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The Pros and Cons of Remote Working

Silhouette Global Business People Meeting Concept

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?

Benefits

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.

Challenges

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.

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It’s Time to Think

Young attractive woman thinking and holding a cup of coffee

Thinking is such a fundamental part of being a human being that it seems incredible to think that many of us simply do not make the time to do it. We often move from one task or life change to another with very little time to reflect on our losses, successes and the lessons learned in the process. Smartphones and their constant stream of social media updates can definitely contribute to a world where we are increasingly outwardly focused. Studies have shown that as a consequence, we are now more likely to compare ourselves to others or look towards other people for affirmation, leaving us at a disadvantage in terms of self-reflection, independent thought and the ability to identify and follow our instincts.

Equally, the 24/7 culture of our working lives can mean that we never really switch off for long enough to take time out to think about what we want, where we’re going and whether we are fulfilling our true ambitions and purpose. In fact, failing to take the time out to think every so often can be a large contributing factor in continuing on in jobs, relationships and life situations that are not really in line with what we know at some level we really want.

So how can we try and factor more thinking time into our day? Here are a few of our top tips for becoming better thinkers.

1)      Learn to switch off from social media

It sounds obvious, yet having a very clear cut off point, especially in the evening, from social media,  can be one of the most effective ways of re-learning the skill of self reflection. Having a time to switch off all internet devices and sticking to it each evening could also result in less stress and better sleep.

2)      Learn to be more assertive

It is much easier to be swept away by the demands of others when we are not adequately assertive about how we spend our time. Learning to say no means more time to think about our own path in life and how we can make our dreams a reality, without the drama or distraction of the demands of others.

3)      Plan your day better

If your day is planned only vaguely, it is a lot more likely that other people will be able to burst in and take priority over other tasks and needs. Timetabling your schedule better means being able to state a lot more clearly to others what you intend to do and when you expect to do it by, creating better focus and  more time to reflect and switch off in between jobs.

4)      Delegate

Is it possible that there are other people that could do some of your jobs better, and that you could in fact be more productive if you were able to focus more on whatever you are best at or what is the most important? The art of delegation can be integral to being able to work smarter and generate new ideas in the process.

5)      Reflect on your goals and whether you are fulfilling them

Perhaps one of the best ways to factor in some good quality thinking time is to make a note of your goals and continually check in with yourself to see if your current activities are taking you closer or further away from them.  When we start genuinely committing to our goals and reviewing our progress, it becomes easier to understand where we could be using our time and energy better.

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The Psychological Contract

Smiling successful businesswoman giving a thumbs up gesture of success and approval as she sits at her desk in the office

The psychological contract is one of the most important aspects of any job, yet it is a term that is rarely discussed or widely understood.  Unfortunately, not having a clear idea of the psychological contract in a working agreement is usually to the detriment of any organisation, and high staff turnover, low engagement and unclear expectations are some of the potential consequences of failing to consider this essential part of the employment relationship. So, what is it, and how does it impact on the relationship between an organisation and its staff?

Originally explored as a concept in the early 60s, simply put, the psychological contract is the understanding between employer and employee about their roles, obligations and commitments to each other. It differs from the written employment contract inasmuch as it is more definite and interactive on a human, day to day level, rather than focusing on speculative outcomes. Although the psychological contract is not technically legally binding, the basic expectations of the employer employee relationship can be brought into any dispute where that relationship has not been honoured in the ways that would usually be anticipated without question.

From the point of view of the employee, the contents of the psychological contract pertain to the employee’s human rights within the organisation, from being treated with fairness and impartiality during the recruitment process to being treated with compassion at times when leave is required for illness or bereavement.

From the employer’s point of view, the contract describes, among other things, the expectation that the employee will treat the business with respect, not bring the business into disrepute and will let the employer know of anything going on that could harm the business in any way.

There is of course, some distinction to be made with a psychological contract about what clauses constitute promises and which are expectations.

Managing expectations is therefore an essential part of maintaining a psychological contract that works. For example, it is important to ensure that expectations of the possibilities of promotions, pay rises and contract renewal are completely transparent. Where expectations in these areas are unclear or unmet, employee engagement is likely to plummet, especially if employees feel that hard work is not being recognised or that goal posts have changed.

With this in mind, it is fair to say that the psychological contract between employer and employee is one of reliability, consistency, decency and civilisation. Consensual, fair working patterns, transparency in communications and honouring commitments are the cornerstone of any psychological contract. For an employee, similarly, the basic expectations are those you would expect to find as the ethos of any grounded, mature adult with empathy and understanding – such as honesty, loyalty, communication and considering the interests of others.

Do you have a psychological contract, and if so, could you write it down or is it too vague? If you do not have one, perhaps now is a good time to start considering your organisation’s take on both sides. Once you have very clear boundaries and commitments in place on both sides, it is easier to spot which candidates will fit into the roles on offer, and which will be difficult or impossible to train to be a part of the company culture. Developing a psychological contract now will help ensure the right people can be attracted and retained in the long term.