A New Style of Working
Ask most employers, and they will probably tell you they believe an employee needs to be at an organization to be effective. In fact, if it weren’t for the 2020 COVID-19 isolation and quarantine requirement that forced everyone to work from home as part of the social distancing and safety measures to help curb the spread of the highly contagious virus, it would be hard to shift away from this kind of mindset. It’s perfectly understandable. It’s hard to introduce change to a process that has been taking place ever since we can remember. Even the earliest humans had to leave their homes to go out and hunt, which was their way of working. For centuries people have been working hard the traditional way, and it was only after technology had been around for several years that companies and employers slowly started to change their minds about that.
Is the Old Way of Commuting to Work That Bad?
That depends on how you look at it. For those who live close by, commuting to work is not really a problem. But what about those that need to spend anywhere from an hour or more one way going to work? By the time they get through the traffic or the crowded public transportation system during rush hour, they’re so stressed out when they arrive at work that they’re not in the right headspace anymore to be productive, let alone engage positively with their colleagues or supervisors. Imagine experiencing that stressful commute on a daily basis? Is it any wonder there is a reduction in productivity in office spaces?
Now, compare that to the remote working employee. They don’t have to wake up as early anymore because they don’t have to make the long commute and spend all that time getting ready for work. They don’t feel as stressed since they can wake up fresh, turn on the computer, make a cup of coffee and a delicious breakfast, and get right down to work. They can take breaks if they feel they need it without any colleague or supervisor possibly judging them. They’re more relaxed when they get to work at their own pace. Their productivity levels increase throughout the day with the absence of stress and without the need to feel like they’re in a rush all the time. The remote employee’s job is not bound to where they live either. If their employer is alright with it and they’ve got the tools they need to get the job done, they could be anywhere in the world. On a beach in Bali, sitting outside by a sidewalk cafe enjoying the sunshine while they work, in their living room or home office, if that feels more comfortable. It’s incredible what a refreshing change this could make both emotionally and physically when you take away the stress and the hassle of rushing back and forth to work and sitting in traffic.
How Business and Work Environments Have Changed Since 2020
The Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic was a major catalyst for change in 2020 and brought a dramatic difference to the workforce that no one could have predicted. The biggest change of all being some businesses had to temporarily close their doors and order employees to work remotely to do their part and help curb the spread of the virus. Video conferencing and other technology to stay connected quickly surge in popularity and use during this period and businesses around the world almost simultaneously and without meaning to, followed in the footsteps of many Silicon Valley giants like Google and Apple. Business trips and conferences have been canceled, and never before in history have we seen something like this where businesses of every size had to forcible make remote working an option to cope and survive.
With the lives of billions depending on it, working from home in 2020 became a necessity for survival. From the United States to Europe, Asia to Australia, remote working was introduced as part of the solution for the required social distancing measures as one attempt to curb the rapid spread of the virus. However, telecommuting work like this can only exist if your job can be done on a computer or over the phone.
Certain essential services like healthcare and food industries have had no choice but to remain open since the jobs require physical labor and could not be done remotely. Additional safety measures and precautions were introduced to keep employees as safe as possible, but any job that could be done remotely was enforced. What does this mean for businesses and the future of these businesses moving forward? How did this pandemic impact the way businesses operated and the measures they had to adapt to survive?
By far, the most obvious change was the way every business and organization had to quickly and with short notice, embrace a new remote way of getting work done. They have had to turn to technology to enable work to still proceed as planned and it has propelled the use of work-from-home software and solutions to the forefront. Businesses who were already embracing the remote working culture or already implementing it prior to the pandemic as an option for workers had a head start since they were already prepared with the tools they need. Other businesses had to quickly learn to adapt and find solutions to the challenges that came with not being prepared enough with remote working solutions.
Expensive offices were now empty and eerily silent, devoid of any activity, and this raised the question of whether it was a necessity, after all, to be shelling out thousands of dollars in rent, expensive overhead costs, and utilities if jobs could be done remotely.
