Remote work was already gaining momentum when the global pandemic hit in early 2020. Abruptly, everything went virtual—and after the initial shock wore off, remote teams began to realize that many of the things they believed could only achieved in the workplace, i.e., in person, can be accomplished online.
But at what cost?
A Deficit of Communication & Trust
Ward van Zoonen of Erasmus University in the Netherlands studied more than 5,400 office workers in Finland. At the start of the pandemic, employees indicated high levels of trust in their peers and supervisors. Just seven months later, after working apart from one another, their trust levels had declined substantially.
Here are two more examples:
- A survey by the Center for Transformative Work Design in Australia found that 60% of supervisors questioned whether remote teams were performing as well or were as motivated as those that were in the office. This may help explain why sales of employee-surveillance software, which measures employees’ webcams, microphones, and keystrokes, has skyrocketed. It may also shed light on some of the numbers behind the “great resignation” as workers give up on companies that don’t value or trust them.
- A study of over 61,000 Microsoft employees, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, found that employees working from home spent about 25% less time collaborating with colleagues compared to pre-pandemic levels. They also became more siloed in how they communicate, communicating less frequently with people in formal and informal business groups and engaging in fewer real-time conversations.
Clearly, many workplaces have a problem. A lack of communication and trust leads to a loss of creativity, low morale, and decreased productivity. And since remote teams are here to stay in some shape or form, it is a problem that managers need to resolve if they want to recruit and retain employees.
Hard Data Behind Soft Skills
What can organizational leaders do to improve communication and trust while making employees feel valued? Start by investing in remote training.
Initially published in 2019, the TalentLMS Remote Work Survey was updated in 2021 to reflect the fact that most people were working from home out of necessity and not by choice. In a survey of 1,000 American workers, the conclusion was clear: By offering training opportunities to your remote workforce, you can improve their performance, happiness, and loyalty.
Notably, 53% of those surveyed said that wanted more soft skills training—and of those who had received such training, they rated themselves higher than their counterparts who had not received training in areas such as:
- Time management
- Communication (with team or colleagues)
- Balance between work and personal life
- Happiness (while working from home)
- Feeling valued (by company)
Am I surprised? Not at all. In 1918, the Carnegie Foundation published a study by Charles Riborg Mann which concluded that soft skills were much more important to career success than hard skills. In 2016, a group of researchers from Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center extrapolated statistics from the 1918 report and concluded that 85% of job success comes from having well‐developed soft and people skills. (These are the same skills that The Galvanizing Group develops for remote teams in its coaching program and online learning courses.)
It is hard to predict exactly what the work world will look like a year from now. But collaboration, communication, and trust are essential skills in any environment, remote or in-person. The companies that invest in development for their workforce will be those that are most attractive to high performers—and the most prepared to thrive.
Patrick Galvin is the Chief Galvanizer of The Galvanizing Group which delivers innovative coaching, training, and online learning programs for high-performance companies and teams seeking a systematic and measurable approach to business relationship building. Patrick is also a TEDx speaker, keynote presenter, and author of The Way series of business parables about building trust-based relationships.