Remote working is popular? Why wouldn’t it be? Working from home sounds appealing, right?
The opportunity to get up later, stay in your pyjamas all day, have a full hour off at lunch time, and perhaps most pleasingly, completely remove those wasted hours spent commuting from your weekly routine, is seen as the holy grail to many.
But is it actually all it’s cracked up to be?
Some businesses, some employees, even some pieces of research seem to suggest that remote working can save costs and increase productivity.
The lesser heralded fact is: there are also a lot of companies, employees and pieces of research that suggest it doesn’t always work as planned.
Some facts about remote working
A study, carried out by RW3 Culture Wizard, an intercultural communication training organization covering 3,300 employees from 103 countries, found that the majority of virtual or remote workers weren’t very happy with their situations.
The study found that:
- 41% of remote workers had never met some of their colleagues in a face-to-face setting; and
- 87% of respondents believed that more than 25% of their productivity was dependent on working remotely
Furthermore, when asked about the issues they faced when holding meetings and being managed virtually:
- 79% felt they didn’t get to build relationships with their colleagues;
- 73% felt that the speed of remote decision making effected their productivity;
- 71% felt they suffered from a lack of participation in team based activities and tasks;
- 69% found that different leadership styles were detrimental to remote working; and
- 55% struggled with making decisions, or having decisions made, remotely
With this in mind, we thought it worth looking at the 8 biggest reasons that remote working might not work.
The word ‘remote’, in itself, indicates a lack of closeness or involvement to things.
The dictionary gives three possible definitions for the word ‘remote’.
- (of a place) situated far from the main centres of population; distant.
- Having very little connection with or relationship to.
- (noun) a remote control device.
These definitions should give a warning to businesses considering, or already using, remote working. The remote control was created to aid human laziness and the word itself suggests lack of connectivity to the rest of the world — or team.
One of the issues that can arise as a result of remote working, if both managers and remotely based employees aren’t careful, is that of isolation and a lack of team ethic.
Without regular face-to-face meetings in the office, remote working can leave employees feeling cut off from their team and place of work. Which in turn can adversely affect their motivation and productivity.
- Damage to work-life balance
A study carried out by the Universities of Texas and Iowa found that — contrary to the popular belief that it helps to create a healthier, more satisfactory work-life balance — remote working can add five to seven hours to an employee’s working week.
This was found to be a result of the fact that modern communications technology gives many businesses additional expectations of the availability of the remote worker outside of traditional office hours.
In addition to this, the fact that an employee is working from home may lead to them having difficulty switching off, as they never leave ‘the office’.
This ‘always on’ situation leads to a longer working week and actually damages work-life balance.
- Encourages procrastination and reduces productivity
Despite the fact that it isn’t uncommon for employees working remotely to spend more time working than their office based colleagues, it’s also not uncommon for there to be a drop in productivity as well.
When working remotely, employees lose the feeling of looking forward to leaving the office to go home, so despite working for longer, work can often take longer as there’s no deadline for it to be done before leaving the office.
Also, when working remotely, there are often distractions that one wouldn’t find when working from the office. Whether these be young family that are at home, or just the temptation to have the TV on in the background, these added distractions can hugely drain productivity.
- Harm team ethic and collaboration
Regardless of whether they work from home or from another remote location, many remote workers find collaboration is harder for them than if they were still office based.
Without regular face-to-face contact it can be difficult for employees to remain part of the team they work in.
It can also be difficult to create the same energy and ideas when team members rely on electronic communication — even if this is via a video chat, as video chats don’t always get employee’s full attention. Despite the fantastic technology available, virtual team work isn’t as intuitive.
Bouncing ideas around and chance meetings with colleagues that provide different angles on problems just don’t happen when you work remotely.
In addition, when communicating via email, it’s often easy to misinterpret things and employees can miss out on often important non-verbal communication signals.
Some people have found, particularly when working with developers and designers, work is completed more quickly when responses and queries can be dealt with in person, rather than having to wait for a response via email.
