Opinions expressed by businessroundups.org contributors are their own.
The concept of remote working and the impact it could have on employee productivity and motivation has been under debate long before the Covid-19 pandemic. A 2013 Stanford University study of 500 workers in China reported that employee productivity increased by 13% as a result of working remotely in quieter environments.
The pandemic forced employers and governments around the world to adopt the remote working model. According to Statisticalrevenues of the global collaboration software market increased by a whopping $15.9 billion in 2019 to $19.2 billion in 2021. These figures are expected to rise in the coming years as digital transformation and remote working are here to stay.
Some companies believe the best practice is a hybrid-first work model, while others are making efforts to get employees back to the office. In September 2022, Kastle Systems, a key-card property management company that monitors office building entrances and exits, reported that some companies have almost 50% office capacity.
So, how has remote work affected employee relationships? The way they connect on a professional level or even in a friendly way?
We conducted a survey across the United States across a broad age range, asking participants about their experiences with remote and hybrid work models and how it has impacted their productivity and their relationships with their colleagues.
To understand the role of remote working in employers’ internal network, we included participants from 31 states who are either fully remote or have a hybrid working model. The sample included a diverse audience, as people of different ages and sectors have different preferences when it comes to the methods and tools they use to perform.
- 82% of the participants were between 25 and 44 years old.
- 18% were between 45 and 55 years old.
The majority worked in a variety of industries including, but not limited to, finance, software, healthcare, and information services.
Related: Employers: Productivity among your remote workers isn’t an issue – your proximity bias is.
Remote work and productivity
71% of our participants claimed their productivity has improved over the past two years. A further 21% stated that it remained unchanged and 8% believed that it deteriorated.
This came as no surprise. Cutting out the hours of commuting, preparing food at home and being close to family are all elements that employees have appreciated. In the words from Allyson Zimmermann, executive director at Catalyst, “access to remote work increases employee well-being, productivity, innovation and inclusion.”
While no one under the age of 34 noticed that his productivity was declining.
Remote work and relationships with colleagues
Despite the fact that remote work removes the boundary between work and home, people have been able to develop methods to communicate with colleagues without it becoming a burden. So much so that for some, working remotely has improved their relationships with their colleagues.
67% of our participants believe that their relationship with their colleagues has improved over the past two years. Among the younger ages, this figure was sufficiently higher, as 73.8% of respondents aged between 25 and 34 responded positively.
This is in line with the findings from Dan Schwable, Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence, who highlights that “their relationships have improved over the past year with their managers (32%), colleagues/colleagues on their team (25%), and colleagues/colleagues on other teams (21%) .”
“When people have trust in each other and social capital, you get a willingness to take risks, you get more innovation and creativity and less groupthink.”
Methods of interactions
Regardless of the benefits of remote work, employees can get lonely. Nancy Baym, Jonathan Larso and Ronnie Martin van Harvard Business Review expanded“the spontaneous informal interactions that are at risk in hybrid and telecommuting are not distracting or unproductive. They foster the employee connections that fuel productivity and innovation – these interactions are the breeding ground in which ideas grow.”
However, our survey participants shared several methods their employers use to promote face-to-face interactions:
- 26% said social outings have been their company’s go-to method.
- 23% of our participants indicated that their company does this through work retreats and off-site gatherings.
An interesting point to note is that some companies encourage remote interactions with colleagues:
- 23% connect through digital interactive office solutions.
- 11% communicate through online video game sessions.
Admittedly, we tried the last two points at Covve by hosting virtual game nights and online yoga sessions once a month with great success, connecting our teams.
In addition to the responses above, we invited participants to share other activities that would help them interact better with their colleagues at work. The most notable responses were:
- Including outdoor activities and sports in the company’s agenda.
- Department-wide lunches or occasional dinners with colleagues. This is a technique introduced at Google (and then wider Silicon Valley) to encourage employees to eat together, connect and share ideas for new projects.
- The introduction of bi-weekly or monthly mentorship sessions.
- Collaborate on volunteer activities and community service projects.
Related: How to strengthen communication within remote and hybrid teams
The main message of our findings is that while remote working has increased employee productivity and improved their relationships, it has not eliminated the need for social interaction.
Company networking and bonding are still greatly facilitated during company outings and meetings. While online interactions and even video games are new and emerging methods of connecting employees in the remote or hybrid workplace, employees still need to connect through drinks, food, exercise or even volunteering. This is well explained by a research-backed op-ed by Edward Glaeser and David Cutler in The Washington Post, arguing that “in the medium to long term, long-distance work may fail to provide significant benefits—including learning and new friendships—that come from face-to-face contact.”