The Barry University online Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Management program prepares graduates to manage employees in a variety of settings. One of those settings — remote work or telecommuting — became widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing the working populace to continue doing their jobs while avoiding unsafe environments.

Following the pandemic, work settings shifted back toward the office, to a degree. Yet, remote and partially remote or “hybrid” work environments remain much more prevalent than in pre-pandemic times. Given this, today’s business leaders must understand remote and hybrid work environments in order to manage their workforce effectively.

How Did the COVID-19 Pandemic Impact Remote Work?

Working from home is not a new phenomenon. According to a study on remote work trends before and after the pandemic, data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the percentage of people in the U.S. working remotely increased steadily during the first two decades of the 20th century — from 3.2% in 2000 to 7.3% in 2020.

This figure rose substantially during the pandemic, even beyond the anomalous period of lockdowns and stay-at-home measures in 2020. Findings of the American Time Use Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that 38% of workers conducted at least a portion of their work at home during 2021. While this percentage receded in 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that more than 25% of the U.S. labor force still worked remotely at least part of the time that year.

Interestingly, private surveys reveal substantially different figures, in part because they may focus on a narrower subset of workers. For instance, Gallup conducts extensive polling of “remote-capable” employees — workers whose jobs are compatible with working from home. Gallup found that five in 10 remote-capable employees worked in hybrid settings in 2023 while three in 10 worked fully remote. Thus, only two out of every ten remote-capable employees worked entirely onsite. The vast majority of these employees prefer this flexible work arrangement, with hybrid models being the most popular.

What Does This Mean for Managers?

Telecommuters want the flexibility to make their own hours and the autonomy to work with less supervision, and this can make managing them a challenge. Yet, remote work also offers companies many benefits, including greater employee retention and engagement, reduced costs, reduced worker stress, and even improvements in the talent pool and productivity. Here are five suggestions for managing remote workers:

  1. Prioritize access and transparency. Although your remote workers cannot see you across the hallway, they do not want to feel a sense of distance when they work with you. Communicate with them frequently; make yourself available through email, instant messaging, and phone. When they contact you, respond in as timely a manner as possible to provide the same feeling of connectivity that your in-office employees enjoy. Schedule regular videoconference updates and coaching sessions. Also, consider using collaborative software appropriate to your industry in order to foster teamwork. Technology makes it possible for remote workers to be every bit the key team players that in-office workers are. Make sure your telecommuters feel secure in their jobs and are not stigmatized or marginalized.
  2. Set expectations for everyone involved. Many employees today are still not accustomed to working closely with remote workers. Some doubt whether they can trust remote workers to accomplish tasks as efficiently as they would in person. For remote workers to perform effectively, their teammates must understand that they are held accountable to the same expectations as in-office personnel and have the necessary access to company resources to do their jobs. Communicate clear expectations for how in-office personnel and remote workers are to collaborate. Ensure that your remote workers know exactly what is expected in terms of meetings, work sharing, deliverables, and deadlines.
  3. Create an inclusive environment. In small groups, pair remote workers with in-office workers to create tighter working relationships. This avoids the feeling of “us and them” that can exist in settings with combined workforces. Establish communication points of contact and backup plans so that people can always get the information they need when they need it. Conduct meetings using videoconferencing equipment so that all employees have a seat at the table.
  4. Focus on objectives, not activity. When you manage in-office employees, you can see that they are working, and that provides assurance that deadlines will be met and projects successfully completed. There can be some anxiety in adjusting to working with remote staff, as you will not always know when they are working. Focusing on goals, rather than activity, will alleviate this understandable anxiety for both in-office and telecommuting personnel.
  5. Invest in technology. Technology allows remote workers to be effective, but hardware and software must be current, maintained, reliable, and understood by all parties. Give remote employees the training they need to feel comfortable with the tools they will be using and support them with IT resources so that systems are dependable and quickly restored if they falter.
  6. Encourage hybrid work. While remote work settings can be productive and beneficial in many ways, in-person and hybrid work environments still have advantages. Most notably, opportunities for in-person work can benefit collaboration and company culture, both essential drivers for an engaged, innovative, and committed workforce. Plus, as the Gallup poll showed, flexible hybrid workplace models are now the norm for many remote-capable employees, and most workers prefer it this way.

      The remote work trend trajectory continues, with the recent global pandemic causing an abrupt shift in the number of working professionals doing their jobs from home. As life returns to the new normal, many managers will have a combination of remote, hybrid, and on-site employees. Managers with the training to successfully incorporate telecommuters into their teams will have substantial advantages in getting hired and promoted. That training is now available in an MBA in Management online program.

      Learn more about Barry University’s online MBA in Management program.