No doubt you’ve heard the old phrase, “people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.” This is particularly true for people who work at a distance from their coworkers and their manager(s). Why is the risk of remote workers leaving higher than people who come into the office every day? There are a couple of simple reasons.
The barriers to changing jobs are much lower.
So if someone wants to leave, it’s not a big deal. Think about this. If you’re coming into work every morning, you know how long that commute will be, what the arrangements are for getting the kids to work, and how long your dog can be left alone before the throw pillows are in danger. Changing jobs means addressing all of that in new ways. It’s a hassle. When we work from home, none of those things change. When we start another job, we will probably sit at the same desk, and nothing changes but our login information.
Working remotely can become very task-focused.
This can be both isolating and boring. Never underestimate boredom as a reason to look elsewhere. Unless you are a world-class introvert, working with and around others is occasionally fun. Are you helping your remote team actually enjoy their work?
As a leader, you may not see the signs of discontent or restlessness until it’s too late.
When you work with someone, you may notice changes in behavior. Coming in late or leaving early may be a sign of discontent with their job. Sloppiness may mean they’ve become bored or itchy and might welcome new opportunities. When you don’t actually see someone on a regular basis, it’s much easier to miss, ignore, or not even look for the early signs that lead to turnover.
Remote workers can have less of a sense of community and belonging.
Even if you don’t like your boss, many workers are very attached to the people they work with or the company’s mission. That’s true no matter where someone works. But when you don’t see people every day, the relationships that make work enjoyable and build bonds frequently fray. We don’t feel like we’re really an important part of the organization, and thus the emotional stress of leaving a job is lowered. As an effective long-distance leader, it’s incumbent on us to help create—and maintain—the personal connections that help people enjoy the work and the people on their team.
So how do we know if any of these dynamics are at work? We need to ask plenty of open-ended questions that elicit not just the facts, (“Are you going to make that deadline?”) but their engagement level. Are people working together well? Are they having fun? Is there anything going on in their outside lives that might impact how happy they are with their job?
It might make for some uncomfortable conversations, and some extra work, but keeping good people on the team is worth it. It’s certainly easier than recruiting, training, and finding the next person.
As a long-distance leader, are you really sure how engaged your remote people are?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.