiliar and stressful environment.
Their employers, like many businesses, were caught off guard by the swift move to telecommuting and didn’t have the right tools and processes in place to properly connect and communicate with remote staff.
In contrast, some firms that already allowed IT staff to work offsite even before the pandemic say their employees are thriving. Insights into how they are succeeding could be beneficial to others as more businesses look into remote and hybrid work arrangements.
Three key components to enabling a successful remote IT team are open communication channels, flexibility and fostering trust, experts and executives say.
Gauge employee sentiment
“Helping employees thrive in a remote environment relies on a foundation of healthy culture inclusive of two-way communication and a strong technical infrastructure,” said Molly Gutterud, vice president of communications and advancement, at Northcentral University, an online university based in San Diego with a hybrid team that’s currently all remote.
Helping IT members succeed involves investing in their growth and development; making sure they have support and tools to get the job done; instilling confidence in them and making sure employees feel fairly compensated and appreciated, she says.
“This is true regardless of whether you’re in person, hybrid or remote,” Gutterud said.
It’s vital to simply ask IT staff how they are doing, says Weston Morris, global strategy director of digital workplace services as Unisys.
“I am impressed with the intelligent surveying capability that some companies are using to help enterprises accurately gauge employee sentiment,” he noted. “The process works for remote workers, those in the physical office and those who work in both locations at various times.”
Communicate well — and fast
Alison French, CEO and co-founder of Emerged, a technology company in San Diego, says her company is enabling staff to work where they want. To do so, “connection is key,” she noted.
“You can’t assume the conversations are going to happen spontaneously like they may in an office setting, so investing in tools that make it easy for the team to collaborate is critical,” French explained.
When any issues are brought up regarding staff in the remote environment, French responds to them immediately and has coached her team to take immediate action if a problem needs to be addressed.
“In these situations we have a protocol for a 10-minute meeting that summarizes the problem, presents solutions and defines an action plan,” she explained. “The goal is not to solve the problem in this short meeting. Rather, we want to bring the problem to the surface and then define the next steps required to find a solution.”
“Encouraging my team to stick to the facts and not sugar-coat problems has been a critical component in ensuring successful outcomes from these meetings,” she added.
While French’s firm taps technology such as Slack to help in team communications, which has “made a huge impact in our day-to-day operations,” she is leery of bringing in too many tools and applications.
“It takes time to train the team and encourage adoption, which can introduce unnecessary friction for a remote team,” she said.
Choose tech that supports flexibility
Patty Luxton, the chief information officer of Connecticut-based IT consulting firm Kelser Corporation, says flexibility is important for tech organizations with remote staff.
“You don’t want a situation where people say, ‘Oh, so and so isn’t here in the office today so therefore we can’t work on this,’” she said. “I think you have to promote a culture of flexibility. We can’t stop just because someone is working from home that particular day. We have to get beyond that and we have to say regardless of where that person is working, business must go on.”
Cecile Alper-Leroux, vice president of product and innovation at Florida-based Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG), agrees that communication is crucial to ensuring success for tech workforces.
“No matter how workplaces evolve during this transitory time, connection and communication will be key,” Alper-Leroux said.
Managers of remote tech workers who are transitioning to a hybrid work model also must pay closer attention to trends around whose work is valued, who speaks up in meetings and how productivity is measured, as well as considering employee feedback for each stage of the transition, Alper-Leroux says.
Tools with natural language processing can detect workplace frustration or fatigue and measure employee burnout during this transition, she adds.
“As vital as technology is to making remote and hybrid work possible, it’s even harder for managers to maintain emotional connectedness and help them thrive in the virtual world of work,” she said. “We need to emotionally invest in each other by bringing back some spontaneous watercooler moments, understanding preferred collaboration platforms and foreseeing accessibility and conversation issues.”
The manner in which companies foster trust among tech staff also can help employees thrive, Alper-Leroux notes.
When managers monitor the productivity of their distributed tech teams more closely than in-office employees, virtual micromanagement occurs, she adds.
“A top concern among managers is monitoring the productivity of remote workers, even though remote employees report high levels of productivity,” she said.
“Training managers to establish clear guidelines will help ease the anxieties that lead to micromanaging, while instilling a greater sense of accountability and maintaining positive company culture while everyone adjusts to working remotely,” Alper-Leroux explained.
“Trust is a universal element required for success, especially in times of uncertainty like today,” she said.