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Coronavirus: More than two-fifths of employees likely to continue remote working after pandemic

Research firm Gartner offers guide to managing remote workers during Covid-19 pandemic as new normal for work emerges

A Gartner survey of 229 human resources (HR) managers on 2 April has revealed that while 30% of their employees worked remotely at least part of the time before the coronavirus pandemic, 81% or more are currently working remotely and 41% are likely to do so at least some of the time once a return to normal working is permitted.

The study is part of a collection of material that the analyst has assembled to help organisations respond, manage and prepare for the rapid spread and global impact of Covid-19. It also found that 15% of those surveyed said 61-80% of their employees are now working remotely.

Gartner noted that in the current environment, many employees are working remotely for the first time and are doing so full-time. Also, managers are having to direct remote employees and teams, many of them never having managed remote workers.

Although it stressed that remote workers are highly productive, Gartner warned that turnover risk is much higher with remote working. It cited a first-quarter 2020 survey of more than 5,000 employees that found 48% of fully remote employees exhibit high discretionary effort, compared with 35% of staff who never work remotely.

The survey also revealed that the percentage of employees exhibiting high intent to stay with their current employer is 13 percentage points higher among those who never work remotely.

Given that the Covid-19 pandemic has seen many employees planning to work in a way that they had not previously considered, Gartner has developed a guide to help organisations manage remote talent in the new working environment.

Its NEAR model involves four steps: normalise self-direction, enable new relationships, accentuate the positive and revamp team expectations.

Gartner found that two-fifths of remote employees want more self-directed work and it appealed to managers to trust their employees and move away from directing their work to coaching them to success. It advised management to focus on employees’ work product and outputs, rather than processes.

Read more about Covid-19 and collaboration

Noting research that it carried out in late 2019 showing that 41% of respondents did not feel connected to colleagues when working remotely and 26% of employees felt isolated when working remotely, Gartner recommended that managers must work with HR to learn signs of distress, so that they can recognise these among their direct reports and colleagues.

The research found that staff working fully remotely are nearly twice as likely to receive corrective feedback – which focuses on behaviour that was not successful – most often. To promote two-way communication, Gartner advised managers to focus on making discussions with remote employees open, evidence-based and forward-looking.

The research also revealed that while many have assumed that the majority of people working remotely are individual contributors, fully remote employees are actually 3.5 times more likely to work across five or more teams. Gartner said this meant it was crucial for managers to set expectations with individual team members and the larger team to ensure effective individual contributions and team collaboration. Managers should also emphasise individual and team objectives.

“Organisations have been very pragmatic and have done well adapting to the new normal from a technology standpoint,” said James Atkinson, vice-president in Gartner’s HR practice. “Now managers need to step in and help their employees build social and emotional connections to ensure individuals feel connected to their colleagues and the organisations, and to help teams continue to work together seamlessly.”

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