In remote work, the employee’s engagement levers change

Normally the employee’s engagement can be anchored at different levels, at different points. In remote work, the relative importance of each of these levers of engagement changes, requiring a more demanding approach to the subject.

On a daily basis and in normal times, the employee can engage at different levels of the company which constitute as many levers or groups of levers that the company can leverage.

The employee’s engagement occurs at the company, mission and team level.

The first level is that of the company. Corporate culture is a lever for engagement. Contact with others is also essential, and here I mean others in the broadest sense: all the people you work with or don’t work with, people in other departments that you work with informally, the atmosphere and the general state of mind. And then there are more concrete and down-to-earth things that we sometimes tend to forget because they can cost more than the rest: hr policies inasmuch as they bring recognition and value the work, the engagement and the results of the employees.

All these factors contribute to the fact that if everything else goes wrong in what we’re going to see next, the employee will say “this is a nice place all the same, it’s a nice company, I’m treated well, the atmosphere is good and the people are nice” and let the storm pass until better days.

The other level is that of the project, of the mission. The employee does interesting things, or at least things that interest him, for clients that he likes for whatever reason, he sees its impact, gets satisfaction from it all. The company does not offer the best working environment in the world, its HR policy is stingy, the atmosphere is neither worse nor better than elsewhere “but I work on things that I am passionate about and that’s all that counts”.

The third level is the team level, including the manager. Because life in a company is first and foremost about people with whom we interact in a formal as well as informal, hierarchical or collaborative way at work. Of course, there are all the people we talked about before, with whom we only share the fact of having the same employer, but whom we end up meeting and getting to know, but those with whom we really work are of course of greater importance. Here again the other indicators can be orange, the employee can say “I work with great people, I love my team”. Indeed, just as you often join a company and leave a manager, what employees who leave a company regret most is their network, their colleagues, some of whom have sometimes become friends. This is what often pushes them to stay.

Levers of engagement that compensate for each other

Normally these levels of engagement compensate each other. Of course it’s good that the lights are green at all levels but what we often hear is “at the corporate level I lack recognition and HR policies are stingy but I work on top issues with great people”. Or conversely, “today I’m a frankly uninteresting project and/or the atmosphere in the team isn’t great but projects only last a year, one stays with same manager only for one or two years and the company is great and offers me really interesting career opportunities and development of my skills”.

But from a distance this changes radically under the effect of two main factors.

First the reconstruction of the internal silos . If it is not a fatality it is difficult to avoid to some extent. At a distance, informal and “accidental” contacts with people you don’t work with are much rarer, especially since you switch to a result-driven culture.

Secondly, it is precisely the fact that whatever we say and whatever we do in terms of initiatives, the link with the company inevitably loosens. You don’t go to the office or less, you don’t see the people you don’t work with as much, the well being initiatives linked to the workplace are less visible and felt, as well as the informal moments between colleagues. The company becomes an increasingly abstract entity over time for the old ones and will often only be an administrative reality for those who arrive later and only experience widespread or high levels of remote work.

Conversely, the project, the mission and the team will see their importance reinforced compared to the factors related to the company as such. This is logical because this is where most of the time, attention and interaction will take place even more than before.

A higher demand for managers

I have often said that the manager is the weakest link in the company when it comes to remote work and that in general management is one of the major irritants in the employee experience. This is by no means a criticism of people, but of a system of which they are merely the product and reflection.

The transition to more or less widespread remote work is an opportunity to rethink the system in order to put management back at the service of the employee and make it a lever of engagement, because if things remain as they are, a critical situation can arise.

An employee who is poorly managed, in a team that is not living well or on an uninteresting project has nothing left to compensate and nothing to hang on to while waiting for better days, a change of assignment or a change of manager. When you are alone at home and your only contact with work is negatively perceived, the outcome is inevitable and all the more so as nothing is easier than resigning in a remote work context where an act which is a priori strong becomes more “dehumanized”. And if current trends are confirmed, changing jobs will just mean connecting to different tools while sitting in the same chair behind the same desk.

Simply put, companies will have to earn the right to retain their employees. So of course we can say that given the context and the job market, they can say that they are at peace for a while, but once the seed of disengagement is sown, it always ends up growing as soon as the climate becomes favourable again, and then it will be too late.

Photo : Remote worker engagement from fizkes via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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