Service providers have become more crucial than ever in their role to help businesses and employees stay connected to avoid compromising on the quality of work. Internet traffic surged noticeably for both enterprise and consumer traffic. Existing remote working service providers also saw a spike in demand once employees were forced to work remotely. Both businesses and employees quickly had to adapt to the new way of working, and if there were businesses who thought remote working was not a viable option before, they’ve been proven wrong. It wasn’t a smooth transition for many businesses though, especially the ones who were not prepared to deal with this sudden and drastic shift. Working remotely is not a challenge. It’s been going on for a long time. It’s not a new thing. Freelancers have been doing it for a long time, and they’ve found a way to make it work.
The biggest challenge that today that employers are having with employees is the fact that employers don’t necessarily trust that employees know how to deliver on their job, and the responsibilities they have because they’ve always been working out of an office. That’s the biggest problem. All of a sudden pandemic happens, coronavirus happens, employees now have to work from home companies still have to pay you a salary and your bonuses. That’s the problem the employer is struggling with, the worry of whether an employee is still going to deliver or take advantage of the fact that they’re not in an office being scrutinized and monitored.
The work from home trend was given a significant boost in 2020 as remote working policies became mandatory by order of the government. The sudden switch to the digital way of work was a shift that happened almost overnight, and there is no doubt it has certainly changed the way businesses and employees started thinking about work from home arrangements. This proved to be a major tipping point for businesses to start giving some serious thought to the way things are being done. It also proved that a business can survive after all if an employee is not sitting behind a desk in an office. Work is still getting done, and in fact, some businesses are even seeing a boost in productivity among their employees. Will the coronavirus lead to a remote working revolution? The one thing we know for sure is that society is not going to go back to the way it was before. Not after everyone, both employers and employees alike, have had their eyes opened to the very real possibility, challenges, and benefits that come with remote work.
How Businesses and Families Are Impacted by Remote Working
The truth is, all of its benefits, working remotely can have its struggles. Forming relationships and career development are significantly more challenging when you work from home. A Harvard Business Review study revealed that employees who worked remotely feel that their non-remote colleagues don’t give them the fair and equal treatment that they should.
There are so many wonderful advantages to working remotely that it’s a wonder why we didn’t think about doing this seriously much sooner. Some of the perks of working from home include:
No Stressful Commute – This is by far the most obvious advantage. It’s very stressful battling traffic during rush hour, and by avoiding that completely, not only are you getting extra work time, but you’re reducing your stress levels when you have to get to work and come home from work, and you’re much better off because of that.
That one hour or more you spend commuting to work in the morning can be spent getting in an extra hour of work done, making you a lot more productive than your commuting coworkers.
You Have Autonomy Over Your Work – Unless you’re in a role or specific hours are important, you can make your own schedule. Everyone can have a corner office because the world is your office. You can have their windows, you can have the food you want to eat, you can choose when there’s music and when there’s silence, and you get to decide just what temperature the room should be that is most comfortable for you. It teaches you discipline, and it teaches you independence. You and you alone are responsible for meeting the deadlines that have been assigned to you. Being accountable for your whether your work gets done or not will, no doubt, instill a greater sense of responsibility within you. You can choose to save the time that is spent commuting every day into getting more done a. A remote workforce is ideal for any company if they can find a way to make it work since responsible employees are what every business wants at the end of the day.
More Time for Family – For working parents, remote working has been a dream come true for the many who want to spend more time at home with the children, so they don’t miss a moment. Remote working has made it easier for both parents to work together as a team and juggle the responsibilities of running a household without having to compromise on the quality of their work. Sharing the responsibility and spending quality time with the family is one of the most priceless gifts made possible by working from home. For those who don’t have a spouse or children to look after, the work-life balance afforded by remote work has made it possible for them to enjoy the quality of life more. They get to focus on work without compromising on the activities they love to do.
