Remote work has become the new status quo, which is great news for businesses: Most engineers report that remote work makes them better able to do their jobs. “It’s a common misconception that working from home means people aren’t as productive,” says Jennifer Farris, Chief People Officer at Terminal.
“Many employees are happier working remotely and in some cases, more productive,” Farris says. “For instance, Terminal’s annual State of Remote Engineering survey found that 7 out of 10 software engineers say working from home makes them more productive than working in an office. Among people who could work from an office but are opting to work from home, 44% say doing so has made it easier for them to get work done and meet deadlines, according to Pew research.”
But not every remote work environment is created equal, and there are specific steps that HR executives can take to ensure that they’re setting their engineers for success.
Remote engineers might not occupy the same physical space, but a majority still report that they are at their most productive when their colleagues are in a similar time zone. According to Terminal’s State of Remote Engineering survey, 80% of engineers say that being within 1-2 hours of their teammates helps them work at their best. Asynchronous communication is bread and butter to remote work, but engineers can still find it frustrating to have to wait long periods of time for responses from their colleagues.
One way to sidestep that frustration is to hire engineers who work within similar time zones. Latin America and Canada are great options for tech companies who want to hire remote talent that can work synchronously with their American colleagues.
But you can enact policies that will help you achieve similar results. “When you have a distributed team working in several time zones, consider keeping their overlapping working hours – that is, your ‘golden hours’ – sacred,” says Megan Dilley, Communications Director and Senior Consultant at Distribute, a thought leader and consulting firm that specializes exclusively in remote work. “For example, for a company with team members in California and the UK, this is usually around 8-10am Pacific time and 4-6pm GMT. During these hours, everyone is expected to be reachable, and if you need to schedule synchronous meetings, this is the time to do it. Outside these hours, employees work autonomously.”
The main advantage of a traditional office is that it provides engineers a dedicated space where work happens – something that an engineer might not have at home. “For many, there is no line between working hours and off hours – which doesn’t serve productivity,” says Farris. “Your office has to double as your zen space, where you get your best critical thinking done.”
HR leaders should do everything in their power to give engineers what they need to be productive. Every employee onboarding should include an assessment of a new hire’s workspace so that they can get tips on making sure it’s set up to their best advantage. You can also give engineers a stipend for ergonomic equipment, office supplies, and high-speed internet.
For employees who’d rather work outside of the home, you can provide a budget or subscription for a co-working space. Our State of Remote Engineering survey reveals that, while in the minority, not everyone wants to work quietly on their own. Thirty-two percent say they prefer working in an energetic environment and a co-working space is a great option for these engineers: 47% say that, given the choice, they’d prefer to work in a co-working space over a traditional office.
One of the best ways to help your engineers be productive? Ask them what they need. What your own engineers want might be unique to them, so be sure to keep an open dialogue. It might be tempting to try a bunch of new tactics to boost productivity, but your first step should be to consider how your engineers would like to engage. For example, all the tools in the world won’t help your team be more productive if they’re suffering from burnout – and with nearly a quarter of engineers reporting burnout last year, it might be more likely than you think.
On a macro level, you can send out company-wide surveys to get a sense of how your employees are adapting to remote work and identify pain points that you can address. You should also encourage managers to set up one-on-one time with their engineers to help them get a handle on what productivity looks like for their team.
“Managers who adopt a remote-first mindset need to figure out what works for their employees,” says Farris. “It’s important that managers solicit feedback from their reports and create flexible policies based on how employees actually want to work, not how they think they want to work. Employers should also ask when employees feel most productive – for example, is the employee a morning person or do they do their best work in the evening? It all comes back to co-defining ‘how we work’ as a team.”
Engineers aren’t just more productive with remote work; they’re also happier. Sixty-four percent of engineers say that remote work gives them better work-life balance and 48% report lower stress levels. Combine that with a considerable productivity boost, and remote work is a win for engineers and businesses alike. With an open ear and the right policies, HR leaders can ensure that their employees have a remote work environment that keeps them content for years to come.