Remote Leadership Report
How leaders are navigating the rapid rise of a remote workforce
As the workforce suddenly and unexpectedly went remote this year, leaders and organizations across the world are currently experiencing an unprecedented upheaval of traditional working norms. And it’s clear there’s no going back to status quo.
Remote may take many forms in the future, but it’s clear that accommodating remote employees is no longer just a ‘contingency plan’ and instead must be adapted as a long-term strategic mindset of leaders.
While there’s been considerable research into remote work pre-COVID, there’s a gap in the bigger picture data necessary for understanding how leaders are handling the switch to remote — a perspective which will guide us all in adapting and succeeding in a remote-centric future.
To gain an understanding of how leaders today are navigating these shifts, we surveyed 400 HR and engineering leaders. What follows is a comprehensive look at remote work challenges, frustrations, and, most importantly, insights into how to build that critical, future-ready remote strategy.
The data tells us, the short-term shift has given leaders confidence in remote, but they will need to embrace key skill gaps for remote organizational effectiveness — from learning how to recruit remotely and grow a healthy culture across distances, to creating remote-specific benefits, L&D programs and new methods for kindling the fire of innovation among their teams.
We hope you find this report useful in understanding the remote work ecosystem and how we can all take steps to grow into the high-performing remote organizations that we’re capable of becoming post-pandemic.
Onwards and upwards,
Prior to the pandemic, almost 60% of companies restricted remote work in some capacity, either not allowing employees to work from home, limiting days, or only granting approval when given a good reason. But now, half of leaders anticipate increasing the number of employees working permanently remote in the next 2 years, with 81% reporting that C-19 has boosted their confidence in going remote long-term.
Only 19% of business leaders report having a remote work strategy in place prior to COVID-19. For those that do say they have a strategy, these plans lack critical components, such as remote onboarding (included in only 33% of existing plans).
Among leaders with a remote work plan, 63% of leaders say their plans address productivity. Meanwhile, less than a third of plans address employee burnout (21%) or loneliness (32%), indicating short-term worries may be obscuring critical issues that will affect longer-term employee retention.
78% of leaders favor trust over tracking tools when it comes to evaluating employee productivity. Yet, when it comes down to it, 34% of leaders still say they’ve taken a tech-based approach to tracking remote productivity. And 29% require employees to report how they spend their time — indicating that the ‘trust method’ is a work in progress.
Only 27% of leaders say they have a strong and thriving remote culture today. Simple fixes aren’t cutting it either — 59% of leaders don’t count Zoom happy hours as company culture. This lack of culture could be having a serious impact, with only 1 in 5 leaders saying their team is stronger now than ever since working from home.
44% of leaders say WFH during COVID-19 has improved proactive communications — which is a positive sign for the future given that nearly half of leaders also say that proactive communication and transparency are the key to a successful remote culture.
46% of leaders say remote work has created fewer casual moments among employees for on-the-job learning. Compounding this, nearly a third of leaders admit their learning and development programs are worse than in-person programs, or they don’t have one at all. Given that engineers rank L&D as one of their top criteria for choosing a job, this will need to be a focus area for companies to maintain a strong recruiting brand.
1 in 5 leaders don’t have a strategy for finding talent in a remote work environment. In fact, nearly half plan to mostly look in the region surrounding their offices. But, to tap into global talent pools, or follow talent that has relocated from urban areas, companies may need to look beyond their hometowns and focus on time-zone aligned talent hubs elsewhere in North America.
It goes without saying: the pandemic has transformed the workplace forever. Overnight, companies were forced to shut office doors and support a suddenly remote workforce.
And despite challenges, leaders have found that remote can work.
Prior to COVID-19, nearly 60% of engineering and HR leaders reported some restrictions around their team’s ability to work from home. Now, half of these same leaders anticipate increasing the number of remote employees in the next two years, with 25% saying their remote workforce may double during that time.
But these predictions don’t come without concern over the future — nearly half of leaders are concerned or very concerned about the negative impact of remote work on their teams.
Most leaders are tackling the challenges of remote work for the first time, with 77% of leaders reporting that they’ve never managed a fully remote team, and 89% having never managed a partially remote team. Remote hiring is also uncharted territory. More than half of employers (54%) have never hired an employee in another country, and 43% have not hired someone without meeting them in person.
