Does remote work really work?
The Covid-19 pandemic might be officially ‘over’, but remote working is still here: and it it’s here to stay. But how important is it, and does it really work? Does it work for the employer, and does it work for the employees? Or was it just a knee-jerk response to international lockdowns that hasn’t lived up to the hype?
With the global lockdowns came the acceleration of online technological capabilities. Many companies were forced to adapt overnight to a workforce that was working almost, if not entirely, from home. This had its good and bad points, both for workers and for companies. Gone was an often time-consuming and expensive commute along with in-person supervision. But gone for many too was teamwork, human connection, and the opportunity to learn from others.
Some employees talked of a better work-life balance when working from home, and questioned why they had become so caught up in the rat race before the world shut down. The pace of life slowed, and they had time to appreciate the world – and their loved ones - properly, away from the work environment they had become so used to.
Others suffered with poor technology, the unrealistic demands of micromanagers and an ever-present duty to family life. No longer could you leave your house and family behind when you went to work. The kids needed home schooling, meals needed to be prepared three times a day, and the boss thought you were available 24/7.
What is the current state of remote work, post Covid-19?
The Great Resignation that took place during and after the lockdowns was a result of changing priorities and expectations. As countries opened up again, many employers expected their workforce to return to their pre-Covid working conditions.
However, some employees felt unsafe going back to an office, while others just did not want to commute again or lose their new-found independence from the fixed hours and expectations of working in an office. Employee priorities were changing and many employers were not allowing for this. Often, a sense of trust seemed to be lacking: employers seemed to be saying, “if you’re not here and we can’t see you working, how do we know you’re doing the job we’re paying you to do?”.
So, where do we stand post Covid-19? Is remote work effective? Can remote or hybrid work be an asset for teams and individuals and help efficiency? An article published at the end of 2022 pointed out that burnout amongst the US workforce was unexpectedly still a problem after the pandemic: ‘many bosses seem to be falling back into old ways. The most obvious manifestation of this is requiring workers to return to the office.
In the UK, for example, data published in May 2022 showed that, ‘most people who took up homeworking because of the coronavirus pandemic plan to both work from home and in the workplace (“hybrid work”) in the future’. So if remote work is here to stay, we need to know how efficient it is and ensure that we do what we can to maximise its potential.
Why are some companies shifting back to requiring their employees to work in the office?
Most will remember the headlines during Elon Musk’s 2022 takeover of Twitter, and his initial insistence that all employees return to the office to work unless he had personally approved it. His memo read, ‘Remote work is no longer allowed, unless you have a specific exception. Managers will send the exception lists to me for review and approval’. The inference was that employees were not trusted. Unsurprisingly, less than a week later he had to soften his stance.
Many major companies including Amazon and Google, are making it clear they expect their employees back in the office most, if not all, of the time. According to Forbes, it’s not for team building, connection, or collaboration – it’s all about control. So we have a mismatch between what employers and employees want.
When is remote or hybrid work good for teams and individuals?
There are many potential benefits to remote or hybrid working. People who work from home often prefer to do so due to family circumstances, perceived work-life balance, and the activities they wish to do, or for more practical and financial reasons like less travelling time or cost. Maybe they cannot afford to live near their work in a big city, or perhaps they do not want to. Either way, the financial and time costs of travelling to a place of work can be high.
Working in a place you are inspired by
If you would rather be surrounded by nature and can work in or overlooking your garden or a beautiful landscape, you are likely to be far more efficient at home in a remote work environment than if you are spending hours negotiating public transport or sitting in traffic jams and the workday in a windowless, airconditioned office.
Earning more money for the same amount of work
If finances are tight – and even if they are not - it can be hugely financially beneficial to work from home or to only go into the office on an occasional basis: you can save a lot of money by not commuting. You can also save money eating at home instead of buying breakfast, lunch, or coffees when you are at the office. Companies can also reduce expenses with hybrid and remote workers.
Spending more time with family and friends
If you want to spend quality time with your family, or if there are young children or elderly people that need looking after, working remotely or on a hybrid basis can offer many benefits and can lead to greater productivity. Adults in a household or a family can share the burden of care during the workday. This can take a lot of stress off those to whom the task would naturally fall – often despite their own working commitments – and make it easier for those who would otherwise go into an office to do their job as well as undertake their caring duties.
