As technology becomes faster and more reliable, remote working is on the increase. The changing demands of employees as well as the digital nomad phenomenon have created an idealised picture of people being able to work from anywhere and cut the immediate costs of office working in half, but how does telecommuting work in reality as opposed to a day in the office?
Of course, one of the major advantages is that people who may have previously been precluded from the world of full time employment due to low energy, mild disabilities or unpredictable health patterns are able to, to a certain extent, set their own hours according to their body clock and optimum vitality. Equally, employees with family commitments or caring responsibilities are likely to find working from home advantageous too, as it means they can continue to earn and keep up with their work if their child is off sick from school, and spend more quality time with family as a result of avoiding being stuck in rush hour traffic for long periods of time. For single parents or carers in particular, remote working opportunities can also help reduce the risk of poverty.
In this respect, remote working can theoretically do much to reduce the stress of commuting and working to unnatural biorhythms, both of which are a high contributory factor to burnout, depression and physical health problems.
On the other hand, for some people, the lack of a clear boundary between home and work can present a new type of stress where it becomes increasingly difficult to switch off. If the employee already has a stressful home life, remote working makes it much easier to put work off in favour of whoever is demanding their attention. As well as affecting performance in an immediate sense, putting things off until later that would be done straightaway in the office can cause anxiety and feelings of failure when small tasks snowball into a large backlog of work that has to be done in what would normally be the employee’s free time.
For this reason, it is extra important to ensure remote workers are not too isolated outside the routine and structure of the office. Checking in every so often by phone, email or Skype is not only useful for gauging the employee’s progress but also helping them to feel supported and motivated if they are not used to the potential loneliness of working away from the social atmosphere of a team.
One of the biggest problems for employers is that unless there are very clear targets, it is impossible to monitor someone’s progress in quite the same way as in an office, where both manager and employee are able to immediately ask questions and iron out problems. While some businesses reportedly use webcams to check that remote employees are working the hours they say they are, this level of surveillance might feel understandably uncomfortable for a lot of people, especially when more conventional methods such as goal setting and check in times can be used instead.
Making Remote Working Easier
One way of making it easier for newly remote workers to stay focused is by offering preliminary training on how to stick to the same rules as you would in an office – for example, switching your mobile phone off or putting it on silent, making sure Facebook and personal email alerts are disabled and ensuring friends and family members respect that time working at home means only distracting them in the case of an emergency, just as they would if they were in the office.
Ultimately, it would seem that while remote working has huge advantages on both sides, it is perhaps even more important for employers to ensure a high level of engagement and motivation in the worker to make sure distractions don’t take centre stage and achievements are recognised and acknowledged. Offering a high level of support and keeping communication levels high are two ways of doing this.