5 Challenges with a Remote Working Policy – And How to Overcome Them
One way to see how far the adoption of a remote working policy has progressed is to examine its impact on culture through the study of linguistics. As something plays a greater role within a culture, more words are created. As a great example, there are 50 Eskimo words for “ice” (source).
Working out of the office is now referred to by at least eight terms that I can think of (let me know of any others I missed in the comments below). The phrases I came up with are: remote working, working out in the field, working on the road, teleworking, telecommuting, flex-time, virtual working or working in a virtual office.
Regardless the name you choose, remote working is now an embedded part of the corporate world. This means that it must be managed, understood and tracked if this practice is to continue.
Value must be achieved to help companies improve productivity, reduce costs, deliver better customer satisfaction, increase employee morale or enable a better customer experience. Benefits must be delivered – or else the practice will be abandoned.
With such widespread acceptance, I wrote an article suggesting there is a remote working maturity curve to do a self-assessment to see what level of maturity organizations have achieved. As companies progress along this maturity curve, greater benefits can be achieved. However, at the same time it shouldn’t be surprising that challenges do exist.
Concerns Still Exist about a Remote Working Policy
According to a recent Gallup poll, the proportion of Americans who did some or all their work from home had increased to 43% in 2016, up from 39% in 2012. At this rate, over half of all American workers will likely work at least some of the time from home.
Of course, this figure will never achieve 100 percent. There are too many professions where a physical presence is required. It would be very difficult to be in public service remotely, such as being a Firefighter, Policeman, or other such professions.
But, select tasks of many jobs might be able to be done from outside of the “office,” given the amazing technology breakthroughs of the last decade with smart phones, communications and remote collaboration tools.
Despite this steadily increasing rate of adoption, concerns still exist.
As with any change that impacts an entire workforce, it should come as no surprise that the establishment or existing management team will have concerns over implementing anything new. Why try something new that might cause a drop of productivity, increase costs or do anything else to disrupt profitability?
No one wants to take an unknown risk for a theoretical gain if it can be avoided.
But what if a productivity improvement is missed from neglecting to experiment with something new? The opportunity cost of not recognizing the productivity improvement potential of computers would have been a difficult performance gap to overcome for those laggard companies that neglected to embrace this office transformation.
Five Challenges to Overcome with a Remote Working Policy
I thought it might be useful to come up with a list of common concerns of remote working – to then provide an opportunity to address these potential challenges, with the goal of helping to better clarify what options and solutions exist.
1. Lack of Trust
If a manager doesn’t trust that his or her team will work diligently when they are not around, then a remote working policy is not likely to work well (give examples of games played, lack of visibility and understanding of what tasks take to get done to overcome it); let workers know it is a privilege that can be lost so it has value and is recognized as a reward for trust to overcome this concern.
2. The Two-Tiers of Employee Syndrome
This is all about the career path, and whether it can reasonably be done working 100% from home. The short answer is it can’t. Recognize not all workers aspire to heights of senior management; for those ok with lesser ambitions, it can be a good fit. This might not be the case for the career climber.
3. Younger Workers Just Starting Their Career
Those just getting started don’t have as much of a baseline to draw upon in understanding social or political situations in the office or other workplace. This is difficult to understand when it is right in front of you. It is even harder when hundreds or thousands of miles separate you from the rest of our team [see article on mentoring in remote working world]. This type of worker should be limited in their remote working, perhaps not more than one or two days a week.
4. Too many Distractions when Working Remotely
This is where myth can overshadow reality. It is a common misconception that those working remotely are on the golf course or sleeping instead of working. The reality is that many studies have been completed validating remote workers have a higher productivity. The question comes down to what output is performed, and how can it be measured, to then make a data-based decision on whether a remote working policy makes sense for your company. Several productivity measurement applications now exist, such as Prodoscore). According to a study by YouGov, in the UK, 30% of respondents felt their productivity actually increased when working away from the office, 53% felt they were just as productive as at the office. Only 17% stated remote work reduced their productivity.
5. Hard to Build a Strong Team
Without regular in-person interactions, it is hard to build a new team or camaraderie, which can drive a high-performance work environment. In this type of situation, it might make sense to defer a remote working policy until the team has had a chance to gain sufficient face time. Another take away from this type of situation is that the ideal remote working policy isn’t necessarily one that requires work to be done remotely 100 percent of the time. Having flexibility on when to come into the office, what days to work remotely and for how long can be a powerful motivator to be highly focused and efficient while in the office. Some planning can result in taking advantage of certain days of the week when others make a point to be in the office, to then gain better access to those resources when they are readily available. Instant Messaging applications are a nice way to offset any feelings of being cut off from the rest of the company, and can certainly be used to help maintain existing relationships between employees, but it is a difficult tool to start a relationship or cultivate acquaintances into a solid working relationship.