Professor Sophie Hennekam from Audencia Business School takes a look at 5 common remote work challenges and offers solutions.
The pandemic has resulted in an upsurge of remote working. With most people unable to go to work during the lockdowns, it became the new normal for many organisations and workers.
Remote working has both advantages and disadvantages. Businesses can save money as they need less office space. In addition, the talent pool expands as companies can attract individuals from other regions or countries, and these individuals do not have to move to start a new job. Allowing people to work from home or from a coworking space shows a company’s trust towards employees, which can result in higher levels of satisfaction. The company may also be perceived to be progressive, open to change, innovative and even environmentally friendly, as less commuting means a lower carbon footprint; all of which can have positive repercussions on the image of the organisation. Furthermore, absenteeism may be lower, as people with a cold or an ill child are more likely to be able to put in a few hours of work from home, whereas before they would have been more likely to have taken a whole day off. Remote working also means little or no commuting time, which is a real time-saver.
However, a number of challenges exist.
1. Blurred boundaries
Research has shown that individuals who work remotely tend to work more hours than those who do not. Indeed, the distinction between “work” and “non-work” becomes blurred, resulting most often in more hours spent on work and increased productivity. This may increase the risk of burnout. A solution for separating work from personal life is the creation of a dedicated space to work and a formal schedule delineating work and leisure. Similarly, having a separate computer and phone for work can help.
Working remotely can be lonely and it doesn’t suit everyone. While some feel they can concentrate better when they are alone, enjoy the flexibility and are better able to balance work with other commitments, others may feel very isolated and deprived of human contact. Some people thrive by being in a busy office surrounded by colleagues and feel more supported and safer within the structure provided by the company. So, for those who must work remotely and are not happy with it, more support from their managers is needed. As during the lockdowns, Teams or Zoom social meetings can be organised to offer virtual social contact, and it is a good idea to allow them to come into the office a couple of times a week.
With a working from home model, organisations have less control over their employees. Managers might wonder: are my employees on social media or are they doing their job, or how many hours a day are they really focusing on their tasks and responsibilities? These questions are difficult to answer if you are not all sharing a workspace and there is no monitoring. It is a situation that requires great levels of trust toward employees.
During lockdowns many meetings and business trips became virtual, using tools such as Teams and Zoom. Even though a lot of companies have called back their employees to the office for at least part of the week, virtual meetings are still widely used. Yet while virtual communication often works well, there are situations where human contact is needed. In those instances, it is important for managers to recognise this and insist on doing the meeting the old-fashioned way, if possible.
5. Feelings of unfairness
Within a company, not all roles are equal, and in the same way, not every job is suitable for remote working. This means that while some employees are offered the possibility of remote working, others are not, even though this may be something they would like. This can lead to jealousy and feelings of unfairness between employees. It is important for managers to be aware of these feelings of inequity within the company and to address the potentially disappointed or disgruntled employees. A compromise might be negotiated to ensure that talent is retained.
Obviously, there is no clear-cut answer as to whether remote working is a good idea as every organisation is different. Whether work is often organised in teams may determine whether remote work is a feasible option. Furthermore, there are other aspects of a company’s culture to consider. Do individuals who are working remotely and are therefore less visible have the same opportunities to get promoted as those who are office-based? These are important questions to consider.
Employers need to take into account the advantages and disadvantages of remote working for the organisation, the wishes and needs of individual employees and the implications of remote working for society as a whole.
Finally, remote working should be a spectrum. Companies can provide employees with the possibility to work from home or from a coworking space 2 or 3 days a week and ask them to come in one or two days a week for meetings and socialising. Flexibility allows employees (and the organisation) to find a balance that feels right for everyone. It is likely that this differs from person to person and may even evolve based on their personal situation. For example, as children grow older, working parents might appreciate coming in more often. Ultimately flexibility will lead to more satisfaction for employees and better performance and talent retention for employers.