Understanding how remote work affects our ability to build productive workplaces is more important than ever—over the last decade remote work programs grew by 159%. We know remote work is increasingly the norm. What’s less clear is how remote work actually impacts employees’ everyday interactions and an organization’s ability to foster happy and productive employees.
With this in mind, Workplace by Facebook and Quartz Creative conducted a survey of 503 international employees to understand how remote work impacts professional relationships, internal communications, and management. The results solidify a few assumptions (like the fact that relationships with colleagues are paramount) and illuminate the realities of how remote workers make efforts to solidify those relationships—and how managers can help. (To gain access to the full whitepaper, enter your details below.)
Our research found that a majority of remote workers (62%) were likely to feel connected to their colleagues. But when office-based employees were asked how connected they feel to employees who don’t work in their office, that number dipped down to 40%. This gap could be explained by the fact that remote workers may be more adept at maintaining remote working relationships via virtual communication.
A study published in the Journal of Personnel Psychology found that within partially distributed teams, remote workers developed different communication patterns than did workers operating in face-to-face environments. The study divided some students into separate offices while another team of students worked together in the same room. Within an hour, different communication styles emerged. The remote cohort wrote longer, more polite messages with more positive expressions, humor, and nicknames. The in-office group, on the other hand, kept digital correspondence shorter, more straightforward, and focused on the task at hand. The upshot? Given their reliance on online communication tools, remote workers may be learning to speak a similar and more colloquial digital “language” which their in-office counterparts are less well versed in.
“It’s not unusual to have teams, freelancers, or affiliates split across satellite offices that are thousands of miles apart. That can create a feeling of isolation which can have a serious impact on the team’s work if people start to become disengaged,” says Catherine Flynn, global director of marketing for Workplace by Facebook. “One way to keep that from happening is by allowing the free flow of information and making sure everyone’s work is visible so people feel recognized.”
So how can managers adjust their leadership styles to take into account these disparate communication preferences?
Because digital communicators can’t pick up on in-person facial cues, managers’ communication styles should mimic everyday communication whenever possible. Agreeing upon specific communication patterns, establishing systems for social support online, and setting concrete expectations can help put remote and in-office workers on a more level playing field. One surveyed full-time employee mentioned, for instance, “Working remotely allows me the freedom that I need to operate at my peak times, which sometimes is late at night or early in the morning. I communicate with my team at arranged times, and I work at my own pace. As long as I’m productive, I have the blessing of my higher-ups.”
For remote work to truly be optimized, employees must feel supported in ways that allow them to feel collaborative with colleagues. Managers might try mitigating an “us versus them” mentality between remote and in-office employees by encouraging all team members to establish and adopt more uniform language for virtual communication.
While it may be more challenging for remote workers to sustain a connection with the wider organization, it’s clear they’re making concerted efforts to strengthen professional relationships. Colleagues remain one of the leading factors of employee satisfaction in today’s global workforce—and remote employees are no exception. To see more insights from the Quartz Creative and Workplace by Facebook research study, sign up below.
This article was produced for Workplace by Facebook by Quartz Creative and not the Quartz editorial staff.