Technology has enabled the number of remote workers to rise rapidly in recent years; the TUC (Trades Union Congress) estimates that the number of people in the UK working from home increased by a fifth in the ten years to 2018, and now stands at around 2.5 million people.
Technology is the primary enabler of flexible and remote working, allowing employees to change the locations they work from and their working hours.
With high-speed connectivity and the right technology, people can now work not only from dedicated office locations but from their homes, a café or hub, shared working spaces or, indeed, anywhere in the world.
The benefits of remote working
The major benefit to employees of working remotely is flexibility. Other benefits include:
- Less time spent travelling;
- More time to concentrate on work without interruptions and distractions;
- Not dealing with office politics;
- Better work–life balance, including:
- More time with the family/the ability to better manage childcare arrangements; and
- More time to exercise, attend to the necessities of life, such as doctor and dentist appointments, and do home-based chores while being able to make up the time elsewhere.
- Less stress and increased well-being.
The challenges of remote working
One of the main challenges of working and managing remotely is that team members are no longer physically present in one location, so the manager cannot rely on their physical presence to know what they are doing.
Many of the barriers to new ways of working come from the old paradigms about when and where we need to be to do our work. Too often, organisational cultures are based on monitoring inputs and the visible time spent at work, rather than outputs and outcomes.
Organisations also face challenges in how to manage the information security risks of remote workers. Without the protection afforded to them in the office, such as whitelisted IP addresses and IT staff at the ready to handle concerns, remote workers are vulnerable to a variety of security threats.
The best way to combat this problem is through effective training. IT Governance’s Cyber Security for Remote Workers Staff Awareness E-learning Course, for example, provides comprehensive guidance on the risks of remote working and the ways they can mitigate them.
Management by outcomes
When managing remotely, managers need to be very clear with team members about the outputs that are expected from them. It involves managers being there to support their team and ensuring that there is an effective two-way communication flow.
Managing by outputs also involves managers agreeing key performance measures with each team members so that everyone is clear how their productivity will be monitored.
Loss of team collaboration and cohesion
When working remotely, team meetings take on more importance, as does providing opportunities for the team to socialise. Much of a team’s sense of unity can come from the opportunities to interact informally, get to know one another, have chats and coffee break discussions.
Face-to-face interaction helps generate trust and understanding, which is the bedrock of the team. When moving to remote working, the manager needs to agree regular meetings with the team. Technology can be an enabler here but ensuring regular face-to-face contact is just as essential.
Supportive, regular one-to-ones
It is also essential that the manager continues regular one-to-ones with each team member to help them feel part of the team. Depending on the work context, this can also be supplemented with supervision, coaching and mentoring.
Being alert to team member well-being and isolation factors
Coming to work provides an important social element in many people’s lives. As such, working remotely can cause people to feel isolated and affect their mental health.
It can also cause anxiety and guilt because workers feel a constant need to appear “busy”. Others feel anxious about the lack of structure and peer support that home working brings.
Being aware of these factors and watching out for signs that all is not well is important for managers in order to provide a healthy and satisfying environment for their team.
Remote working is on the rise. Although this way of working provides benefits to both the organisation and the employee, it also calls for new ways of managing. HR and L&D professionals have a key role to play in raising awareness of the issues and supporting managers and teams in making the best of the opportunity.
About the author
Sarah Cook is a development and performance specialist who focuses on helping leaders and organisations to achieve sustainable change. Sarah is the managing director of the Stairway Consultancy and author of Making a Success of Managing and Working Remotely released by IT Governance Publishing.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah’s full list of publications with ITGP can be found here.