You Focus Better – Let’s face it, with the modern-day advent of open office spaces, they are a haven for distraction and interruption. While some people do enjoy the open concept of working and don’t feel so restricted and confined in a cubicle, the downside of that is distractions, phone calls, and chatty coworkers are much harder to ignore. It’s been drilled into us from the time we were in school about how important focus was if we wanted to succeed. To stay mentally alert and focused at all times when you’re undertaking an important task. Focus, in a nutshell, is your ability to direct your attention towards one thing, and one thing alone. Focus is defined as deliberate action. You’re deliberately concentrating on the one thing that you need to, and you’re intentional about it, but this can be difficult to do when distractions threaten to break that concentration.
The ability to work from home in the comfort of an environment you set up to be conducive for you is hugely beneficial to your ability to focused, productive, and efficient. Plus, you get to be completely comfortable when you’re working when you know no one is watching or possibly judging the way you work (which can happen in an office setting).
Job Opportunities Around the World – instead of having a job that you’re looking for in your home city, a job that you’re in right now, or even in their home country, imagine being able to find a job that you love around the entire world and being able to do it online. It opens the door for better prospects for you as an employee. There’s a greater possibility that you’ll find a job you’re passionate about, and you love when you’re not restricted by proximity anymore.
The World Is Your Office. Literally – If you have the freedom to work from home, that doesn’t actually mean you have to work from home. You have the choice to do that if you wanted, or you can work elsewhere like a coffee shop, or when you’re on vacation and work remotely that way. You have the luxury of traveling to a new destination and spending 2 weeks, 3 weeks, maybe even a month there if you loved it without compromising your income because you still get your job done. The extra perks of being able to explore your new surroundings in between is a luxury that not many are lucky enough to experience. You can take your work with you wherever you go and have that location.
You Get to Live in Remote Locations – Could you imagine being able to live anywhere in the world? You can even just work remotely for two weeks out of the year in a country that you want to live in or a city here and there. The opportunities to live anywhere are flexible, and the sky’s the limit.
It does depend on your relationship with your employer the time zones you’re working for, but if you and your employer can come to an agreement, anything is possible.
Your Overall Health Improves – With less stress comes a healthier and happier you. The health benefits you will experience and enjoy from having to work-life balance and not being locked into a very rigid and strict office schedule alone makes remote working worthwhile. You’re going to be happier when you don’t have to subject yourself to that stressful commute; you can avoid the flu season going into work, you can have more family time, you can enjoy more gym time. All that just by having that freedom of flexibility around your schedule that working from home affords you.
It’s Environmentally Friendly – With the greater environmental consciousness that has emerged and the necessity to reduce one’s carbon footprint, working from how is how you can do your part. You’re saving the environment by not contributing to the carbon footprint. From individuals to big corporations, it seems that everyone is concerned with going green these days to preserve our precious environment for the future. Working from home means relying on fewer resources, you are thereby reducing your carbon footprint impact and the amount of waste that you produce in the environment.
You Save A Lot More Money – An employee living in New York, for example, could be spending over $100 a month on their MetroCard. Then there’s also the cost of buying clothes specifically for the office environment that you’re in or buying food every day or coffee or whatever you purchased during out the day where you worked. Food can be expensive, and it’s that good for you since it’s probably not healthy. Working from home, on the other hand, has a lot of cost-saving benefits to it. You’re not going to spend money on gas, you’re not going to spend money on parking, you’re not going to spend money on unnecessarily eating out. Plus, you don’t need as many clothes to wear because you don’t need the professional attire that might be required for the company or the office space in a conventional job.
No Office Politics to Deal With – Office gossip, worrying about whether you can fully trust your coworker not to steal all the credit for your idea, office politics are an additional and unnecessary part of working in an office setup that many people don’t like dealing with. Working with so many different personalities means there is bound to be a clash of some sort. You’re not going to get along with everybody, and not everyone is going to like you. All the unnecessary politicking can make it difficult to concentrate on work, and when you work remotely, you eliminate the need to deal with all that and focus entirely on your work.
You have the Flexibility of Running Errands – Running errands during office hours would be almost impossible for those working in an office. To complete the errands they need, they would need to take leave, sacrificing on their precious off days just to get those errands done on time. Not a problem for someone who works remotely though. If you can juggle your time and work accordingly, running errands during the day is an achievable task as long as you can still meet your deadlines.
