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Omaha/Nebraska is not a bustling metropolis. With many people working from home, the tallest office building in town has the hushed ambience of a church. At least no one has trouble finding parking.
Omaha/Nebraska is not a bustling metropolis. With many people working from home, the tallest office building in town has the hushed ambience of a church. At least no one has trouble finding parking.

Blog post -

How to engage and communicate with staff who are working from home

The changes in the workplace were on full display in Omaha/Nebraska, the venue for the Gallup@Work 2023 conference. The central business district was very quiet, even during weekday rush hour and lunch times. I wondered where all the people were. As I travelled to and from the CHI Health Conference Centre, my Uber driver explained many people were still working from home.

The conference’s theme was Creating Thriving Workplaces. But how do you do that when staff are not physically in the workplace? How do you engage them when they’re not around?

Gallup’s Dr Jim Harter has just published a new book on the topic called "Culture Shock". He gave three main reasons why people want to continue to work from home:

  • No more commuting – adding up the hour commuting to work and from work, people spend an aggregate 29 workdays per year just commuting.
  • Higher well-being
  • Flexibility for family

Two key remedies came up again and again, and unsurprisingly communication was an essential element in both:

First, get to know the story of each of your team members. There are compelling reasons to do so. More than half of American workers have jobs they could do from home, and of these more than nine in ten never want to go back to a fully in the office environment.

What is behind this for each member of your staff?

Work-life balance also doesn’t just mean splitting work from leisure, where they are fully at work 9-to-5 and then completely switch off. Some people prefer to blend their day between work and play, where they actually start earlier and finish later, but take time out during the day for home matters. “Splitters” and “blenders” are apparently balanced fifty-fifty among American workers, although a straw poll among conference attendees showed two-thirds were blenders.

Do you know the ratio among your staff?

Find out what it’s like for them at home and have a coaching (rather than boss-to-subordinate) conversation around how to facilitate that. One example cited was workers looking after multiple generations of family members. Workhuman’s Meisha-ann Martin said half of people in this group were so stressed they had suicidal thoughts.

So, where do you begin with the new ways of engaging employees?

Ahead of a trial of a work-from-home arrangement, put in place processes of productivity and measures of accountability. Discuss what the home environment is like. Are employees able to take video calls without disturbance or interruption from family members, pets, and so on? Do they have the necessary equipment, with staff asked to invest in this to demonstrate their commitment to being productive. Perhaps they can also suggest ways they will measurably demonstrate their accountability.

Once the trial is underway, review whether commitments on both sides are being met and make adjustments where required.

How do you know what adjustments to make?

This is where the second communication aspect came in. The key phrase that came up again and again: Have meaningful conversations with all members of the team at least once a week. That sounds onerous, but as Dr Harter commented, if you have the right cadence this could be just 15-30 minutes. He underscored the word ‘meaningful’, as the discussion should be substantive and take the tone of a two-way coaching conversation, rather than a one-way boss-to-staff edict.

This came out in other points. Summarising:

  1. People still value their pay check highly. But flexibility and purposeful work is also important.
  2. People don’t just want perks. They want to grow and develop.
  3. People prefer ongoing feedback and guidance over a quarterly or annual review. Only one-in-five found performance reviews inspiring.
  4. People prefer to focus on their strengths rather than weaknesses.

The bottom line is employee engagement has shifted dramatically in the past three years. It has become so fundamental to talent attraction and retention, and to productivity, that Gallup says engagement is not yet another thing on your plate, it is the plate.

Walking through the quiet streets of Omaha it certainly seems the work-from-home phenomenon is alive and well. Whether employees are engaged and thriving is another question.




Mark Laudi

Mark Laudi

Press contact Managing Director (+65) 6223 2249

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