Ask HR: Remote Worker Struggles with Proving Productivity

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP November 10, 2022
Ask HR: Remote Worker Struggles with Proving Productivity

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 


As a remote worker, my day never seems to end. The boundaries between work and not work are blurred and often seem non-existent. Working remotely, I find it challenging to show my value and work ethic to leadership and my colleagues. I often work extra hard to compensate for this perception. How can I set expectations in my work life and still be a team player? —Dale  

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: You aren't alone. Most of us want a fruitful personal life and productive work life, but competing demands tend to push us in one direction or another. While many seek work/life balance, it is better to think of it as work/life integration. Employees are pursuing the flexibility to have a choice of where, when and how work gets done, and of course, opportunities to prioritize what is important in lifeboth personally and professionally.

Visibility as a remote employee can often be challenging. In fact, research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has shown in-person workers are five to seven times more likely to believe remote employees are less productive and work fewer hours than they do. Understandably, you feel the pressure to put in extra effort and hours. However, the research also shows this perception is incorrect. In fact, more in-person workers (27 percent) feel excluded from opportunities at work than remote workers (20 percent), and more onsite workers (30 percent) feel passed over for promotions than remote workers (24 percent).

Here are a few ideas to help you with your work/life fulfillment as a remote employee:

  • Schedule "me" time. It can be difficult to log off, especially if you are already home. Make plans to see friends and family or do a fun activity after work. It can help to have a change of scenery and take a true break from work.
  • Create a separate workspace in your home. Avoid working in common areas like your living room. A separate workspace or office makes it easier to walk away at the end of your workday.
  • Take a break. Eating lunch away from your computer or taking a short walk outside can help you be more productive and feel more energized to finish your workday strong.

To demonstrate your work ethic to leadership and your colleagues—and continue to be a team player—keep these in mind:

  • Be available. Use technology to your advantageit can help your co-workers know when you are available and find easy and efficient ways to reach you.
  • Communicate. Provide updates on your work to your manager, and offer to help with any ongoing projects or tasks. Reach out to colleagues, too, and offer help and feedback. The best way to be "seen" in a remote work environment is to leverage your communication channels fully.
  • Meet deadlines. Be consistent and reliable. Your hard work can easily be seen when you complete tasks and projects well and in a timely manner. People will see you as a reliable, valued team member.
  • Collaborate. Be open to co-workers' ideas and brainstorm new ways of doing things. Always be respectful, even if you disagree.
  • Show your value. Do more than the bare minimum of what your job requires. Look for professional development opportunities and assignments to help you grow in your career.

Remember, as a remote employee, you aren't working on an island alone. Being intentional and implementing some of these strategies can help you showcase your work ethic while also preserving work/life integration.

A couple of my employees have posted negative or unflattering comments about work on social media. I am already short-staffed so firing them isn't a great option. Plus, they are generally solid performers. How should I respond? Should I deal with them individually or should I address the entire team? —Dewey

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: It depends on what is being said.

For better or worse, social media appears to be here to stay. In many ways, social media is an extension of water cooler talk or a coffee break, but with a broader reach.

Surprisingly, many employers, like yourself, don't have much authority over what employees post on their social media. Employees have the right to discuss work conditions, for instance, safety, compensation and benefits. This is what's considered a protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which applies to all workplaces, not just unionized ones. However, employees can't be completely reckless on social media, making untrue or maliciously disparaging statements, or bad-mouthing their employer with broad-stroke commentary.

So, what do you do? Here are five tactics:

  1. Consult your legal counsel, your state laws and the NLRA regulations to ensure you're not addressing things regarding employees' social media that shouldn't be addressed.
  2. Employees may be addressed individually or as an entire team. However, if there is a specific concern with an individual, you can speak to that person directly and in private.
  3. If federal or state laws don't protect the social media post, it boils down to company policies and practices. Some employers specifically have a social media policy to address these issues with predetermined consequences of such actions.
  4. Termination should often be a tool of last resort. Provide channels for communication with solid performers about their dissatisfaction. After hearing from employees, decide whether coaching, counseling, training or disciplinary action may be more appropriate. Get an idea of what is working well and what is not working well for employees. Make some adjustments if and where possible.
  5. Ask HR to help you conduct employee engagement surveys to gauge employee attitudes and satisfaction. If solid performers are dissatisfied, there may be reasons worth investigating. This can help you retain high-performing employees and benefit talent acquisition and retention, especially in today's competitive labor market. 

With some intentional effort and by gathering more information, you can move forward positively with your employees.



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