Have more flexibility in your agenda
Depending on the company you work for and the duties you have to undertake, hobbies that were impossible to commit to when you were required to be in a physical office all day can become a possibility. Maybe you want to go for a walk during your lunch break, or you would like to plan a run around dodging the rain showers. Remote working can often give you this flexibility. Perhaps you want to join an evening class that you wouldn’t be able to get back in time for if you were in the office all day. And let’s not forget that reducing our own carbon footprint can lead to less guilt, resentment, and stress.
Working with others who are also based remotely
It can be much more effective and efficient to work with other parties who are also based remotely than with the people who just happen to share the same office as you. Remote and hybrid working practices can offer teams more diversity and the opportunity for input from different sources in different ways, for example with increased asynchronous work.
Working smarter, not harder
With the right set up, practices, and tools at your disposal, there is no reason why remote work cannot be far more efficient than if you were working in an office. If you can get the work your employer expects from you done in less time because you are working more efficiently, you can end up with more time to yourself. Making sure you are using technology that is designed to help with this is vital. Online collaboration tools such as virtual whiteboards and the various functionalities that they offer, for example, can make teamwork even more effective when you are working remotely.
Statistics show remote work can increase productivity
A study by the US organization Society for Human Resource Management found that, ‘of those who work remotely at least a few times per month, 77% reported greater productivity while working offsite; 30% said they accomplished more in less time and 24% said they accomplished more in the same amount of time”.
When is remote work a bad idea?
While remote work can lead to increased efficiency and effectiveness, many of the reasons that make it so attractive can also be reasons for some people to resist it. Being forced to work from home can be just as much of a problem for some people as being forced to work in an office can be for others. It’s all about personal circumstances and perspective.
Working in a place that is not fit for purpose
Remote working generally requires a high degree of connectivity. Without a decent Wi-Fi connection people can feel isolated and extremely frustrated. Trying to get onto important work calls when your connection keeps dropping out or freezing can be very stressful.
Not everyone has a dedicated workspace in their home. They may be trying to work in the same room as their partner, in a corner of the lounge, or on the kitchen table, for example. Some people have to work and sleep in the same room. If your home is cramped and you have small children or animals to contend with, being forced to work in these conditions can be difficult.
Losing social connection
While some people might be desperate to get away from the rigours of the office workday and its politics, not everyone is glad of the reduced levels of interaction and teamwork that working remotely often brings. People who live alone might only interact with people on a screen or at the end of a phone line.
As we know from the pandemic, this can be very isolating and can ultimately lead to poor mental health. If you crave the opportunity to make in-person connection and spend time with real people rather than virtual ones, having to work remotely can make people feel left apart and therefore much less efficient.
Suffering from lack of motivation or the inability to switch off
Some of us need more accountability than others. If you know you are a procrastinator you might need the input of others to keep you on track with what you need to be doing. If you are left to your own devices as a remote worker you run the risk of not producing what you need to, when you need to. You could easily spend all day doing very little.
At the other end of the scale, working from home can blur the boundaries between home and work time. Some people will find it hard to switch off from work mode and may find their home environment becomes blurred with their work environment. They can often end up working around the clock, even at the weekend – especially if their boss is demanding or unreasonable.
Work that is poorly adapted to remote or hybrid working
Not all work can be done effectively remotely, so trying to make it ‘fit’ may lead to stressful situations and reduced efficiency. Teamwork can suffer.
Not having the right technology at your disposal
Without the right tools, it is difficult to do the work that is expected of you. Poor connections, limited bandwith, no phone signal – issues like these can make it hard for people to be efficient when working remotely.
Also, if you have a lot of technology at the office that cannot be replicated remotely, your work is likely to suffer: many jobs are not ideal for remote working practices. If you cannot use technology that has been designed to make remote work more effective and efficient it can be very frustrating trying to achieve simple tasks.
Increasing productivity with your remote and hybrid teams
Here at Klaxoon we have tools and templates to help your teams become more efficient and your teamwork more effective, even in remote work. Why not check out our resources page to see how we can help your business work better?