Remote Working: 5 benefits and challenges
Remote Working: 5 Benefits and Challenges
A new way of working
Remote working is here to stay. According to some sources, 50% of the UK workforce will working from home or out of office within the next few years.
That’s a huge statistic. But it’s not hard to see why.
The benefits of flexible or remote working are clear. And while the idea isn’t a new one, the technology is now available to make it much easier and cheaper to do it successfully.
Effective digital leaders know that software like Office 365 is revolutionising online productivity and communication; and technology like 4G/5G and shared public Wi-Fi are providing the power.
But if you’re thinking of introducing working from home, or putting together a new remote working policy, there’s a few important things to consider.
Firstly, is it even a good idea?
Working from home pros and cons
BENEFITS OF REMOTE WORKING
Less commuting time.
Better work–life balance.
Reduced staff turnover.
Reduced need for office space.
CHALLENGES OF REMOTE WORKING
Can lead to longer working hours.
Overlaps between work and personal life.
Strain on teams.
It is believed that with today’s technology – oiled by a supportive culture – the benefits of working from home can be felt by employees, and benefit business.
On the surface, the benefits are clear for both employees and employers. But if you’re considering the impact of remote working for your teams, it’s important to first consider a few important points.
Here are 5 considerations you should make before creating a remote working policy.
1. Working Environment
When I tell people I work from home, one question crops up more than any other: how do I get anything done?
No doubt they craft mental images of pyjamas and background TV box sets.
Obviously, creating the right environment is the way productive work ‘gets done’. So, a comfortable, distraction-free space to work in is at the top of the list for would-be remote staff.
After all, plenty of time and money is spent designing work-friendly offices. Lighting, spacing, temperature, swivel chairs. You wouldn’t stick your HR manager in a damp basement.
Most employees wouldn’t welcome home visits for their boss. But to get the full working from home benefits, it’s important to at least offer the training and advice to employees for creating comfortable, distraction-free workspaces; as well as to managers on how to manage and support their remote staff well.
2. Zero Commute – Health, Cost and Environmental Benefits
Spending hours travelling to work each day is no good for anyone.
Avoiding the daily commute is one of the top benefits of remote working. The health-related, financial and environmental advantages alone make working from home an attractive option.
To list a few:
Saves employees money (often hundreds of pounds per month).
Prevents staff lateness.
Allows staff to start work earlier.
Improved environmental impact (both locally and globally).
Saves the organisation money (can offer flexible working instead of higher wages).
Improved equality for those who find it hard to travel.
Employees are better rested.
Employees are safer (if previously walking/cycling through busy areas).
Employees are healthier (if previously sitting in traffic or using public transport).
3. Impact on Working Hours
One of the most common issues reported by remote working is the impact it has on hours.
‘A recent survey shows that the issue of the ‘ambiguity of work and (time) off’ was the highest ranked disadvantage of (remote working) among both women and men. Likewise, research covering employees in larger companies, found that 47.6% of respondents find it ‘difficult to draw a line between work and family life’.
Many remote workers find it hard to know when work begins and ends. Continual connectivity to the workplace, especially via smartphones, requires a conscious effort to ‘clock out’. Rather than being able to simply leave the building at the end of the day.
Lots of studies have been done around the effect of remote working on hours. Some results vary, especially across demographics. But the consensus is that those who regularly work remotely or from home do more hours per week than office-based staff.
It’s not hard to see why this happens. Emails or calls outside your working hours. Contact on days off or annual leave. ’20 minutes’ sending those emails on Saturday can easily turn into an hour or two. The social and family impacts this can have is worth talking about.
‘Right to disconnect’ laws
In response, a growing number of organisations are endorsing ‘right to disconnect’ laws.
These laws aim to limit the negative effects of continual connectedness to the office by protecting employees’ non-working time. Often termed ‘work without end’, this issue has been the topic of a growing number of studies and national policies.
When this continual connectedness happens regularly, weekly hours build up – possibly without employees even realising it. And while this might be good for productivity in the short term, the long-term pressures on workers are either unhealthy or unsustainable.
Policy surrounding sickness is fairly clear for office-based staff: if you’re well enough to work, come in; if you’re too unwell to work, take the day off.
But for staff working from home, the lines are blurring.
In many cases, the number of sick days people take when working from home reduces. With the exertion of travelling into the office removed, it’s often possible to sit at home feeling groggy or bunged-up but still churn out a bit of work. Without worrying about dirty looks from neighbouring desks, fearful of catching what you’ve brought with you.
This is good for sickness figures. But arguably not so good for both employers or their employees.
For employees, working while ill means less chance to get the rest they need to recover quickly. Personally, there’s been times where I’ve been ill during the night, woken up the next morning still feeling terrible but begun working from home. Only to call defeat and crawl back into bed an hour or two later.
Equally for employers, while your sick-working staff might be clocked in, there’s no real guarantee of the quality of work they’re able to do.
For an organisation setting remote or working from home policy, it’s a real balancing act between looking after employees’ wellbeing, managing the quality of work produced, and being flexible enough accommodate non-incapacitating illnesses.
5. Isolation and Team Spirit
Isolation from your team, and from the general buzz of the office can be another challenge of regularly working from home.
For many, having a quiet place to work is great for peace of mind and getting lots done.
But after a while, with only your thoughts and the occasional phone call to break the silence, it’s easy to miss the stimulation of ‘stuff going on’. According to a recent report, one of the biggest issues facing mobile workers is the lack of access to informal information sharing at work. i.e., general chit chat.
With today’s software, sharing important information is easy. But humanly speaking, there’s a natural reluctance to ask your workmate ‘see anything good on TV last night’ over an email.
Things like regular daily meetings/team calls help to give this opportunity. A space to speak freely, outside of the day’s tasks and duties. Not only can it help break the silence, but also keep you connected with your team, to build bonds and maintain a sense of spirit.
The New World of Remote Working
With today’s technology and worker preferences, it’s clear that remote working is here to stay.
To accommodate this huge shift, it’s important to understand it. To recognise the ‘new world of work’ – made of new possibilities, new standards, and new working relationships.
The new world of work is essentially separated from time and physical space. With emphasis now on performance over working time and/or location.
It needs a different kind of management, centred on autonomy and self-responsibility for employees. One that requires good access to information, constructive attitudes and trust-based relations.
It has been recognised that this new way of working relies on 8 factors to succeed:
Exemplary behaviour by management.
Flexibility in terms of time and place of work.
Availability of information (less hierarchical organisation and access to information at all places), with frequent communication (both bottom up and top down).
Accountability for results rather than for working time.
Sharing knowledge with colleagues.
Online cooperation with colleagues.
Remote working aligns with so many recent societal changes, made possible through advancements in technology.
With these new freedoms and greater choice, we need to think hard about how the columns of working life are restructured around our rapidly disappearing office walls. In order to create a ‘workplace’ that’s good for both employers and employees of today and the future.