Will remote work improve employee engagement? Jill Christensen weighs in

Jill Christensen is an expert on remote work and employee engagement and is one of the most sought-after and highest-rated female keynote speakers worldwide. Author of “Remote 101: The Secret to Engaging Virtual Workers” and named a Top 200 Global Thought Leader to Watch and Top 101 Employee Engagement Influencer, she takes audiences on a journey that educates and inspires people to act. Today on the Atlanta Small Business Show, she joins Jim Fitzpatrick in the studio to discuss virtual work environments and how to adjust to a changing labor landscape.

Many managers distrust the reputed benefits of remote work, and before the COVID pandemic, Christensen was no exception. “If you had told me that the world was going to go home to work for two years, and be productive and meet revenue numbers and have high customer satisfaction scores and even have high levels of customer engagement, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.” The reason for the newfound productivity, she explains, is that employees benefited from the flexibility. Instead of being relegated to office spaces, they now had the option to choose environments conducive to their work style.

Christensen warns employers who aren’t willing to be more flexible that they may lose out on talent, commenting, “In 2021, 14 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs.” Traditional managing wisdom dictates that unwatched employees don’t work. However, this belief failed to raise employee engagement for decades. “We can see through the pandemic that employee engagement among remote workers is actually higher than employee engagement amongst people who are in a physical work setting,” said Christensen. It is important to remember that hybrid offices are also an option for those unable to totally commit to virtual only. Requiring employees to come in fewer days still adds enough flexibility to improve engagement.

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Increased productivity is not the only benefit of remote work. The candidate pool is significantly larger than it used to be as employers can now source workers from out of state. An added benefit is that they can adjust their regional salaries to reduce labor costs. For example, a business in California would need to pay a local employee far more to cover their cost of living than one residing in Georgia. “The world is your oyster,” Christensen jokes, encouraging hiring managers to take advantage of this.

While remote work and increased flexibility have benefits, the transition to remote work can still be challenging. Managers often lack the training to lead virtual teams, and studies show that communication and collaboration are more difficult in a remote setting. In Christensen’s experience, one of the easiest ways to solve these issues is to conduct focus groups. “Rather than making a decision as a manager or a leader in a conference room, and then letting people know the decision that you made, all you need to do is bring people together prior to making that decision and [talking] to your employees.” Since online work environments don’t naturally induce conversations, it is up to the managers to involve their employees in discussions, cultivating their sense of community and synergy.

Remote work is an excellent alternative to the office, provided managers can navigate the transition. Above all, Christensen encourages leaders to open a dialogue, listen and be flexible instead of simply giving commands. “One of the most important things that an organization can do is to talk to its people,” she concludes.


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