Reducing employee turnover is a major KPI for modern HR teams. Many expected the recent switch to remote work would improve overall retention rates - but it turns out that increasing remote employee retention is more complex than it first seemed.
The last couple of years catalyzed the evolution of work. Many industries saw a boost in demand, while some businesses made massive adjustments to survive.
A paradigm shift saw many employees quitting their companies during “the Great Resignation” movement due to different reasons. One of the most important reasons was the call back to the offices.
Employees got a taste of the freedom and flexibility of remote work, and many are now reluctant to join companies that want to return to previous work norms. Even before the pandemic, 69% of on-site workers said that having the opportunity to work remotely would make them more likely to choose one employer over another. More recently, expectations evolved further: 39% of employees said they would consider quitting if their employers asked them to return to the office full time.
Naturally, the shift to distributed workplaces propelled the growth of numerous fully remote companies. Expecting the benefits of remote work to rub off on them, many newly remote-friendly and remote-first companies were disappointed and surprised when they experienced high turnover among their teams.
We all know that working remotely has its pros and cons. However, it seems like organizations are struggling to keep remote employee retention under control.
So, how can you stabilize your turnover rates and flourish as a remote team?
First, you’ll want to identify the primary causes of turnover on your own team. Every organization is different, and getting to the root of the cause will start you off on the right foot.
There are some commonalities among remote workers’ reasons for quitting their jobs. In 2021, Buffer’s research showed that these are the five most common remote work challenges:
You can see how easily some of these challenges can turn into burnout, frustration, and disengagement - ultimately leading to employees quitting.
However, you’ll need to identify the main reasons for turnover rates in your organization to address these challenges effectively. To find that out, it’s useful to perform exit interviews: take this template for SHRM or consider tools such as SurveySparrow, Qualtrics, or Officevibe. Think about going one step further and administering “stay interviews” to better understand why your top performers are engaged in the first place before they leave.
To measure overall sentiment on a more frequent basis, you should perform employee engagement surveys and detect turnover risks early on. Keep up with employee satisfaction by measuring eNPS score, and enrich your data with industry standards like Gallup’s Q12 survey to get a full picture.
Building a remote-first culture isn't easy, but it’s even harder if you don’t have the right people by your side. Many workers were hired to work remotely during the pandemic, but a recent study of remote workers shows that 62% of those who quit cite poor job matches . This shows the importance of the candidate experience as well as transparency in employer branding. The job experience that candidates see in the early stages of the hiring process should match the experience they get during and after onboarding.
Remote work requires a distinct mindset and specific skills, such as good tech skills, self-organization, the ability to motivate oneself, and more. When hiring, it’s useful to find out if the candidate has a record of remote work and how they function in a remote setting. These 12 interview questions for remote workers can help you discover that and increase control over remote employee retention early in the hiring stage.
Here are some additional tools to help you hire the right people remotely:
Engagement is key to remote employee retention. Highly engaged businesses experience 59% less turnover and see an increase in motivation, productivity, innovation, and more.
Here’s an overview of the best strategies to engage remote teams:
Also, check out these ideas on improving employee engagement from expert people leaders.
You've heard it before. People don't quit jobs; they quit managers.
While that's not always true, managers’ poor people skills are even more evident in a remote setting than in the office. Plenty of managers are promoted from within the team due to their operational knowledge, and the education on actual people management often stops there. Moreover, managing people remotely can be challenging even for leaders that do a superb job managing in-office employees and building rapport face-to-face. As discussed previously, efficient remote work requires a slightly different skillset - but so does remote management.
Significant challenges of working remotely include difficulty focusing and staying motivated, and managers should be the first ones to detect this in their teams. Regular check-ins and 1:1s are crucial to identify disengagement early on.
Managers need to know how to support, guide, and inspire their teams instead of just distributing tasks and keeping tabs on productivity. Remote-friendly and remote-first companies need to invest in their managers’ training and mentoring, as well as encourage the exchange of ideas and best practices on team leadership among their managers.
In essence, managers should both be coached and acquire coaching skills to successfully manage employees remotely. On one hand, managers need to provide coaching to their team members. Coaching refers to supporting employees to make progress by listening, questioning, and challenging, instead of transferring skills directly with training. On the other hand, managers also need coaching themselves. Giving managers training and support they need is crucial in empowering them to manage remote teams effectively.
Research on coaching shows that companies see a whopping 529% of ROI from executive coaching and an 86% increase in productivity compared to a 22% increase stemming from training alone. Knowing this makes investing in manager training and coaching one of the most effective remote employee retention strategies.
One of the biggest benefits of remote work is that you can hire people everywhere, but this also means that your employees can be recruited from anywhere. Talk about the pros and cons of working and employing remotely!
To effectively address remote employee retention, keep up with industry standards when it comes to compensation and benefits.
Moreover, Colorado and New York City now require salary ranges in job postings. Make sure to address this if you’re hiring in these states, but also consider this practice for job posting in general. It shows your company’s transparency that contributes to fairness and equality in hiring.
52% of employees feel less connected to their co-workers when working remotely.
Non-work-related chatter is much more challenging when working remotely - and it has numerous benefits for the company, too. However, making up for all the watercooler talks that can’t happen due to physical distance is difficult since teams work in different time zones and have flexible schedules.
That’s why asynchronous team-building activities are a great way for teams to meet and connect on a more personal level. You can explore tools like Donut or Water Cooler Trivia to help you do this.
However, nothing beats actual live get-togethers. Fully remote companies save plenty of financial resources on office spaces, so smart ones will opt for annual or bi-annual company retreats. Retreats are not only a great opportunity to boost team spirit but also to take a deep dive into client success stories, brainstorm new ideas, and more.
See how Zapier, Viget, and Buffer do it and their take on company retreats.
There is an abundance of research on the importance of employee development opportunities for retention. For example:
Create development plans in collaboration with employees and their managers to make them personalized. Employees need to know what they can expect from you as an employer in terms of learning, growth, and new opportunities: transparency in this department is one of the best employee retention strategies you can implement.
If there’s one single takeaway from this article, it’s to take the phrase “put people first” to heart. Working remotely has both pros and cons, and you have higher chances of reducing remote teams’ turnover if you minimize the disadvantages that employees often experience as soon as possible.
As in many aspects of HR, there's no silver bullet to resolve the issue of remote team turnover. It takes a well-thought-out plan to address the issues that your remote employees are facing.
However, at the heart of all the remote employee retention strategies listed in this article is to simply take a human approach to reducing turnover. Employees are people - and people need motivation, acknowledgment, and each other’s companionship to excel in what they do both as teams and as individuals.