Leaders at rising startups (Seed/Series A-B) report greater experience in remote hiring and management, with more experience hiring an employee without meeting them, hiring an employee in another location, or managing a partially remote team.
Only 19% of business leaders report having a remote work strategy in place prior to COVID-19 — the rest are in the process of trying to build one. For those that do say they have a strategy, most lack critical components, such as remote onboarding (included in only 33% of existing plans).
Of the plans already in place, most are focused on addressing business needs, such as employee productivity (covered in 63% of plans ) versus supporting a positive employee experience. Only 21% of plans addressed employee burnout and 32% of plans addressed isolation, even though over a quarter of leaders reported concerns about these specific issues.
Only 27% of leaders say they have a strong and thriving remote culture today. Even among the 42% of leaders who say their culture is ‘okay for now,’ they admit it’s not optimized for the long-term. One leader told us she worries how her team “will maintain a strong culture and feel like they are part of a team, rather than a collection of individuals.”
Leaders say simple fixes won’t cut it. 59% say that a Zoom happy hour doesn’t count as company culture. Instead, 44% of respondents felt that proactive communication and transparency were the keys to a successful remote culture.
Developing remote benefits appears to be a work in progress. 64% of leaders have developed productivity tools for their remote employees, but less than half are offering mental and physical health resources. 44% of leaders don’t currently have an onboarding process specifically developed for remote employees and nearly 1 in 3 leaders admit their learning and development program for remote employees is worse than in-person programs, or they don’t have one at all.
What’s more, nearly 1 in 3 leaders (29%) lack a plan for replacing traditional in-office benefits or perks for remote employees, such as home office stipends or expensed meals.
Nearly 1 in 5 leaders are not taking any specific action to promote creativity and innovation among remote workers. Among those who are taking action, over half are relying on team brainstorms and working sessions. Only some are testing approaches like virtual hackathons (22%) and inspirational speakers (26%).
Productivity is certainly a major topic for leaders today — 19% say that one of the cons of the pandemic is that they can’t get a sense for their team’s productivity. And, for leaders who have a remote plan in place (see page 9 on remote strategy plans), 63% address the area of productivity.
Leaders believe in a trust-based approach: 78% of leaders say they favor trust over tools when it comes to evaluating employee productivity. Yet, some leaders report they are using “big brother” tracking tools. 34% of leaders have taken a big brother tech-based approach to tracking remote productivity. 29% require employees to report how they spend their time.
37% of organizations lack a centralized way of managing the remote processes of their organizations. Data shows that companies who are thriving in their short term shift to remote work also tend to have a single person internally responsible for overseeing remote work processes. Interestingly, rising startups are the most likely to take this approach.
At large, companies are not planning to adjust salaries for existing employees, even when relocating to more affordable locations or remaining remote for the long haul. 72% of leaders say they plan to either pay all employees the same for a given role or freeze salaries if they were to relocate elsewhere. However, at larger companies, it remains relatively common to provide location-adjusted salaries for new hires.
Though companies have made a quick switch to remote work, many have yet to create strategies for how to effectively recruit talent remotely. Even within HR teams, 31% do not have remote recruiting strategies in place. At large, 1 in 5 leaders reported not having a strategy for finding talent in a remote work environment, while 47% are still relying on looking in areas near where they currently have offices. Global talent pools remain largely untapped among leaders, with only 35% reporting that they had hired someone in another country.
For remote workers, time zone alignment is still proving to be one of the most important factors contributing to remote team member productivity. For internal hiring managers building out teams, there’s also a large focus on finding candidates with strong time zone overlaps to where HQs already exist.
Terminal conducted this research using an online survey prepared by Method Research and distributed by Dynata among n=400 HR and engineering leaders. Data was collected from July 10 - 23, 2020.
Terminal is a remote teams engine for fast-growing companies. This means we hire, house, develop, and retain engineering teams — so that you can focus on building brilliant products. Today, we build remote teams across North America, Mexico and Colombia with campuses in five vibrant tech hubs: Vancouver, Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, Montréal and Guadalajara, supported by our unique model that blends recruiting, HR, ops, and community to drive growth.