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Managers Experience More Frustration Working in a Remote Team Than Non-Managers*

Lucy O'Connor
Lucy O'Connor|

*but this doesn’t mean that they don’t like remote working in general.

Over the past couple of months, we’ve been digging into the findings of our “Should we Ditch the Office?” survey to get a more detailed understanding of how employees want to work post-coronavirus. 

In the survey, we asked over 1,000 employees how they prefer to work, and found that 86% of respondents want to continue working from home at least once a week in the future. But when we broke down the data by respondents’ demographics, we discovered that employees of different ages have had different experiences of WFH, and factors like commute time also impact how often people want to work remotely. 

This week, we start to explore how employees with different levels of responsibility have found working from home. Below, we dig into the data to compare managers’ and non-managers’ experience of remote working.

Managers feel more frustrated working in remote teams than non-managers

One of our most notable findings was that 57.7% of managers (those who told us that they manage at least one other person) reported experiencing frustration working in a remote team, compared to 42.9% of non-managers—quite a significant difference.

In the graph below, we can see that of those who said that they did experience frustration, the most common reason for both managers and non-managers was the fact that remote working was “less social”—unsurprising, given that social isolation and loneliness affects everyone, no matter what your job role is. 

A high proportion of managers cited “difficulty brainstorming” and “dislike for looking at a screen” as the particularly common reasons for their frustration, followed by issues with miscommunications, and trouble building relationships.

Non-managers ranked “miscommunication” and a “lack of communication” as the second and third most frustrating aspects of working in a remote team—implying that many may be on the receiving end of poor top-down communication.

However, it’s worth pointing out that whilst they weren’t among the top three answers, a high proportion of managers cited these issues too—showing that comms seem to be a key area for improvement for all parties in the shift to more remote working.

Overall, the least common reason for frustration among both managers and non-managers was “low productivity”—which is interesting, given pre-Covid tropes that working from home equated to “slacking off”.

However, more managers reported a positive experience of working from home than non-managers

Despite managers seemingly finding working in remote teams more frustrating than non-managers, the survey revealed that 71.2% of managers rated their overall working from home experience as positive. This figure is slightly higher than non-managers, of whom 68.5% said they had a positive experience. 

Similarly, when asked how their views on working from home had changed since the pandemic, 60.8% of managers said they were more positive now, compared to 51.8% of non-managers. This suggests that even though managers are more likely to be frustrated working from home and managing their teams remotely, on the whole, they have had a more positive experience. 

Team communication is more of an issue for managers when remote, but non-managers find home more distracting

But why? As we take a closer look at what these employees have liked about working from home, we can see that all agree that the “lack of commute”, “financial savings” and being able to spend “more time with loved ones” are the best three things about home working, manager or not. 

When it comes to the disadvantages, there are some minor differences in what each disliked about working from home in general.

We can see that both scored “lack of social interaction” and “poor work-life balance” as the worst things about remote working. Again, this is unsurprising as both agreed not being able to interact with colleagues was the most frustrating thing about working from home.

Given that a higher proportion of managers reported experiencing team frustration in general, it’s unsurprising that 27.3% of managers rated poor team communication as one of the three worst things about WFH, compared to only 18% of non-managers.

A slightly higher proportion of non-managers, on the other hand, ranked “increased distractions” as one of the worst things about working from home, after lack of social interaction and poor work-life balance—which may also explain why for non-managers, some of the negatives around working from home are linked to the home working environment, rather than team-related difficulties.

More managers feel more productive working from home than non-managers

This is corroborated by the graph below, which shows that there are some interesting differences between productivity levels at home and in the office for managers and non-managers.

A higher proportion of managers feel a little or much more productive at home compared to in the office (52.7% of managers vs 48% of non-managers)—unsurprising when non-managers ranked increased distractions at home as one of the worst things about remote working.

Meanwhile, non-managers are more likely to have not found a difference in their productivity since being at home, and approximately the same proportion (one quarter) of both managers and non-managers feel actively more productive in the office.

How managers and non-managers want to work in the future

When asked how often they’d want to work remotely in the future, what’s clear is that the vast majority of people would like to work remotely at least once a week, but not every day (with a few outliers who’d like to do so “rarely” or “daily”).

The most common response amongst managers was 3-4 times per week, whereas more slightly more non-managers would like to work remotelt 1-2 times a week. This follows the trend that despite their frustrations, managers, on the whole, seem to enjoy remote working just as much, if not slightly more than non-managers.

This statistic could also be linked to the fact that a higher proportion of people in positions of seniority are older, and as revealed in our previous investigation, Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers tend to prefer remote working more so than Gen Z.

Conclusions

Overall, it’s clear that the majority of both managers and non-managers have had positive working from home experiences, and that both would like to increase the frequency with which they work remotely in the future.

But the data shows that managers seem to struggle more with team-related issues whilst working from home, compared to their non-manager counterparts—particularly with regards to team communication and collaboration.

If you’re looking for resources on how to maintain effective communication with your remote team, we have just the blog for you. And we have loads of WFH resources in our remote work hub, check it out!

These slight quirks within the data can seem small, but are critical to identify and act on if companies plan to enforce more remote working in the future. As an employer, understanding your employees’ frustrations is crucial to improving their working from home experience; different factors can affect members of a team in very different ways, meaning that more nuanced and targeted process changes may be needed to avoid bigger problems further down the line.

To help you find the insights you need quickly and easily, we’ve created a free-to-use Workplace Strategy Tool—designed to help you find out how your own employees want to work.

With the tool, you can survey your own team using our curated questionnaire, access the data immediately via your own personalised results dashboard, and get free, professional advice on the best workplace solutions from our team of experts. Check it out below:

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