The rise of remote working – could it do more harm than good?
The traditional office landscape is changing. Gone are the days of closed cubicles, quiet workspaces and water-cooler talk. Now, it’s not uncommon to see napping pods, office dogs and funky breakout rooms with an array of fun and exciting activities.
One of the biggest changes that has quickly grown in popularity is the rise of the remote working space. By eliminating some distractions that are common in an office environment and reducing commute time, remote working can have significant benefits for many employees, which explains why half of the UK’s workforce is set to be remote working by 2020.
However, there are also some issues that arise when employees work remotely that can have a real negative effect on businesses. In fact, many big businesses including Yahoo and IBM, are scaling back or completely eliminating their telecommuting programs.
We’ve taken a look at the most pressing issues that remote working can create for businesses, and provide some alternative options that might work better for you and your staff.
Communication issues can arise
Thanks to increased technological advances, we can communicate with people half-way across the world in a matter of seconds. You might think that thanks to these advances, communication won’t be an issue, even if your employees work remotely. For example, Ben Davies, head of marketing at remote working space Ziferblat, said:
“When working remotely, communication can be a challenge, but this is where strong management and company culture step in.
“Managers can often find that without office distractions employees can be more effective when they work remotely and will communicate with each other in a more intentional way.”
However, the opposite proves to be true in some cases. According to a survey from Buffer, 21% of people who work remotely believe that collaboration suffers when they’re removed from the office and find it makes communication with other employees more difficult. Worse still, 52% of people who work remotely feel like their colleagues based in the office don’t treat them equally.
On top of this, flexible hours can lead to scheduling issues and make spontaneous communications problematic – if someone needs an answer to a question quickly about a certain project, resentment may build if they have to wait hours for an answer.
When the bulk of your communication happens via email, it’s very easy for communications to get twisted or misconstrued. Small misunderstanding can grow to bigger issues that snowball into bad blood between employees – especially the ones feeling left out.
It can impact creativity
All good business leaders know the importance of collaboration when it comes to creativity. Although there are services out there that have been created to aid collaboration, nothing really beats the output from a fun, face-to-face ideas meeting.
One of the most important aspects of innovation is trusting your team to respect your input and help you develop your ideas in a constructive and helpful manner. Professor and author, John Bessant claims that businesses need to “create an atmosphere where creativity is welcomed, by making people feel like they can deliver an idea, and that it’s safe to share their own and link up with others.”.
This can be difficult in remote working spaces. They can lead to a more disjointed team, which may mean people are apprehensive about voicing their concerns or take offence to well-meaning criticism.
Even just a face-to-face quick chat about a problem with colleagues can help employees come up with a creative and innovative way to solve it – something that’s missing from remote working spaces.
Loneliness and isolation
Often, the biggest problem facing remote workers is the isolation. People who choose to work from home may go the whole day with no face-to-face contact – there will be no co-workers around for a quick chat, no kind words of comfort when a project goes wrong and no one to share a lunch with. This can have a real damaging effect on employees mental and physical health.
Long hours spent working from home can lead to staff feeling very isolated and lonely. A recent report by the Campaign to End Loneliness predicts that social isolations costs U.K. employers £2.5 billion per year in absenteeism, productivity losses, employee caregiving obligations, and turnover.
Dr. Dhruv Khuller, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital also states that the effects of loneliness on our health are only slightly less strong than smoking or obesity. If done wrong, remote working can have a negative impact not just on our mental health, but our physical health too
Accountability and visibility
Accountability and visibility are concerns for both employers and employees. If staff work remotely, a manager may find it difficult to know if their employees are doing exactly what’s being asked of them. Yes, you can give your staff deadlines, but a project rushed the night before won’t be as good as one that’s worked on over the week. Many managers find it difficult to balance the need for transparency and “checking in” without overwhelming staff.
On the other end of the scale, when working remotely, some staff members may feel like they need to over-work and do more hours than their office-counterparts just to be visible. They may also feel ignored and overlooked simply because they are less likely to talk to senior managers day-to-day. They will also have fewer opportunities to gain insight into the “bigger picture” which could lead to dissatisfaction, and ultimately, staff turnover.
So what’s the answer?
Remote working doesn’t come without its hiccups, and often the negatives can outweigh the positives. However, depending on your industry and the type of staff you have, there are some ways to balance the good with the bad.
- Create a strong company culture for all staff members – encouraging staff members to meet (if face-to-face is not possible, via Skype) regularly with fun team building events will help them form more of a unit, making communication easier and helping relationships develop.
- Make staff feel valued – Ensure remote working staff still have regular one-to-ones and receive feedback on their work.
- Modernise your office – Updating your office with modern workspaces, relaxing breakout areas and private working spaces will minimise the number of employees who choose to work remotely.
- Consider a mix – Allowing your employees a certain amount of time a month to work remotely is a great way to balance the scales – your employees will feel valued thanks to the perks available to them.
Nick Pollitt from DBI Furniture said:
“Remote working can work well for some employees in some industries. However, it’s not ideal for everyone. A great compromise is to make sure staff feel completely comfortable at work by updating your office and offering perks such as fruit, drinks and bonding activities.
“Alternatively, offering part-time remoting working can offer staff and managers the best of both worlds – visibility and accountability coupled with freedom and autonomy. It’s up to businesses leaders to decide what will work best for their workforce – the may find that offering remote working rejuvenate their workforce, or it may do the opposite.”