Remote Work Challenges and Solutions
Remote work seems to be the words on everyone’s lips at the moment. From people convinced we’re getting back into the office full-time any moment now, to those who say remote work is the way of the future, everyone seems to have an opinion.
Today we break down the trend and everything you need to know about the evolving future of work from home. It’s time to empower yourself and your work environment, wherever that may be.
Of course, while the pandemic catapulted remote work to the forefront of every employee and employer’s minds, it’s far from a new trend.
Ever since more and more jobs have headed into the digital sphere, we’ve been seeing a rising demand for flexible work solutions that include room to work wherever we are, not merely in a preset cubicle.
As the global health crisis broke, however, remote work moved from something done by the trendiest firms and ‘global nomads’ wanting to work on the beach, to an essential part of keeping the economy ticking over at a time where face-to-face was simply impossible.
As we enter the post-pandemic era, we’re seeing a greater divide in opinions. Should we be focusing on getting workers back into the office? Embrace hybrid work as the ultimate solution? Or look to overcoming the challenges and embracing the positives of a remote work environment?
Here’s what everyone should know.
What is Remote Work, Anyway?
For many of us, remote work and work from home are synonyms for the same thing. Strictly speaking, however, there is a clear distinction.
Work from home brings the workplace strictly into our living space, something with noted challenges as well as some added benefits. Remote work, on the other hand, is a wider concept, one embracing the trend towards workplace globalization.
Remote work obviously encompasses the work from home environment, but it also looks at aspects like onboarding workers across the globe, or having satellite offices remote into a shared server and having teams working across the globe.
Both of these scenarios have their benefits and challenges on the employee and employer sides. Let’s take a look at some.
1. Intrusion, data, and monitoring
For many companies not yet comfortable with the idea of remote work, the ‘obvious answer’ seems to lie in increased surveillance. You’re paying for their time, so you have the ‘right’ to keep an eagle eye at distance, right?
On the flip side of this argument, many home workers, especially, are using their own infrastructure and equipment to work. Why should they open up their private devices to intrusive monitoring?
We may need to work to live, but does that really give companies a right to know everything about our private lives and control every minute of our day?
According to ExpressVPN, many workers have valid concerns over the ethics of this continued monitoring, feel stress around such intrusions into their lives, and simply don’t want to be forced to ‘perform’ meaningless things like moving their mouse every few seconds just to be deemed a valuable worker.
They want to be judged on performance and outputs, not by intrusive ideas of what is ‘working hard enough’, which brings us to the solutions in point 2.
One of the key challenges we’ve seen rear its head as remote work accelerates is a lack of trust in employees- sometimes worthy, at other times ridiculous.
Successful remote working needs a high trust level from employers. You need to know that the work will get done, benchmarks and deadlines met on time, and that your staff are doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done.
The thinking is that, in the traditional work environment, managers can have their eagle eye on workers and this ‘guarantees’ that work is being done.
Obviously, that’s pretty much nonsense. “I can see you” is a bad benchmark to judge employee productivity by. There’s enough running jokes about watercooler conversation, workplace drama, and “sucking up to the boss” to know it’s perfectly possible to goof off on company time even in a stringent cubicle farm.
Plus, many fields, especially IT and creative fields, have a lot of thinking time built into the role. Your lead developer may well spend 5 of their 8 hours a day staring into space, but if it’s them conceptualizing the code or content they will output in the other 3 it’s incredibly valuable time. Do you really need to see them pushing a mouse listlessly while they think?
It’s highly unrealistic to imagine that any role is equally productive every hour of 8 hours a day. Some roles are simply not busy enough to need that, others need ‘creative space’ to create the end design, some workers simply finish things quicker than others.
Yet many bosses become uneasy if they can’t ‘see’ work being done or feel cheated if they don’t own all 8 hours in the working day. On the employee side, they would rather use ‘downtime’ to start a load of laundry and work towards better work-life balance then do performative non-productive tasks to soothe management egos.
It’s essential that we move away from the idea of ‘looking busy’ as a sign of productivity. Instead, you can reframe your benchmarks to focus on sound project management, and things like deliverables meeting deadlines, work outputs, and other, tangible goals, as we see in this case study. If these are met timeously, your workforce is working well.
For some roles, professionality also enters the equation. Remote work, by its very nature, encourages a more relaxed working environment.
From having moody toddlers intrude on Zoom calls to workers wearing sweatpants and not suits, there’s a balance to be struck here. When a professional face is needed, it’s important that workers understand that and present a suitable air of professionalism to clients and the world.
This can be easily handled by setting standards of expectation. It’s no big deal if the occasional pet or child rears their head in a brainstorming session, but employees need to conduct themselves professionally when the situation calls for it.
4. Loss of boundaries
For many workers, this becomes a question of work-life boundaries. Is it reasonable for bosses to expect you to be available 24/7 just because you’re not in the office? Is work taking over the home environment?
There’s little that can be done here on the employer side, other than honoring that employees have set work times and do not need to be at your beck and call constantly.
But setting up workplace programs to help employees better manage the blend of work and home environments, as Legal and General did here, can be seen as a positive offering.
5. Lack of access to resources and data security
Ensuring that employees have access to the same resources they do in the workplace requires a move to solutions like cloud servers.
The more points of access to a system, however, the more chance for exploitation, and cybersecurity is a very real issue in remote work.
Luckily, a wealth of cybersecurity and third-party solutions to help ensure confidential data remains safe, but workers are empowered to access what they need, have become available. Infrastructure upgrades with this in mind, such as those discussed here, are essential to successful remote work.
Moving to a remote workforce needs an evolution in how we think about work and what makes an employee productive.
Handled correctly, however, it’s perfectly possible to create a remote workplace that’s every bit as productive and beneficial for employers as it is for employees. It all lies in how it’s handled across the board.