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‘Businesses need awareness of remote working dangers’

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The lockdown could significantly hinder the career prospects of certain groups of employees working remotely even if they have stable work in sectors not economically stricken by the pandemic.

According to business consultancy Gartner, which continually researches the issue, at least three broadly drawn groups of workers are experiencing “unfair” career consequences whatever their productivity when working from home. They are:

  • Digital introverts – employees who are less vocal in virtual meetings
  • Women – remote working is proving damaging to the progression of female workers and gender equality in the workplace
  • Junior staff – inadequate remote training opportunities means new employees are struggling to progress

These individuals could pose a major flight risk to organisations when the job market eventually rebounds” – Brian Kropp, Gartner

Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner, told Personnel Today that the problems faced by these employees could cause retention issues later in the year.

He said: “With the UK in a third national lockdown, and offices set to be closed for a significant part of the year, businesses need to consider the impact of continued remote working on different employee groups. Our research shows that many employees are having their career prospects unfairly hindered by remote working, and these individuals could pose a major flight risk to organisations when the job market eventually rebounds.”

Organisational leaders, HR and line managers needed to grasp the reality that many people, called “digital introverts” by Gartner, struggled or were uncomfortable participating in virtual meetings and instant messaging platforms. This could be despite being perfectly happy to participate in meetings held in offices. Kropp said that such people could be more “reserved, more work-driven, or because they lack digital skills”.

Ironically, some of this group of workers enjoyed being able to work at home – they just lacked the desire to speak up in virtual meetings.

Kropp said: “We are finding that while many of these workers relish the privacy of remote working, they are also more likely to be ignored by managers for promotion during the remote work era.

“This is because of bias in favour of those who are more visible. In fact we’ve found when there is a mix of employees working remotely and in the office, those working remotely (and therefore less visible) are twice as likely to receive corrective feedback.”

The move to the virtual workplace had also been to the detriment of women’s careers, Gartner’s research suggests, partly because of old fashioned gender demarcations.

Kropp said: “Remote working is also proving damaging to the progression of female employees in the workplace, and we expect the gender wage gap to worsen in 2021. A big part of this is due to the increased childcare responsibilities that many women are taking on, but the pandemic has also seen many important gender equality initiatives being deprioritised or lost in the virtual world.”

The final group that is losing out consists of junior employees and apprentices. These were being held back by a “lack of in-person collaboration and training with senior staff. We are finding that junior employees are less likely to be engaged during the remote working era, because of factors like inadequate training and not feeling valued as part of a team, and this is slowing their progression.”

Kropp said that because it was unlikely that people would return to offices en masse once the pandemic was deemed to be over, it was vital that businesses came to terms with the fact that remote working was a different experience for different groups of employees.

He said: “Even if the current vaccine process is successful in defeating the virus, we expect 48% of employees will work remotely at least some of the time in the post-pandemic world. Businesses need to work to understand the needs of these employee groups and find effective support mechanisms.”

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