Employers and employees need to adapt when switching to remote work
When on-site workers envision remote workforces, the phrase that often comes to mind is “living the dream,” right? Perhaps not. While there are many benefits to employing remote workers or becoming a remote worker yourself, there are also some serious challenges.
Over 3 million workers in the United States work remotely at least half of the time. Remote employees enjoy the benefits of working comfortably and more flexibly, and 77 percent reported greater productivity than working in an office. There are also benefits for employers: Remote workforces have lower turnover rates, are more satisfied with their jobs, and save money and time.
Employers that hire remote workers don’t have to worry about the expense of providing an office and all the costs that entails: utilities, rental space, additional liability insurance, in-person special events, and weather delays. In fact, many small businesses don’t have offices at all. Those businesses may invest their funding into other avenues for growth and expansion, including a more robust workforce.
Challenges for Remote Employees
Remote employees are subject to a hefty amount of stereotyping — mostly from people who don’t have the opportunity to work at home. They’re seen as lazy slackers watching Netflix instead of completing work. While distractions are one challenge for remote workers, they face more:
- Lack of face-to-face interaction: This is a tough one, especially for workers who live alone or with partners who work different shifts than they do. Working from a local cafe can help, as can ensuring lots of social interaction when friends and family are free. Pets are also excellent solutions to this, though they can present distractions as well.
- Bawling babies and barking dogs: Those background noises make it difficult to get work done, especially if you need to participate in an online conference or phone call. If there are inconvenient sources of noise, you’ll get weary of them eventually — like when your partner or roommate flushes the toilet, not realizing you’re on a call just next door.
- Proving value: Feeling like you’re scrutinized and micromanaged is the worst. Remote workers often feel an extra obligation to prove their value. It’s good to do, but the pressure is real. You can cope with this by setting your own metrics and reporting standards, whether or not you’re asked to keep track of this information.
- Leaving work behind: Even if you have your own office or only do work at your favorite local library, working remotely means it’s sometimes hard to leave work behind. Flexibility is great, but make sure you set a cut-off time for when your workday ends.
Challenges for Managers of Remote Teams
How much do you trust your team as a remote team manager? You’re accountable to the higher ups (and/or your bottom line), and remote workforces require trust. You’ve got to make sure you trust your team to complete their work effectively.
- Accept that no one’s perfect: You’ve got to start with the fallibility of all remote workers (and all workers, honestly). Only 7 percent of workers reported being more productive in a traditional office setting. If increased productivity means accepting that your remote workers are going to be doing the laundry in the middle of the day, it’s worth it. Managing a remote workforce just requires different expectations.
- Accountability: If you’re the manager who’s worked hard to convince others in your office that remote workers are the best idea for your needs, you’re going to be scrutinized to prove their accountability. Recording and reporting metrics can help, but you might be asked to have remote employees install task-tracking software. This is especially problematic, as such software conveys distrust. In return, you’re going to get a workforce that doesn’t trust you.
- Multicultural management: If your remote workforce operates in different parts of the world or even different parts of the country, you’ll benefit from their varied experience, but you’ll also encounter challenges. Just 19 percent of remote global workers surveyed “felt their leaders were well-equipped to deal with the challenges of multicultural leadership.” Respondents also felt that cultural misunderstandings hindered productivity, with 51 percent reporting difficulty in understanding the context of communication and requests.
- Security challenges: When employees are in one office, your IT personnel can control and monitor their workstations. Your IT department’s policies and server maintenance will help prevent hacks and security issues. You need alternative solutions when your employees work at home, especially if they work from cafes or libraries.
Remote Teams and Trust
Trusting a remote team and feeling trusted and valued as an employee remain challenges for many remote teams. A whopping 45 percent of remote workers indicated that trust-building was an issue for remote work, and 37 percent of remote workers report feeling less visible at work than in-person colleagues.
To improve trust, remote teams can commit to:
- Communication using Skype for Business and email
- Shared workspaces and productivity tools such as Trello, Asana, and Google Drive.
- Planned face-to-face meetings on Google Hangouts or Skype
Communication is the best way to instill, reinforce, ask for, and provide trust in digital teams. It’s important for everyone to remember that remote managers and employees are people with the same needs and professional investments as those who work in the office. Regularly leverage check-ins and structured communication methods to encourage trust.
Written by: Indiana Lee, BOSS Contributor