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Remote working ā€“ help or hindrance?

Posted: 26 Apr 2017

 

Is remote working really all it’s cracked up to be? It promises a better work-life balance, but in reality remote workers tend to work longer hours, causing them to blend their personal and professional lives, leading to higher levels of stress, new research has shown.

Maybe we need to get back to the ‘good old days’ of working an eight-hour shift in the office and clocking off at five or six o’clock, leaving work where it belongs: at work.

Not so fast.

For many of today’s employees, office working rarely stays confined to the office. With the constant connectivity that smartphones bring, employees inevitably find themselves working outside of hours regardless whether they’re working in or away from the office.

Remote working is clearly more fitting of the way people want to work in 2017. If implemented accordingly, remote workers are shown to be more productive than those who spend all their time in the office. It can be healthier to work from home too, with employees potentially able to spend more time with their children or at the gym by not having to make the commute to work.

However, the research from the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows that for firms to reap the benefits of remote working policies, they need to have the necessary tools, procedures and guidelines in place.

ILO’s report found that 40% of highly mobile remote workers – i.e. constantly on the move – are experiencing high levels of stress, compared to just 25% among those always working at their employer’s office.

Issues arise when employees hit their “productivity threshold”, which is usually about 50 hours a week, says Jon Messenger, co-author of the ILO report.

So what can be done to keep productivity at optimum levels among your remote workers?

Go virtual for big meetings

Communication is always going to be a bit of a problem when employees are dispersed, working to different schedules and, sometimes, across different time zones. However, we’re working in the right times to overcome these barriers to effective communication with all manner of instant messaging apps, video call software and project management tools to hand.

In fact, with so many channels to keep a handle on, it can prove difficult for firms to capture every shred of vital information without any slipping through the cracks.

So, while IM apps and video calls are effective for one-to-one and more informal meetings, virtual meetings, which allow you to record everything that’s said for later reference, should be considered for times when everybody needs to come together.

Assess employees on an individual basis

Not everybody is a good fit for remote working. Some people will know themselves that they’re not as efficient working away from the office, while others will need to be managed to make sure they’re working productively at home.

Half the battle is in the initial hiring of the employee – if they have experience of working remotely, it will act as some proof that they don’t need constant reminders.

As well as having the right mindset to work remotely, firms also need to make sure workers have the necessary workspace and equipment to do their jobs safely and efficiently.

Put clear policies in place

Without clear policies being put in place, remote workers might start to pick and choose when they are and when they aren’t in the office. This makes coordinating meetings extremely difficult, while it could potentially see trust erode if managers start to question whether staff are prioritising work as they should.

To act as some sort of structure, some businesses require employees to apply for work-from-home approval the day before they intend to do so and to use a time tracking tool when they are working outside the office.

A more progressive and less heavy-handed approach would be to promote a culture of transparency, which forces employees to take responsibility and ensure that they are keeping up with what’s required of them.

This might all sound like a lot of work for minimal gain in terms of bottom line, but, crucially, your employees will be happier and more productive for it.

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