A recent article in the Harvard Business review “Engagement around the world, Charted” by Matt Perry showed, among other findings, that working remotely increased engagement. The more days people worked remotely, the more engaged they were, with people working 4 or 5 days a week remotely almost twice as engaged as people who don’t work remotely at all.
A similar finding from a 2015 Gallup poll for Mckinsey found that as people, became more matrixed (more regular work on multiple teams and multiple reporting lines) they became more engaged.
This might be a surprise to people who tend to see the matrix or remoteness as a problem but not to us as we have had this discussion with tens of thousands of participants over the years. In general, people enjoy complexity and autonomy – provided they have the skills to deal with it.
People working remotely massively appreciate the flexibility and autonomy it brings – and these are 2 essential components of engagement. They mostly worry about visibility and relationships. Remote managers on the other hand, love the productivity and cost benefits (remote workers are consistently found to be more productive); they tend to worry most about issues of control (how do I know what people are doing).
In the matrix people appreciate the breadth as they become exposed to more variety. When working on multiple teams people benefit from broader learning opportunities and more variety.
We often ask people in these complex roles “if you had the chance to go back and work on a single team in a single location, would you want to?” It is very rare that anyone would opt for this, though some say it would be nice to do this for a short holiday once per year :-)
As we often say to leaders “don’t overestimate the value of your presence”, most people like autonomy and variety.
Now clearly this can be taken too far. Multiple team membership for example Increases engagement up to a point and then it starts to fall as too many teams starts to create overload rather than variety. The trick lies in finding the “sweet spot” of how many teams works for you and this is impacted but the variety and complexity of the tasks you are working on and the difficultly of “switching” between different packets of work. It’s a learnable skill set we include in our training on multiple team membership.
Skills and mindset seem to be a critical factor on whether more complex forms or work create engagement or disillusion. If we have the skills to cope we have a positive mindset and we see the advantages. If we don’t we can become passive or negative – and this never works as a strategy.
So if you are working remotely or in a matrix and having a difficult day (they do happen) instead of blaming your environment ask “would I want to go back to a simpler world” – chances are your engagement would be worse.