With location no longer a limiting factor, many workers can pursue dozens and perhaps hundreds of new employment opportunities, including jobs with employers operating virtually anywhere in the world.
There were concerns about remote worker longevity before COVID. In 2018, a Virgin Pulse and Future Workplace survey of more than 2,000 workers and managers found that more than half felt lonely ‘always’ or ‘very often’. It also found that remote workers were more likely to quit because of loneliness and low engagement.
COVID’s impact is only now coming to light. An ongoing survey by consulting firm Mercer of 177 organisations found 10.7 per cent said the current level of voluntary workforce turnover in their company exceeded pre-COVID levels.
Slightly fewer than half reported no change, and 38 per cent reported fewer people leaving voluntarily. Part of the reason for the moderate work-from-home turnover may be that at this stage of the pandemic, remote employees are primarily corporate workers who have a different turnover profile.
One overriding lesson of COVID is the need to prepare for uncertainty. Retaining work-from-home workers post-pandemic may not be like it was before. Engagement, in particular, is a critical component of remote worker retention.
Work-from-home retention solutions
No one talks about retention for long without mentioning communication. Communicating in both directions — goal setting by managers and goal progress by employees — has always been vital for remote work success.
But it takes on new importance in a world reshaped by the pandemic, says Robin Paggi, a training and development specialist with VensureHR.
“There are many distractions at home for a lot of people,” says Paggi. “It’s important to do a progress report at least weekly.”
While empty-nesters may find a home office an easy place to concentrate, it could be very different for a worker with small children.
Along with communicating regularly about work matters, business owners may also want to include personal topics in the mix.
Organising informal meetings such as virtual happy hours to put colleagues’ faces on each other’s screens can help employees feel personally and professionally connected.
“It’s checking in and fun things, not just going over what you accomplished this week,” Paggi says.
Providing home workers with equal access to training is also an important focus. People who aren’t in the office don’t get as many opportunities to develop their skills as onsite employees. And younger workers are especially interested in increasing their knowledge and abilities through employer-sponsored training.
Businesses can address this by inviting work-from-home employees to socially distanced in-person trainings, virtual sessions, or sending trainers to their homes.
“A business can retain people working from home today by providing ample connection points for coaching and mentoring,” says Susan Power, an executive coach and organisational consultant.
“Many leading organisations provide coaching to increase employees’ resilience and leadership skills as remote employees.”
In addition to learning how to communicate with home workers effectively, managers may, for instance, need to overcome the suspicion that people are only productive when they’re in the office.
Training and communication are essential for all employees, but so is tech. Ensuring employees have access to technology when working from home is vital. Home offices can be as efficient as onsite offices when everything, from laptops to webcams for videoconferencing, is present and working.
In addition to training and technology, recognition is another resource that home-based workers are at risk of missing out on. Paggi says that while managers’ recognition helps employees feel valued, colleague recognition effectively makes employees feel part of the business.
Online recognition systems that allow anyone to recognise anyone else for contribution are particularly well-suited for remote work.
COVID has reshaped work in permanent and profound ways. Business owners thinking they can continue to do things the same way have less chance of surviving in the future.