By: Amy Dozier on August 11th, 2021

Print/Save as PDF

5 Retention Risks That Could Drive Away Remote Workers

Business Management & Strategy | Best Practices | Employee Relations

Keeping hold of your best staff has always been a challenge. Experienced managers have a whole toolkit of techniques they use to identify retention risks and minimize staff turnover rates. But those techniques often involve face-to-face contact with the team. What happens when you’re trying to manage a group of remote workers?

With remote working here to stay, staff turnover is a growing concern for employers. It’s not easy to figure out if someone is unsettled when you only ever speak over Zoom or Teams. Leaders need a new strategy for identifying the red flags that suggest a talented remote worker is thinking about moving on.

With over 36 million Americans expected to join the full-time remote workforce by 2025, it's never been more important to get this right. 

Download a sample Employee Engagement Survey 

What are the retention risks for remote workers?

When we talk about retention, it’s important to understand that there are two main reasons why someone might quit: pull factors and push factors. 

Push factors are the things they can’t stand about their current role. This might include stressful workloads, inflexible schedules, cultural conflicts, or lack of opportunities. 

Pull factors are the things that might lure someone towards a rival employer. This can include a higher salary, better work-life balance, an opportunity to learn new skills, or just the desire to change career. 

Retention risk is when these factors build to a level that impacts your staff turnover rate. In a typical office, you can see plenty of red flags and warning signs simply by observing people at their desks. With a team of remote workers, however, problems can fly under the radar until it’s too late. 

Related reading: Do You Know Why Your Employees Are Leaving?

5 retention red flags when working with remote teams

Fortunately, there are some warning signs that can indicate a potential retention risk. Here are a few red flags to watch out for:

1. Low levels of engagement

Engagement is ultimately another word for enthusiasm. An enthusiastic employee will volunteer for projects, suggest new ideas, and raise their hand at meetings. A disengaged employee might still perform their daily responsibilities, but they won’t show enthusiasm about the team’s mission. 

2. Pushback against a return to the office

Did you know that almost half of U.S. workers say they would quit if forced to return to the office? Remote working has been a revelation for many people because it has allowed them to experience a healthy work-life balance. It’s hard to give that up, which is why complaints about returning to the office could indicate deep unhappiness.  

3. Slow response to messages

Some people make a healthy decision to disconnect from email and IM while they focus on other things, and that’s okay. But a disengaged person will also take their time responding to messages, often reply the next day (or not at all). If there’s a change in the employee’s typical communication pattern, it may show that they’re not fully engaged.

4. Complaints about workload

Stress can be a major push factor in any job. Understandably so, as workplace stress is often the leading cause of depression in adults. If people seem to be overworked or struggling to meet targets, it may point toward deeper organizational issues. Issues like these can push people away from your company and towards another employer. 

5. Unusual login activity

According to a report in Fast Company, late-night logins are the most prominent indicator of a remote worker who is about to quit. People often make illicit copies of important work files before they quit. Remote workers often do this after-hours in the mistaken belief that IT security won’t notice them. 

Any of these could constitute a major retention red flag. But what can leaders do to keep hold of unsettled staff? 

How to keep remote workers engaged

The principles of employee engagement are the same no matter where your team is located. Everyone wants to feel recognized, valued, and supported. They want to enjoy a healthy work-life balance, plus they want to feel like they’re on a promising career path.

With this in mind, there are a few things you can do to keep your remote staff engaged:

1. Have regular one-to-one check-ins

You can’t bump into remote workers at the water cooler, unfortunately. That means that leaders need to make an effort to speak to individuals over video chat. Ideally, each manager should have a short check-in with a manager at least once a week, with a longer one-on-one conversation every month or so. 

2. Keep everyone in the loop

Remote employees often feel left out because they miss important conversations in the office. This can directly impact the quality of their work as well, as they might not learn about new best practices or pick up useful tips. Managers can help bridge the gap by ensuring that remote workers dial into all meetings. You can also encourage teams to share any important conversations with their colleagues over Slack or Teams. 

3. Avoid bias towards in-office employees

In-office employees have an advantage over remote colleagues. They’re present all the time, which means that their boss is more likely to think of them when there’s a great opportunity or an exciting project. Hybrid teams have to work hard to redress this balance. Talking about career paths can help, as it clarifies what each employee has to do in order to earn their next promotion. 

4. Provide support and training

Remote work isn’t always easy. Some people struggle to adapt, especially if they’re not naturally tech-oriented. Employers can help make these people feel more secure in their posts by offering support and training for things like cybersecurity, cloud technology, and virtual collaboration. It’s also important to make sure that remote workers know who to contact if they run into technical issues. Remember that new hires need remote onboarding to help them integrate into your organizational culture. 

5. Nurture the work-life balance

Telecommuting has transformed the work-life balance. Without the morning commute, people have more time for childcare, education, caring for older relatives, or simply relaxing. This is a net positive, as it means that employees are more energetic and focused when it’s time to log into work. Employers should lean into this by allowing flexible work patterns so that people can find the optimal daily schedule for their needs. 

Remote workers are the same as any other employee. If they're engaged and they feel valued, they're much less likely to look for opportunities elsewhere. 

Get help to tackle remote worker retention risks

Employee retention is a challenge for all employers, especially in an age of remote workers and hybrid teams. Leaders are fretting about the effects of the New Normal on productivity and office culture

But when remote working works, it unlocks a whole new world of collaboration and productivity. Need some help with your remote team? Book a no-obligation call with a Helios HR consultant today. Find out how Helios HR can help you build an incredible remote or hybrid team. 

engagement survey