This is the first of a series of posts about working remotely. In this first one, I outline some of the issues around working remotely and I will mention ways to resolve those issues in later posts.
It is interesting hearing so many leading CEOs saying that they cannot foresee a return to crowded offices and strict work patterns. Has the pandemic finally shown senior managers that their organisations can still work when people are at home? Have people began to realise that you don’t need to stand over someone’s shoulders to make sure they are working?
If we do start to see increased remote and flexible working, what does that mean for managers? How do you manage a remote workforce and what sort of issues will managers encounter?
Here I list a few of the main issues.
There have been a number of surveys of people in lockdown that have shown that people’s anxiety levels suffer when working remotely. Some of this may be due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic and the lockdown, but there are other factors to consider.
Your staff may be concerned about how working remotely will affect their performance and promotion prospects. They may be worried about job security. However, the major reason is the sense of isolation. We are social animals and we feed off social interactions. I know I end up climbing the walls if I spend a couple of days without speaking to people.
To work remotely, there will be implications on technology. We need laptops with good cameras and audio facilities, we need good and stable broadband. For larger businesses, there will be challenges around ensuring that laptops are kept up to date and around backing up of data.
Working remotely obviously means we will be apart from colleagues. This impacts both formal and informal communication. The office grapevine will not be as effective (for better or worse) and you cannot turn to a colleague to ask a quick question. There is a sense that “communal knowledge” will be eroded and this will impact company culture.
In terms of formal communication, managers will have to work harder to ensure that people are kept informed of the latest news.
I have to admit, I get distracted very easily .. look a squirrel! Sorry, where was I?
It is part of our nature to prevaricate, to find anything at all to do rather than complete that monthly report. This links to the fear in the manager’s mind that working from home is the easy option, it allows people to slack off, that they will get too easily distracted.
I will add children and animals and partners into the distraction mix.
I know of people who have been steadily munching through the snacks while working from home and it takes a bit of discipline to focus on work and not stray to the cookie jar. We are all creating out own home work spaces but not everyone has the opportunity to create the optimal work environment. We may all end up hunched over laptops!
Working too hard
Another problem is that some people may not know when to stop. First thing in the morning, they will check the work e-mail and last thing at night too. Again, it takes discipline to say “I will work from x o’clock until y o’clock and then I will switch my work equipment off.”
Linked to working too hard is the fear that some remote workers have that, if they are not in every call, people might think they are not working. They want to demonstrate output rather than thinking about outcomes.
I have mentioned that technology and home work environments may be issues but one thing to remember is that some people will struggle to work from home becasue they cannot afford good broadband, they do not have a spare room to use as an office or they have the kids around all the time. When deciding to create a flexible, remote team, these are serious topics to address.
I may make it seem that working from home is a terrible idea, but I am a huge fan of it. It is just that I think we all need to be aware of the impact on how we operate.
In the next posts, I will look at these issues and suggest solutions.
If you have any questions about how to manage remotely, please contact me, details are in the page header.