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Active Listening & Breaks Key to Strong Remote Work Culture

Rachel Reed
5/14/20 12:09 PM

Tech advancements over the last two decades have created an “always on” culture and heightened expectations throughout the workforce. Now that a little more than half (61% according to Salesforce) of the workforce is in a forced remote work scenario, the facets of stress have sort of morphed and multiplied. Workplace flexibility has been examined by researchers long before the COVID-19 pandemic and has proven to boost your bottom line in five ways:

  1. Productivity — Teleworkers are an average of 35-40% more productive than their office counterparts, and have measured an output increase of at least 4.4%.
  2. Performance — With stronger autonomy via location independence, workers produce results with 40% fewer quality defects.
  3. Engagement — Higher productivity and performance combine to create stronger engagement, or in other words, 41% lower absenteeism. 
  4. Retention — 54% of employees say they would change jobs for one that offered them more flexibility, which results in an average of 12% turnover reduction after a remote work agreement is offered. 
  5. Profitability — Organizations save an average of $11,000 per year per part-time telecommuter, or 21% higher profitability.

However, remote work today isn’t exactly the same as working from home pre-pandemic: 

Being permitted to work from home occasionally can boost workplace morale, employee engagement, and productivity, but that’s a little different than your entire workforce being required to shelter in place nearly overnight. Many employees experience an “out of sight, out of mind” feeling in isolation, leaving them to unknowingly work longer hours to overcompensate for insecurities about their level of importance within the organization.

This ties into an early 20th century theory: the “Ringelmann Effect” which states that the bigger the group, the less responsibility each individual feels to ensure success. If one does not feel critical to a mission’s success, it’s easy to tune out or put in less effort. In a virtual meeting, it’s more likely for employees to feel less needed and more distracted, leading to less contribution. Active listening, though it seems common sense, is a powerful tool to break through the noise and get the most out of digital meetings (as a team lead, manager, and employee). As described by an author for Harvard Business Review, listening needs to be active, participatory, and helpful. Here are a few of his strategies: 

Do your homework: What do you have to offer? Make this information available beforehand. If you don’t have much critical information, define what you want to get out of the meeting and seek it out. 

Be inclusive, particularly to issues: Look for patterns that emerge in the conversation and connect them. If several people bring up a similar issue or topic, be sure to listen first to those points and incorporate them into a meaningful discussion. 

Encourage breaks: Screen time, already a growing concern in the new digital era, has essentially doubled now that every interaction has been confined to screens. These adjustments we are making to accommodate a remote work environment can quickly lead to a myriad of issues like poor sleep, poor posture, or burnout. While it’s clear screen time cannot be avoided, it’s equally important to encourage teams to take breaks. Avoid holding employees tightly to a pre-pandemic schedule and allow a bit of flexibility throughout the week. Remember, there are no more migrations to conference rooms, trips to pick up lunch, or chats in the kitchen after all and employees typically come to rely on that movement pattern to break up screen time during a work day. 

Download: How Employee Recognition Influences Attitude & Behavior in the Workplace 

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