Remote workers could be more, not less engaged, GW professor says

Disengaged employees are becoming a larger problem. According to a recent Gallup poll, employees working from home are feeling more disconnected from their employers, the lowest it has been since before the pandemic.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Sharon Hill, an associate professor of management at the George Washington University School of Business, has been researching virtual work for the past two decades to find both the positive and negative implications of it.

Communication between managers and remote workers is key to engagement, and lack of communication is a primary cause of disengagement.

“We know that research shows that we tend to communicate less frequently in a virtual environment,” Hill said. “So, if managers feel that they are over-communicating, they probably have it about right.”

One of her recent papers focused on behaviors that make an effective leader in a virtual work environment. One of them is to know the technology, without having to be an IT expert.

“Because there are many tools available now, we cannot expect managers to be experts in all of them,” Hill said. “But they do need to understand how to use technology to facilitate interactions, and that involves how to have employees get appropriate support.”

When managed right, workers can become more engaged and feel more connected working remotely.

“This is because employees increasingly want more flexibility and autonomy in their work. And when they feel their organization is providing that and offering support in that area, this can actually help foster a higher sense of engagement at work,” Hill said.

The university’s business school also recently published a paper by Hill that explored how virtual work impacts employee well-being.

Editor’s note: The headline for this article has been corrected to The George Washington University.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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