Remote Working contributes to employee engagement

Back in June, Gallup put out their “State of the American Workplace Report”, which has belatedly come to my attention in one particular regard: their findings on how remote working affects employee engagement.

First, then, what do Gallup mean by the term “employee engagement”? I’m sure that we all have our own view of what this should mean – individuals actively communicating with their colleagues in order to work as effectively and efficiently as possible, perhaps – but Gallup get their data from surveys and so distilled the essence of the theme down to a set of 12 questions which they know as “Q12”. Those questions are at the back end of this post.

But before getting to them, let’s look at the results.

Working Remotely and Employee Engagement

 

These results highlight that employees who do not work remotely at all are the least engaged segment. I’m not sure how much the rest of the results tell us – we don’t, after all, know what guides each individual who responded in their decision over how much time to spend working remotely. Is it their own choice, or a factor of their role – salespeople being with customers a lot, for instance. What sort of job do people who work remotely all the time do? It might not be a very engaging role, and/or they might not even have an office to travel to, or colleagues to work with.

The encouraging lesson, then, is that working remotely appears to improve employee engagement rather than reducing it. This fits with other reports which have suggested that remote working can actively improve individual efficiency – depending upon how the business caters for it. I have no doubt that giving employees the freedom to work where and when they like, whilst of course still being expected to meet objectives (including good scores from colleague feedback) , empowers individuals and encourages them to work with greater dedication. Trust people, and they will reward that trust.

So what about those questions? Gallup seem convinced that they are the cutting-edge of scientific research but, to be honest, I’m not convinced. None of the questions appear to address active collaboration, which surely is a mainstay of most office roles? However, as I am certain that I could not provide a better set of questions I will leave this to the professionals.

Q12:

01 I know what is expected of me at work.

02 I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

03 At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

04 In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

05 My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

06 There is someone at work who encourages my development.

07 At work, my opinions seem to count.

08 The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

09 My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

10 I have a best friend at work.

11 In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

12 This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

 

Employment change begins at home

Since the industrial revolution, we’ve seen massive changes in the way our society organises itself around work. The industrial revolution brought intensive, factory-based employment to the masses who previously might have laboured in fields, mines or at home. But there’s since been a gradual decline in factory employment and a remarkable shift, in this country at least, to office-based work. Whilst Britain still manufactures much more “stuff” than we generally admit, manufacturing in the UK is highly automated and labour density therefore very low.

Office work is where it’s at, so it’s hardly a surprise to see large statistics around it. This country (the UK) has around 10 million office workers, according to one source. They take up around 200 million square metres of office space.

That’s a lot.

I have a simple message in this post, and it’s this: lets divorce ourselves from this love-affair with offices. Lets stop making the daily journeys from home to office, wasting our own time and consuming resources we cannot afford to consume. Green campaigners suggest we should ditch our cars and opt for public transport, implicitly supporting the case that offices are needed. But, for many of us, the practical reality is that if our commute is to be as painless as possible there is only one option: a car.

But with my “zero office” option there’s no longer any need to commute. There’s no office to commute to.

Is this radical suggestion pure idiocy? OK, I won’t deny it: getting rid of offices entirely is not likely to happen, now or in the future. People need to get together, physically get together, in order to bond well and create a social atmosphere conducive to maximising effectiveness. But are offices a good place to successfully bond individuals into effective groups? If they are, then why do companies invest money in team-building events, away-days, “off-sites” etc?

I would argue that offices are not generally very conducive either to work or to social engagement. Pubs, restaurants, sports fields, and the great outdoors are excellent for social engagement, but not very conducive to work. A quiet desk at home is extremely conducive to work, but not very socially engaging.

So here’s the plan. Ditch the offices, as far as possible – keep some for people to get together for specific purposes (meetings!). Axe the commute, travel only for specific purposes. Promote home-working, by which I mean government grants for renovations or extensions, company money for home office equipment, clarification and removal of tax rules for home offices.

This will work because we no longer live in the 20th century. The 21st century is a world of communications, a world where people can interact highly effectively even when they are not co-located. Sitting at home, with an effective set of communications tools, you can engage with customers, suppliers and colleagues just as well as you can from an office. You can see people, using video. You can collaborate on documents and presentations, using tools such as Google Apps. You can of course talk to people, instantly, using instant messaging, email and the audio device that simple telephones have evolved into. You can see what people are doing, whether they’re busy, and where they are. Build the right communications environment, and you can save massively on office space costs (rent/purchase, heating, lighting, maintenance) and on commuting costs (massively reducing fuel usage but, perhaps even more importantly, maybe also reducing the car count).

You don’t have to believe in the impact of humanity on our climate to see the sense in saving some of our precious time and resources by getting rid of the daily commute. If we use less fossil fuel then the supply will last longer. Abandoned office space can be re-claimed as housing, which we’re seriously lacking, and the ugliest, leakiest, unwanted offices can be removal entirely.

When we do need to get together, to iron out particular issues as a team or simply to get to know each other better, there are plenty of ways to do that – including in meeting rooms preserved from office buildings.

I really believe that our reliance on an office culture no longer makes sense in our modern world and, worse, contributes massively to costs, financial and environmental, which we simply cannot afford.