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The challenges of remote working

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Posted on 6/08/2020 by Diane Scally

Due to the coronavirus, the shift towards remote working occurred almost overnight. It is cheaper, more environmentally friendly and fears over reduced productivity appear to be unfounded. A recent survey by Gartner suggested that 74% of CFO’s intend to make the shift towards remote work a permanent one (for some employees). Employees seem to support this move – with 44% of workers saying they would prefer to work from home long term, even if that meant accepting a 10% pay cut.

But will it really be this easy? Underneath the buzz of remote working, potential issues are lurking. Here are just a few areas where these problems might arise:

 

Communication

Moving our work online changes the nature of our interactions. For example, video calls take away around 90% of non-verbal information, which results in ‘zoom fatigue’. As a result, we are more likely to misinterpret what someone said (e.g. an offhand comment comes off much more critical than intended) and small misunderstandings can snowball into larger conflicts. There are other differences too – we talk more in video calls to fill awkward silences, interrupt others, and multitask by keeping other projects open on our computer screens. It’s important to realise that online communication is not the same as an in-person interaction and follow advice to adjust accordingly.

 

Teamwork

This issue may be particularly problematic when some team members work in the office, but others do not; this has the potential to create a culture of exclusion. To remedy this issue, communication has to become a priority, and extra care must be taken to include remote employees. In particular, ensuring that remote employees feel valued (by sharing their achievements with the team), making sure that everyone receives regular company updates and informal virtual meetings across the physical/remote divide should be encouraged.

 

Training

Do you learn more from structured training or incidental ‘learning on the job’ experience? The former is less likely to be affected by remote work, due to the wide range of digital training available. However, training that occurs ‘unofficially’ by watching a senior mentor in action or listening to how experienced co-workers handle tricky situations can be both valuable and difficult to replicate virtually. In our remote working future, more formal ‘mentorships’ may be useful. Including trainee employees on calls/meeting, even when the need is not immediately obvious, and providing frequent and clear performance feedback may also help to support training from a remote distance.

 

Wellbeing

Some adapt easily to work-from-home life. Others suffer from procrastination, lack of office comradery and the work/life distinction that an office environment provides. It is vital that a healthy digital culture is encouraged, with an adequate home working space and open lines of communication with managers to discuss concerns. It has also been suggested that reducing pressure on the appearance of working (i.e. being constantly visible online and responding to requests out of hours) can in fact encourage focused work while reducing the strain on mental health.

Our transition to increased remote working is far from easy. While the opportunity presents many practical and lifestyle benefits such as reduced costs and greater flexibility for employees, these come with caveats. Many of these issues centre around communication and wellbeing. The success of remote working requires considerable time and effort from management to establish good practices and trust with employees. There are many industries where remote working is simply not an option. However, where it is possible, it should be understood that not all employees will be able to easily or immediately swap the office for the home.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but the impact of remote working on communication, teamwork, training, and wellbeing are important aspects to consider.

 

Jenny Morris  - Writer