Opportunities and Drawbacks of Remote Work
Changes in Work
With the pandemic and all the changes to the wat we work, there have been opportunities and drawbacks of remote work. Many organizations have adopted a work from home or a hybrid model where they work from home part time. Some employers have decided what hours employees need to work. Some employers have decided to keep the same hours. Some are asking employees to work the same number of hours, but only as they can fit them into their daily routine. No matter what your company opted for, there have been changes to either the when, the how, or the tools you use to do the work.
From a recent study done by Microsoft, we know that since March, the typical 9-5 workday has slowly been disappearing. Employees start their days an hour earlier on average and finish them an hour later in the day. This shift is due to remote work allowing for a more flexible schedule and the need to balance home responsibilities.
Due to days getting longer and our work literally following us home and room to room, frustrations have spiked for many of us. The frustrations can stem from a number of directions, but the study found three main causes. The causes were fatigue from too many video meetings, not enough time to focus on work, and lack of connection to colleagues. The study also interviewed workers, and they indicated that distractions, connection issues, and a lack of comfortable work environments were the top pain points of new remote work. Before the pandemic, only about one third of workers had a home office, about half had WIFI, and less than 5% live alone, which would line up with the main pain points.
Humans interact with technology differently. Some embrace it, and some – well, let’s say they shy away from it. When employees change the way they work or move to a remote work scenario, studies have found that the human brain works harder. The study (again led by Microsoft) was focused on collaboration through video meetings. Without boring you with technical jargon and charts, your brain has to work harder to focus in remote meetings where the screen is broken into the “Brady Bunch” style blocks.
The study also found that the more video meetings there are for employees, the higher the stress levels and tendency to be overworked. Again, this was found in the standard block style meetings. This style of meeting reduced communication and the ability to read non-verbal cues. Fatigue was found to be setting in after as little as 30 minutes of video meetings.
To combat meeting fatigue, Microsoft created Teams Together Mode, which places coworkers in a shared background. Using the same brain study as in the block style video meeting, Microsoft showed that the brain was not working as hard. The ability to focus on peers was significantly increased, and having roundtable style discussions was easier.
Depending on your management model and styles, remote work could be straining your interpersonal relationships. Managers can struggle with not knowing what employees are doing leading to the belief they are not working efficiently at home. Employees can struggle with reduced access to their managers for support and clear communication. This leads to
mutual mystification on both sides thinking each are out of touch with their needs and are not being supportive or helpful in accomplishing work.
To avoid these challenges, managers can create rules of engagement for remote work. This sets the tone and expectations for everyone involved. Setting up structured daily check-ins, different ways of communicating, and how as a manager you can best be reached or used as a resource are just a few to keep in mind. Email is rarely the best way to get your point across, so having a video option will also reduce that sense of isolation or misunderstanding that can develop in your team.
More than 50% of parents have voiced concerns about balancing work life while working from home. This number trends significantly higher with those under 40, and especially millennials. Issues that arise are everything from finding quiet space to lack of childcare. This needs to be a consideration for how and when your staff can properly work. If they have small children or are sharing space with a spouse or roommates, they may not have adequate time or space to focus on work.
On a positive note, more than 60% of remote workers now say they have a better understanding and are more empathetic towards their colleagues. Having a real view of their home life (sometimes quite literally) has helped us all care about each other and strengthen personal relationships. What the study also had shown was that people miss the personal connections of being in an office environment. To keep remote work successful long term, team building either in person or online is a necessity.
As a manager or even as a team member, create ways to still be social. Maybe your team likes to have a happy hour once a week, or you have decided to send everyone lunch. You can have it delivered to enjoy together. Whatever you decide will cut down on the feeling of isolation and promote a sense of belonging to the team.
The shift to work from home has brought forth a number of new opportunities. The most obvious is for employees to be able to work in their home environment. Also, employers may be able to cut down on the amount of commercial real estate they are occupying as a cost saving measure. Others are new tools to evolve your work to be able to take place anywhere like Teams, O365 and Zoom. Employees are enjoying the ability to have flexible working hours. Hand in hand with flexibility is the ability to focus on work for set periods of time which leads to greater productivity. Having quiet hours scheduled to accomplish tasks has dropped the stress levels for many.
Some employers have also seen a pivot in services to accommodate employees working from home. For some, it has been as simple as different workflows, and others have restructured how they do business. Some employers have taken the time to look at the way they do business and structure their processes better, and others have found new sources of revenue.
The global shift has brought both challenges and opportunities for workers. The unique environment has promoted connection within family groups and even working relationships. In some cases, it has shifted the perceptions of some managers who felt work could not happen remotely. On the flip side, longer hours and lack of interpersonal relationships can lead to less bonding time with work teams. If the employee is also struggling with an uncomfortable working environment, productivity may suffer.
As an employer, it is imperative that we look at the tools we use for collaboration, to do the work on, and if our employees are able to comfortably work in their home environment. Microsoft Teams and 365 can make remote work not so lonely.