Fewer Sick Days Taken – Employers will be the ones who benefit the most from this advantage. Where an employee might have otherwise called in sick and charged the bill to the company, remote working employees take fewer sick days since they can still get work done if the cough or cold does not bother them too much. With a better work-life balance and decreased stress levels, employees are less likely to fall sick as a whole when they don’t leave their house much and potentially come into contact with sick people daily.
Of course, the grass is not always greener 100% of the time. Like everything else, there are challenges and certain disadvantages that come with remote work. For example:
When You’re Out of Sight, You’re Out of Mind – A major challenge for employees who work remotely is to still feel like they are part of the team. These employees might feel like when they are not at work, they are not valued as much, and their work product is not valued as much. We’ve become so accustomed to the culture where you need to see someone in person to believe that they are working. When people don’t see you sitting behind a desk, it’s easy for them to make the assumption that you’re not working. The company might not value you as much as an employee if they didn’t see you every day.
The Constant Suspicion That You’re Not Working – Unfortunately, the old school style of working is a hard mindset to change for a lot of employers. If they don’t see you at your desk, eight hours a day, they felt like you were not working at all, despite the fact that studies show most employees at work are only productive for actually four out of the eight hours that they’re there. The rest of the time, they’re either talking to other people, or they’re doing things that are not that productive. An employee can still be at work and not be productive, and although many employers know this on some level, it’s still a tough mindset to break out of.
There Are Distractions At Home Too – Distractions are everywhere if you think about it. You’ve got distractions in the office and distractions at home. When you’re at home, there are a lot of chores that need to be taken care of. You need to clean the house, do your laundry, walk the dog, pick up the kids from school, cook. The list is never-ending. Homelife can prove to have its own distractions. No matter where you go, there will be distractions, and it’s a matter of how well you manage those distractions that make a difference.
Lower Pay – Some employers believe that the perks of getting flexible hours mean an employee is going to be fine receiving a lower wage. But this also depends on the employee themselves. Some employees, especially the younger generation, would prefer more flexibility, work-life balance, and the opportunity to work remotely, and they’re willing to take lower wages or it. Not all employees are happy taking a pay cut though, and this is something you do need to think about when you choose to work remotely. It’s not always a case of being able to have your cake and eat it too, although, in an ideal world, it would be.
You’re Not Going to Be Close to Your Colleagues – Not unless you make an effort. You could be email friendly with them, but that’s about it because it’s not going to be the same as being there in person. Quickly turning to the person next to you to chat or ask a question, going to grab lunch together, chatting while you’re making your cup of coffee in the break room. All the little things that build relationships are not going to be possible if you work remotely, and if you’re a social person who loves interactions like these, working remotely can be a difficult adjustment.
There’s No Such Thing As Fixed Office Hours – The line between work time and personal time can become very blurry when your home doubles as your office. With the advent of computers, mobile phones, and the Internet, it has made it difficult for employees to disconnect from their work, as all smartphones are always at arm’s length, staying connected all the time can lead to degrading health and increased stress. It helps to clearly define a time you need to commit to work.
The hours can quickly tick by, and you end up spending long hours in front of your computer then you otherwise would have if you were at an office where you clock in and out. It can get messy and confusing unless you make an obvious effort to shut off your computer by a certain time and stop responding to emails. If you don’t create very clear lines between work time and personal time, you might find yourself working insane hours and compromising on your family time when you do that.
Isolation – Being alone most of the time can lead to feelings of isolation. When you barely leave your house since you can work right from your living room, the social interaction that you have are significantly reduced, and for some people, this can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Potential for Miscommunication – Even working onsite miscommunication can happen from time to time. Working remotely, this can be even more difficult, and twice as difficult if you’re working with teams from different countries. The challenges posed by cultural differences, miscommunication can be rife in virtual teams, but even more so when the team spans different cultures. A message that seems succinct to a team member in one country may come across as rude to a colleague from a different culture.
Key Points Summary
Being on a virtual team and working remotely can present unique challenges that aren’t faced by team members who are co-located, whether in another office location or at home. There are no managers or other teammates sitting nearby to consult with or provide immediate responses or support.
