Working from home has historically been frowned upon however in recent years it seems to have become more of an acceptable trend. Shared office spaces have grown, hot desks have become a thing. Even before COVID lockdowns, remote work in the USA had grown by 140% since 2005, nearly 10x faster than the rest of the workforce. In fact, pre-COVID in the USA over 4.3 million employees (3.2% of the workforce) were already working from home at least half the time according to Global Workplace Analytics.
According to Owl Labs 42% of remote workers have plans to work remotely more often over the next five years than they do now.
According to one study by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom, remote work offers a tangible boost to productivity even when those employees are only partly remote.
MIT’s Dr. Peter Hirst wanted to see what would happen when a team’s perception of remote work was changed from a rare privilege to a common opportunity any on the team could take advantage of
The results speak for themselves:
90% reported their family and personal life improved.
85% said that their stress was reduced.
80% said that their morale and engagement improved.
62% felt more trusted and respected.
And 93% even believed that collaboration was better than before.
However remote work can come with risks if not properly managed: Some of the inherent dangers of remote work:
Loneliness and isolation
Socializing and being around others is core to how humans evolved. We’re social creatures used to living and working in communities or tribes
Communication issues due to a lack of non-verbal cues
When you don’t have enough face-to-face communication, it can become difficult to sense intent in messages between you and your team members. It’s harder to understand a message when it’s only text, or you when don’t know them as well as other in-office employees. The philosophical concept Hanlon’s razor, coined by author Robert J. Hanlon, says that we should “assume ignorance before malice,” when communicating with others
Feeling left out
You can often feel like leadership doesn’t take notice of you the way they do those working in office. A survey of remote employees by job search site Indeed found that 37% of those surveyed believe that working remotely can lead to reduced visibility and less access to company leadership.
Avoiding burn out
Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela says “Companies initially worried about employees having the right technology to work from home, but now it’s getting to be much more about: how do I know if an employee is burned out, how do I know how they are doing; if they are working too hard?” He added that “All of the things around the emotional well-being or the mental health of employees has risen to the top faster in a way that we didn’t really predict”.
TIPS for managing remote employees:
- Do what you can to engage remote workers socially with the rest of the team whenever
- Make time for small talk.
- Use video as much as you can.
- Have longer one-on-ones.
- NEVER cancel a one on one.
- Use animated gifs and emoticons to convey emotion.
- Balance schedule inconvenience
- Remember career paths. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of your remote team members as mercenaries helping you get things done. If you hire them as employees, treat them like any other employee, not a freelancer/contractor.
- Build a culture of adding people on calls/. It’s easy to have discussions and pause and say, “Sam should be involved.”If Sam is in the office you will likely grab them and bring them into your meeting, but if Sam is remote, that often gets forgotten or quickly passed over as not worth the hassle.
- Send swag for your remote workers andtheir whole family (REFER healthisland.co.za)
- Getting to work for a company that is exciting, cutting edge, and has cool swag is part of what likely convinced them to join your company instead of something locally. They’ll feel more connected to the team and not forgotten by the main office.
- Get together face to face at least once a year.
- Make whiteboarding and ideating remote-friendly.
- Make sure their work space is set up well
- Drive culture. Company culture drives behaviour, and behaviour drives results in business. A high-value, performance-based culture can help skyrocket an organization, but a negative or inconsistent culture can send it in the wrong direction — which can compound the challenging circumstances many business leaders now find themselves in.
It looks like remote working is here to stay, whether it’s full time, or part time with one or two days a week in the office. The tech is the easy part – the challenge is going to be managing staff morale, keeping staff connected, making them feel valued and part of the team, and at the same time maintaining the company culture.