Article: Remote work, employee engagement & fear of imperfect outcomes

Employee Engagement

Remote work, employee engagement & fear of imperfect outcomes

Engaging employees, especially when half of them also work from their home office every now and then, is challenging for organizations. Research reveals that remote workers feel more disengaged and hard done by than the on-site employees.
Remote work, employee engagement & fear of imperfect outcomes

Atelophobia is defined as the fear of imperfection. It stops people from initiating certain tasks – because the imperfect outcome scares them. In extreme cases of this mental illness, people even enter a state of depression for not being able to draft an email perfectly, or face difficulty in making a call because they are afraid that whatever they are doing is not perfect according to their own definition of perfect. Its impact to a lesser degree is that it leads to the development of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD) in people for ensuring things comply with their self-perceived definitions of perfection. Many individuals suffer from an even mellowed-down effect of Atelophobia – in the form of inertia to begin something because it isn’t completely ready.

It is always advised to put out the perfect possible solution to a problem – but the truth remains that it is virtually improbable to do so; because, to err is human. It is this realization that encouraged technology companies to come up with the idea of beta launches, or start-ups to introduce Minimum Viable Products before the big-bang; or the usage of the Scrums or Agile approach for software development or even work in general. What is also true is that there are people on the other end of the spectrum – right opposite to Atelophobic people. There are multiple cases where people/institutions initiate something (a new process, a change in the existing way of working, a new product) without putting a lot of (or any) thought into it.

Companies have been very quick in adopting a remote work culture, but not all have been successful in architecting it just right to ensure their remote employees stay comfortable and feel a part of the organization. Companies anyway find it hard to engage the workforce present on the office floor. Combine it with 52 percent of the employees who work remotely (at least some of the time), keeping a diverse multi-generational workforce, in different geographies, and working from both office and home engaged is a big challenge that organizations face. 

Employee engagement, cumulatively, has dropped by 14 percent this year as compared to 2016, according to the Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report 2017. And employees do not have a very positive outlook about their employers’ efforts at building a differentiated employee experience – only 22 percent reported that their companies were excellent at it.

With a looming gig economy, increasing flexibility at work, and dwindling belief of employees in their employer’s efforts to build a differentiated employee experience, it is important to distinguish the emotions of the ones who work remotely to those who work from the office floor. The organization can then identify the deficiencies in its flexible work architecture and plan targeted engagement initiatives for its remote and physical workforce exclusively – building a differentiated employee experience. 

Almost everybody in an organization feels they are mistreated by their colleagues – hence the disengagement with the firm – but remote workers feel it more than the on-site employees, and for different reasons, research has shown. The research by VitalSmarts done on 1,153 employees finds that there is a significant difference in the experience of office politics by remote employees, as compared to on-site employees. Here is how distinctly the two categories of people feel when it comes to their employer and the workplace:

Colleagues don’t fight for my priorities: 

  • 67 percent of remote employees feel this 
  • 59 percent of onsite employees feel this

Colleagues say bad things about me behind my back: 

  • 41 percent of remote employees feel this 
  • 31 percent of onsite employees feel this

Colleagues make changes to the project without warning me: 

  • 64 percent of remote employees feel this 
  • 58 percent of onsite employees feel this

Colleagues lobby against me with others: 

  • 35 percent of remote employees feel this 
  • 26 percent of onsite employees feel this

Remote employees, clearly, experience more challenges (an average gap of slightly more than eight percent with on-site employees when it comes to facing workplace challenges). They also happen to have a harder time resolving their problems, distance from their managers being one of the obvious reasons for it.

The research said that “84 percent of these remote employees said the concern dragged on for a few days or more, and 47 percent admitted to letting it drag on for a few weeks or more.” Remote employees have experienced this impact their work and productivity, deadlines, morale, stress and motivation to stay and work for their organization, the research gravely points out. 

On the plus side, remote employees are optimistic that it is possible for a manager to manage remote teams well, that a good manager of remote teams is not a mythical creature. There were also those who said “they’d never had, heard of, or seen one” manager who could manage remote teams, but a majority were optimistic. So what do managers need to do to gain the skills to keep their remote team engaged and make them feel as part of the company as its on-site employees. 

The researchers Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield identified seven best practices for managing remote workers – all curated by doing a content analysis of responses of 800 informants. 

  • Check in frequently and consistently
  • Use face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact
  • Demonstrate exemplary communication skills
  • Make expectations explicit
  • Be available
  • Demonstrate familiarity and comfort with technology
  • Prioritize relationships

The underlying skill that is a pre-requisite for managers to effectively lead remote teams is communication, whether it is being available, being clear about their direct reports’ roles and responsibilities or showing their face frequently to their direct reports and consistently checking with them about work and even outside. Almost half of the surveyed say that the most successful managers check in regularly with remote employees.

‘Trust’, ‘Connection’, and ‘Mutual purpose’ are the three ingredients of a healthy social system, according to the researchers Grenny and Maxfield. And their formation is inhibited by a lack of proximity. The practice of these aforementioned behaviours can bridge that gap.

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Topics: Employee Engagement

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