- It can be unhealthy
We all know how easy it can be to make seemingly never ending dips into the fridge and cupboards for snacks during a day spent in close proximity to them. This doesn’t change when you’re working from home.
On top of the temptation to continuously snack whilst working, when working from home an employee is unlikely to carry out even the lightest amount of exercise that working in the office would enforce on them; such as walking to another office, going out to get lunch, and many other seemingly inconsequential amounts of movement that when working from home, don’t exist.
Staying in your pyjamas all day might not seem unhealthy, but the very act of washing, dressing and leaving the house to go to the office in the morning can be energizing. Just as too much time at the office can leave people burnt out, being at home too much can lead to feelings of ‘slobbishness’ and reclusiveness.
Not in all cases, granted, but remote working can lead to a sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle.
- Difficult to manage
Stepping away from the remote worker for a moment, to the manager responsible for them; it can be difficult to manage staff that work remotely.
Communication can be more difficult. One-to-ones can be difficult to arrange and sometimes slip off the radar entirely.
As we’ve discussed, employees can feel cut off from the team when working remotely. But equally, managers can feel cut off from employees that aren’t in the office.
This can lead to a lack of mutual trust and empathy, and ultimately, a drop in productivity.
- It doesn’t always cut costs
Ok, so remote working undoubtedly saves on overheads and travel costs.
However, this is often not weighed against the cost of having managers that need to spend large amounts of time away from other elements of their jobs to ensure that remote workers are engaged and performing effectively.
Lost productivity can bring an increase in costs as well.
- Lack of training
In modern office life, we expect that we will be correctly trained for every element of our jobs. Whether that be in-house training to teach the use of company systems, training provided externally to make one better at one’s job, or tedious health and safety training carried out every so often. We even have regular fire drills to make sure that we haven’t forgotten how to leave a building.
Whatever the case, training is the norm.
The reality with remote workers is generally the polar opposite.
The RW3 Culture Wizard study referred to earlier, found that of 3,300 respondents, only 16% felt that they had been adequately trained to work remotely.
When remote working isn’t an option
Some of the biggest, most successful companies in the world, such as Facebook, actively encourage their staff to come into work at the office, and have spent millions creating stunning open-plan office spaces to encourage collaboration and productivity amongst their staff.
Yahoo have gone even further. When Marissa Mayer, previously of Google, was appointed CEO she told employees that they had a choice between coming to work at the office or leaving the company. She said: “People are more collaborative, more inventive when people come together. Those things don’t come together unless someone from Flickr runs into someone from Weather in the hallway or cafeteria and has that conversation”.
Benefits of remote working
Obviously there are mitigating factors, and the above situations don’t arise in every case. There are people who will work from home completely effectively and healthily without encountering — or failing to surmount — any of the highlighted issues.
This doesn’t mean that it works in every case, though.
Before working remotely, or thinking about allowing employees to work remotely, make sure that all of the above are taken into consideration. Review the possibility on a case-by-case basis. And from the employee’s point of view: be honest with yourself — will you actually be more productive working from home than you would working in the office? Do the benefits outweigh the downsides?
Make remote working work for your business
If working remotely is something you do already, or want to explore, there are ways that you can get around the above issues.
For example, have a couple of days a week in the office as well as a couple of days working from home.
Perhaps your business rents office space? Often the provider of the office space let to your company will have hot-pods or satellite working areas in other locations. If these are closer to home than the location of your company’s main office space, explore the possibility of working from one of these. It will cut your commute and leave you free to get on with work without the distractions offered either by being at home or by being around your colleagues.
Or, if your business or team works completely virtually and you’re fed up of turning your dining room into a meeting room and running out of coffee cups, there are many office space providers that offer meeting rooms for hire. Relocating your face-to-face catch ups to one of these locations could be the answer. They are often well equipped with projectors, Wi-Fi and other modern technology and will leave you feeling a bit more professional than a meeting on a sofa.
Whether you want find the office solutions that are available that could help to make remote working work for you and your business, or you want to find an open plan office space that will help to increase productivity and happiness whilst still in the office, contact Business First today.