Leading From a Distance: Ideas for Supporting Your Remote Workforce in Times of Change

March 12, 2020 - 5 min read

headshot of a man

Jump to section

How we adjust to being remote

Key challenges while working remotely

Confidence to weather challenges

As more and more offices shut down, many of us are finding ourselves unexpectedly working from home. While the lack of a commute can be a plus, remote work comes with challenges that many of us are not accustomed to navigating.

BetterUp Labs has been studying remote work for a few years now to better understand the experience of trying to collaborate across distance. We’ve now studied close to 50,000 workers to understand this experience. In light of our current coronavirus containment context, we thought it would be helpful to our community to share these findings and practices that you can adopt to effectively manage your remote teams.

How we adjust to being remote

Workers who spend most of their time remote do develop strategies to mitigate their physical isolation. We see, for example, that full-time remote workers are no lonelier than full-time onsite workers; they have learned to compensate for location with relationship building through other means like video calls, phone calls, chat, email, and more. 

Of those modalities, we found in our research with Sonja Lyubomirsky that video and phone calls are most impactful in terms of driving connection. For those looking to feel social support while working alone, schedule a video “coffee chat” with a colleague or join a “remote lunch.” Try to spend time offering kind words or help on a project. You will feel gratified by offering those kindnesses, and the kind acts will build connection.

In terms of performance metrics, we see that fully remote workers report equal productivity to onsite workers. Remote workers actually feel an even greater sense of creativity and energy at home than they do in the office. Remote workers see the same number of raises and promotions as onsite workers. And they are, overall, slightly more satisfied with their work than those who work fully onsite.

Key challenges while working remotely

It takes time to acclimate to the remote environment, however, so it’s worth knowing about the key challenges that remote workers—even long-time remote workers—face. One of our more surprising findings is that remote workers struggle more, rather than less, with work-life balance. It seems they have a harder time drawing boundaries around their work, and see it bleeding into other parts of their personal life. We also see that remote workers struggle more to find meaning and purpose in their work. This could be related to a diminished sense of service to others that could result from not sharing a communal space.

For those of us managing newly remote teams, it’s equally important to know that remote workers report higher degrees of stress, as they seek to balance personal and professional needs. They feel less engaged with their work, and express a higher likelihood of wanting to leave their jobs. As such, managers should shift to spending more time helping remote teams with prioritization and setting boundaries. Engaging directly with your reports on what brings them meaning and purpose in their work can help strengthen their intrinsic motivation and organizational commitment as well. 

Confidence to weather challenges

On tougher remote days, it’s helpful to know—both as individuals and as leaders—that remote workers experience a higher degree of self-efficacy than onsite workers. Self-efficacy is our confidence that we can achieve our own goals. A high degree of self-efficacy positions us to successfully navigate challenges—whether that challenge is at work, at home, or in our surrounding communities. 

Self-efficacy is also one of the greatest predictors of our readiness for growth. Times of transition can further open us to personal and professional development. It’s a great time to think about how you can foster growth in your newly remote teams, keeping them focused on the future—on hope, rather than fear; and on resilience, rather than frailty. These mindset shifts not only improve our moods, they also produce better outcomes for us as individuals, as teams, and as organizations.

Published March 12, 2020

Dr. Gabriella Rosen Kellerman

Chief Product Officer

Read Next

6 min read | January 22, 2020

Ultra-motivated, but exhausted workers are more common than you think—here’s what to do about it

Did you know that the World Health Organization formally labeled burnout an “occupational phenomenon”? What can you do to help your exhausted-engaged employees thrive? Read... Read More
Diversity & Inclusion
15 min read | March 26, 2021

Women at BetterUp: we need more women in tech

Since BetterUp was founded in 2013, over 50% of our employees identify as women. More importantly, women have a presence at all levels across BetterUp. For a workplace to... Read More
6 min read | July 21, 2020

Supporting healthcare workers and educators with 1:1 coaching

With the help of corporate donors, our coaches and community, we have provided free access to the BetterUp platform to thousands of healthcare workers and educators since... Read More
Mental Fitness
7 min read | January 28, 2021

Mental fitness tips from NBA All-Star, Pau Gasol

Top performing athletes know that a strong, healthy mind is just as important as a strong, healthy body. Pau Gasol, NBA All-Star and BetterUp’s newest investor and strategic... Read More
Research & Insights
6 min read | October 28, 2021

Leaders are prioritizing well-being over leadership skills in the post-Covid workplace

BetterUp member data reveals that leaders are continuing to focus inward at a time when their employees need them the most Read More
BetterUp Product
12 min read | November 10, 2021

Sleep, nutrition, new parent coaching and more: Meet BetterUp's specialist coaching network

To perform at our peak, we need to thrive physically, emotionally, cognitively, and socially. We also need rest, healthy habits, a sense of belonging, and resilience. What if... Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.