Likewise, there’s no one looking over your shoulder, keeping you focused and on task. Learning to manage the separation of work and home life is something that takes a bit of adjustment for both employees and employers. It’s important to give yourself structure in the day and to have a proper diary so you can settle down work out what you’re going to do today and work your way through it. Not everybody’s that organized, but when you work from home, you need to be.
Employees need to learn to set boundaries, and employers need to learn to respect these boundaries and not take it for granted that an employee is always accessible just because they are working virtually. If there is no enforced nine to five schedules, it can be hard to maintain a proper balance.
Often at home workers end up either working too few hours or conversely putting in an unhealthy amount of overtime. It’s essential to put boundaries in place. The trick is to stay productive and minimize distractions, as well as limiting the potential for overwork and burnout.
For many, creating a designated work area is key to separating work and home life. Your workspace should have a clear physical boundary, and your work should stay within that space. It should be a work area that’s not susceptible to disruptions. If you don’t have access to a suitable area at home, choose an appropriate external site, but one where you can avoid distractions. Working in coffee shops, for example, may seem attractive, but a local library is probably a better choice. In either case, consider that working remotely nearly always requires an internet connection. Working virtually in a public place often mandates the requirement for VPN or similar secure connectivity. Another thing you need to do is get yourself a good workstation, make sure that you’re comfortable where you’re working that it’s an easy, relaxed place and you’ve got all the bits and pieces you need to work.
Occasionally, get up and get away from your desk and walk around, perhaps settle yourself in another corner for a bit to do some work and then go back to your desk. Lots of fresh air if you can get it will help too. Go outside stretch your legs, all of those sorts of things are really important when you get around to working remotely.
People like to work in different ways and at different times and it’s important to find out how you like to work when you’re working from home because you’re not in an office structure and you’re therefore not being forced to work in other people’s ways that you need to find your own. Some people thrive on work from home, and there are a lot fewer distractions, which is certainly helpful if you’ve got a role that requires a lot of concentration. But then again, then it can be very beneficial if you’re the sort of person that gets their energy of other people to be immersed in an office situation. If you like the dynamics of in-person contact, then working from home can be a challenge. Some people love coming into the office; some people hate it. It will be tough for people who thrive in that office environment and that face to face interaction style of working side by side with their peers. Some people definitely have more of a preference to work at home for a variety of reasons that might be personal. It’s really the individual difference but there are ways to make both situations work in a way that suits you best.
Whether working from home or a distant office, all virtual team members face the challenge of dealing with a lack of everyday face to face communication and the team spirit that attends it working remotely. True, you do enjoy the benefits of spending more time with family, but for those who live alone or without a family, working remotely can potentially be a very isolating experience despite the benefits. Remote working teams miss out on the informal everyday interactions that co-located teams often take for granted. They miss out on nonverbal cues that indicate how their ideas and suggestions are being received. They can go days without contact, leading to feelings of isolation and virtual employees who feel isolated are less likely to contribute to the team. This will, in turn, erode both team spirit and team trust.
Businesses who manage remote working teams should recognize and capitalize on team diversity. Perhaps consider building a team profile, sharing each team member’s experience, expertise, and personal information to minimize potential conflicts. Remote working teams should agree on ground rules for interactions that align everyone’s expectations, like maximum response time to emails, agreed technology for sharing and updating files or guidelines on appropriate language and emails. But ultimately, regular daily communication helps counter these challenges. Cultivating a strong one-to-one relationship with your team leader, and if possible, other teammates help to mitigate these problems. It’s good for morale and team unity if all team members regularly communicate about their progress, and where possible work together in partnerships. Even so, there is an isolation factor with working remotely that must be taken into account. It’s important to make an effort to stay connected and informed, to make your presence recognized. A lack of closeness inhibits the formation of trust, connection, and mutual purpose, which happen to be the three necessary ingredients of a healthy team. It’s important to be willing to take it on yourself to ensure that being out of sight doesn’t lead to being left out.