Working from home is allowing some people to thrive professionally — and others, well, not so much.
In fact, there is a significant divide between the two categories: Managers worldwide are flourishing while employees tend to struggle, according to a recent survey.
About 61 percent of business leaders are thriving during the pandemic-induced shift to remote work, while only 38 percent of workers without decision-making authority feel the same, a Microsoft’s Work Trend Index survey found.
Single people and young professionals are suffering most, according to the survey of 31,000 full-time or self-employed workers in 31 countries.
Christopher Adams, owner and manager at ModestFish, an aquarium review and guide site, says it has been easier for managers than employees to adopt telecommuting.
‘Many employees feel that they are just on their own’
“When we send [employees] off to their individual workspaces, they are consequentially left with a feeling of responsibility they did not have before — and one that they most likely will not be prepared for,” Adams said.
“There is no one there to manage them, which may seem like a good thing … the sense of freedom they might feel,” he added. But without guidance, “many employees feel that they are just on their own and lost all of the support from the office they once had.”
Adams says his team of about a dozen employees now holds regular conference calls, which has boosted morale. He also added project and workspace platforms that “initiated the lost feeling of camaraderie within the workplace.”
This has helped employees know they are connected, and now Adams says his team is a “more well-oiled” machine.
Daivat Dholakia, director of operations at the fleet-tracking service Force by Mojio in Texas, agrees that managers are faring better than employees. Employees struggle with the isolated environment of remote work, he says.
“Managers do a lot of tasks that involve holing up and getting work done,” Dholakia said.
As a manager, Dholakia says he enjoys being able to sit down and work without distraction. However, he feels the lack of social interaction is harder on employees.
Communication can help
Businesses can help struggling employees by communicating with them on business matters, or just to connect, says Mike Saporito, a Florida-based co-founder of SmartHabit, an organizational platform for boosting employee performance. And managers need to understand that the employee’s experience may be quite different from their own.
Most of the time employees can reach their own conclusions and fix the issue themselves, he says.
“The manager’s key role is to create the conditions for the employee to learn things above themself or their situation and then solve things on their own,” Saporito said.
Carlos Castelán, managing director of the Navio Group, a business-management consulting firm in Minnesota, said the disconnect between an employer and an employee can often be directly traced to management and lack of engagement.
“Poor communications impact employee engagement and causes burnout and stress by making team members feel removed from decisions and devoid of any sense of ownership,” Castelán said “Poor communication, or a lack of communication, signals to someone that they’re not valued enough to be included.”
Organizations should set a clear vision for remote employees and communicate regularly via videoconferencing, which makes “work feel meaningful,” Castelán said.
Brett Prentiss, co-founder of Instinct Marketing, a digital marketing agency based in California, says the lack of face-to-face time with leadership is one reason that many staffers struggle.
“Employees don’t see their leaders on a day-to-day basis and that accountability level has dropped even though their responsibilities have not changed,” he said.
Employee engagement is key
Rewarding employees for performance can boost engagement, Prentiss says, suggesting that management set goals for staff — anything from completing tasks to making a sale.
“This gives them a reason to show up and be more productive,” he said.
Lindsey Allard, a New York-based CEO and co-founder of software developer PlaybookUX, says that given the chance, everyone can thrive in a remote-work environment.
She advises managers to include remote workers on as many decisions as possible to engage them.
“I can see how employees always feel behind the eight ball a bit as they adjust to remote working and are left in the dark on certain things,” Allard said. “Communication is not always excellent…. They aren’t informed on big decisions and are left to do day-to-day tasks without seeing the big picture.”
To be sure, not all leaders are cut out for remote leadership, notes Kate Smith, a career coach in Toronto.
“As companies make the transition to remote, decision-making authorities are responsible for developing their skill of how to be an effective remote leader,” she said.
If employees aren’t thriving, it’s an indication of poor leadership performance, she says.
“People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses,” Smith added. “Leadership teams need to step up now more than ever.”