We have entered the era of remote work – but what does that mean? As the world trends ever-more digital, it’s more important than ever to know what remote should mean and, most importantly, how to leverage it to your advantage. Whether you’re the manager of a new remote team, or the team member trying to deliver their best work, there are challenges ahead- but we’re here with the tips to help you make it work for you and your career.
Remote working, or telecommuting, isn’t as new as it may feel to some of us. The first telecommuters worked for Silicon Valley startups as early as the mid-70s. At the time, it was a perk, part of the overall swing to “Flexi-work” in newer industries, and a drawcard used to tempt big-ticket execs and “brains” to work for the smaller, newer IT industry that was still in its infancy.
But it’s during the lockdowns of the pandemic that we’ve seen it come to the fore as a working strategy. Despite the digital revolution, many industries had never considered putting it on the table – or finding ways around its challenges – until they had to. So there’s little wonder that some kinks remain to be ironed out. However, the great news is that remote work is here to stay. It’s time to adapt or die.
Challenges Faced by Remote Workers and Those Who Employ Them
That doesn’t mean, of course, that remote work is easy. As with any other working style, it has its challenges. Let’s take a look.
Remote workforce surveillance is becoming such an issue it’s worth pulling out for examination. In the old micromanager school of thought, the “only” way to address those trust concerns is by increasing surveillance through apps and intrusion into their online lives. If they’re moving that mouse, they’re working, right?
No, no, no. This is not quality management. It creates bitter staff, disempowering them to produce their best work for you and creating more, not less, hassles in the work environment. According to an ExpressVPN survey, over half of the workers feel heightened anxiety when put under remote surveillance, and almost as many are happy to take a pay cut to work for a firm that trusts them to get the job done.
As with trust, this one comes down to using accurate benchmarks for productivity and results and addressing any individual concerns you have with the staff member in question instead of using blanket “Big Brother” tactics that punish your good workers before they do wrong. Remember that every item of remote surveillance you introduce also opens your company up to cybersecurity risk, too, so it benefits everyone to keep within reasonable boundaries.
The Trust Paradigm
Trust is the biggest pitfall to overcome, especially for industries new to the remote work idea. Like it or loathe it, micromanagement has become a corporate default in many sectors. If you don’t see shoulders bent diligently over keyboards for 8 hours a day, how on Earth can you be sure they’re working? For many industries, letting go of the idea that employees need eyes on them to work is a complex concept indeed.
Yet the stats show us that the idea of the employee ‘bunking off’ just because they aren’t in a cubicle doesn’t hold true. The stats strongly favour the idea that remote workers are more productive and that having that trust fosters exponentially healthier working environments. Yes, it needs a shift in how you conceptualize “productive working”, but it’s a shift that’s been a long time coming, anyway.
Management teams should always bear in mind that, for many industries, the idea of 9-5 productive work is nonsense, anyway. Many anchor industries involve a lot of apparent “downtime” where greatly productive creative or design thought is done. In others, it is simply a factor of how quickly an employee works – some can do in 2 hours what others will not manage in 6. Is it worth creating bad feelings and undervaluing your best employees to get an on-paper “busywork” look from them?
This one is surprisingly easy to solve, though it may need a shift in corporate thinking. All it takes is using real factors to benchmark productivity, not “what I see”. Are deliverables being met? Project timelines coming in on time? Are staff responsive to queries in a reasonable time? Are customers happy? Then you’re doing great. It doesn’t matter if the staffer puts a load of laundry in-between driving your bottom line if your bottom line is still growing according to your benchmarks.
Corporate Culture and Teamwork
When everyone is working on different sites, sustaining corporate culture and building a team is challenging. How do you get everyone to feel and think as a cohesive whole when they barely ever meet?
This is where excellent management stands out from the crowd. Let’s be brutal – a cubicle farm doesn’t have a “great company culture” just because everyone is in the same building, water cooler gossip is juvenile, and no, the odd pizza and “casual Friday” doesn’t necessarily build it, either.
What fosters great company culture is proper open-door management they can trust. When employees feel valued, they want to work well for the whole. When they feel they can be open with issues and have them resolved fairly, they’re more willing to work out team issues than let them fester.
It can be lonely remote-working, and it’s one of the primary challenges of the format. Make sure your team has the space to get to know the face behind the keyboard, especially new employees, and work towards creating a cohesive team environment. Promote effective communication, not small talk.
Remote work brings its challenges to the table, especially for people used to older management methods. However, we all know that what doesn’t grow stagnates – and no profit ever came from being stagnant and hidebound. Instead of fighting remote work as some “other” that needs to fall away, use this opportunity to update and think to the future benefit of the company – management and workforce both.