Remote work has been on the rise for the past several years: it saves money, boosts productivity, and provides flexibility for employees. But what does it do for employee engagement and job satisfaction? Writing for the Harvard Business Review, WorkplaceTrends.com founder Dan Schwabel says that what it does is a lot of harm.
According to a study by Schwabel’s firm and Virginia Pulse, a third of employees globally work remote most, if not all of the time. While this cohort praises the flexibility and lack of commute, they also suffer from a sense of isolation and indifference.
“After interviewing over 2,000 employees and managers globally, our study discovered two-thirds of remote workers aren’t engaged and over a third never get any face-time with their team — yet over 40% said it would help build deeper relationships.
The study also found that remote workers are much less likely to stay at their company long-term. Only 5% always or very often see themselves working at their company for their entire career, compared to almost a third that never work remotely. When you don’t see or hear your colleagues over a long period of time, you can become less committed to your team and organization.”
Companies like Yahoo!, Best Buy, HP, Reddit, IBM, and Honeywell have responded to growing remote worker malaise and the communication issues implicit in organizing a remote workforce by rolling back remote work programs. These companies are instead requiring employees to come into the office every day, without exception.
Many companies—like Apple, Amazon, and Zurich North America—are taking things one step further. Rather than saving money through remote work policies, they’re investing in well-planned office spaces designed to promote collaboration.
“These companies understand that employees’ proximity to each other matters. The closer we sit to our colleagues, the more likely we will interact with them and form the relationships that lead to long-term team commitment. Back in 1977, MIT Professor Thomas J. Allen studied the communication patterns among both scientists and engineers and found that the further apart their desks were, the less likely they were to communicate. If they were 30 meters or further from each other, the likelihood of regular communication was zero.”
While extreme measures, like Yahoo! and company’s exception-less on-site policy work for some, Schwabel advocates for a practical mixture of remote and office work.
“Give them the flexibility at the office, while an option to work remote part-time based on their position and needs. They need face-time even if they won’t admit it, and companies need an engaged workforce in order to retain talent and compete in the global economy.”