Industry Insights

How to boost engagement in an era of remote worker fatigue

Posted by John Wills on Jan 26, 2023 5:48:05 PM

Combatting employee burnout has been a top priority for business leaders for many years now. But, like many employee-related issues, burnout has been exacerbated by Covid-19, with our people feeling increasingly isolated, distracted and overwhelmed. But with the increase in remote – or hybrid – work, now is the time to address remote worker fatigue once and for all.

Why does remote worker fatigue happen?
Remote worker fatigue is said to happen for three reasons: digital distractions, virtual overload and an always-on mindset. When working remotely, employees are 2.54 times more likely to be distracted digitally, 1.12 times more likely to experience feelings of work overload, and 1.27 times more likely to struggle to disconnect from work at the end of the day. So, it’s unsurprising that with increasing numbers of employees working remotely at least part of the time, remote worker fatigue is on the rise. 

So, is it time to return to the office?
With employees feeling the negative effects of remote work, business leaders may be tempted to call employees back to the office in an attempt to increase collaboration and reduce distractions. But organizations implementing those practices have learned the hard way that employees don’t want to return to post-pandemic times, and they don’t want to sacrifice the work life balance they’ve developed since March 2020. In fact, McKinsey’s latest ‘American Opportunity Survey’ showed that only 13% of people who had the choice between remote and office-based work, opted for the office five days a week. 

The Office vs. Remote discussion shows no sign of slowing down, as it continues to be fueled by business giants such as Elon Musk and Scott Farquhar. But this leaves business leaders scratching their heads about what the right solution is to our modern business challenge: how do we overcome remote worker fatigue?

Many organizations are opting for a blended approach to working, with 55% of Americans working in a hybrid fashion. This approach means that these employees only work from the office between one and four days a week, with the remaining time spent working from home. And although this offers employees the flexibility and autonomy they desire, it also brings with it the pitfalls of remote work – and ultimately does not solve our primary issue of burnout. 

Perhaps most significantly, hybrid working does not necessarily overcome the sense of isolation felt by employees, and can sometimes lead to weak staff loyalty. So, with employees wanting to maintain flexibility and autonomy, employers wanting staff to return to the office, and hybrid working falling short at eliminating remote worker fatigue, it’s time to implement strategies that protect employees’ health and wellbeing, regardless of where they work. 

Boosting engagement with remote workers
If remote worker fatigue is caused by isolation, distraction and being ‘always on’, then improving engagement with these employees is paramount to overcoming fatigue. But oftentimes engagement tactics can lead to micro-management and employees feeling untrusted and excessively observed during their working days. So how can we boost engagement without adding to the pressures our employees are already facing, making the modern workplace work for everybody? 

1. Change management styles
Managing remote employees is very different to managing a team in a face-to-face environment. Remote management requires an increased level of trust between a manager and their team members, quite simply because of the physical distance between the two. You can no longer glance up from your desk and see what your team is working on or call over for an update on a specific project. So, often, you need to trust that all is in hand. 

And this shift in management styles has caused an increase in micromanagement, with managers calling their team members numerous times a day to just ‘check in’ or to ask for an update on a project or task. This has led to remote employees feeling controlled throughout their working day, or worse – that their manager is checking that they’re doing their work. This lack of trust is a sure-fire way to push even the most engaged employee to become detached from your organization. 

Remember, you have employed people in your organization who are qualified and competent at their job, so allow them the space and freedom to conduct their work in how they see fit. Of course, all businesses will have deadlines that employees need to adhere to, but aside from that, trust your employees to work as hard as they can, to get the best outcomes for you and your organization. 

2. Facilitate feedback and open communication
Although micromanagement is a red flag with remote teams, a completely detached manager can have the same negative impact on the workforce. With a remote workforce, social cues are eliminated and sometimes messages and emails can be misconstrued. So, it’s really important that you ensure there is time and space for 360 feedback and open conversations between managers and employees. 

This change might be difficult, both for managers and employees, so it’s important to support all of your people on this journey. If they require it, provide additional training for your people in both giving and receiving 360 feedback, and to help your managers encourage communication with their remote teams. This is also a perfect opportunity to utilize experiential learning to ensure your people know how to apply the skills learned during their training.

3. Use learning as an opportunity to engage 
Modern employees want to learn new skills and progress in their professional careers. In fact, nearly half of American workers say clear career growth fueled by learning and development provided by an employer is one of the most important factors for them to remain at a company. So, providing relevant, engaging learning opportunities is a fantastic way to boost engagement with remote workers. 

But providing learning opportunities to remote workers also requires a change of tack, and a deviation away from traditional approaches. For example, training may now involve additional costs to bring your team to one location, or you might need to opt for online learning solutions instead. However you handle it, learning offers more fluidity, flexibility, and transformative opportunities, and will help your remote employees feel more engaged with your organization as a whole. Learning can provide:

Opportunities for remote or hybrid employees to connect with their colleagues, which helps to overcome isolation 
A boost in confidence within employees’ own skill set 
An increase in competence at work, boosting trust between leaders and their teams

Final thoughts: Act now to protect your organization
Throughout the journey of finding new ways of working, organizations are undoubtedly going to hit a few bumps in the road, with remote worker fatigue being just one. Employees want to retain the work life balance and flexibility they have grown accustomed to over the past few years, whilst organizations are eager to retain top talent and prevent burnout. These two tasks may seem at loggerheads, and finding a solution to balance the two may be challenging to many business leaders. However, we believe that by boosting engagement with remote employees, loosening strict managerial styles, and providing relevant and engaging learning and development opportunities, organizations will find the path to a perfect hybrid approach.

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