It sounds like a dream at first: work from home, lounge in your pajamas, get more done. That reality is something businesses are slowly discovering, as they allow more and more workers to connect and work from home. Whether or not that’s effective, however, is another story!
Significant research over the last few years paints a confusing picture of exactly how efficient at-home work really is. Some studies show increases in productivity levels, while others reveal a worsening of efficiency instead.
Surprisingly, working in the office is still more efficient than working from home as a whole. But the remote workforce is still growing — if it’s not worthwhile, why is that even happening?
Some businesses see the success of a remote workforce, implement them, and wonder what they’re doing wrong when it does not work out as anticipated. The answer is mixed; remote workforces improve efficiency in specific lines of work, but it’s not a blanket policy that will benefit every company. Here’s how to balance your policy to succeed.
Employees Abusing Work-From-Home Policy
Moderation is the key even when it comes to working from home. Nearly every employee enjoys a bit of quiet time now and again, even at work, but too much isolation is counter-productive.
Recent studies show that many employees are happier and more productive when they balance off-site work with time spent in the office. Giving remote workers autonomy and flexibility with their schedule does increase their productivity, but there are significant benefits to keeping that close tie with the office.
For one thing, much of the human element is missing in remote working conditions. Social butterflies thrive around other people, and even the most introverted of introverts need occasional support and camaraderie to feel connected. Employees who enjoy their workplace’s culture feel a sense of belonging and acceptance which provides a sense of emotional stability.
Speaking of mental health, it’s a significant influence on an employee’s potential to get work done. If the work environment is positive, spending a reasonable amount of time around their colleagues is healthy. Working from home for extended periods of time cuts into social time which is harmful in the long run.
As one might expect, that’s especially harmful to extroverts.
Teamwork is another important office aspect that goes missing when employees work from home. It certainly is possible to work effectively on projects remotely with other online team mates, thanks to newer software platforms, but it’s just not as personal. Missing out on the face-to-face collaboration takes away body language communication and depersonalizes the experience. It also strips workers of their right to enjoy working together for a common goal.
Remember: even the lone wolves of your company are contributing, and their peers recognize their influence. Replacing old-fashioned interactivity with text, audio, and video chat removes a lot of the human element of the workplace. Careful balance is needed to prevent negative cultural development within your company.
Leading, Managing Remote Workers vs. Office Workers
Presence is a significant part of leadership. How can employees look up to, respect, and follow a manager who isn’t around half of the time? Leaders have to be wherever they’re needed and in person to gain the respect and loyalty necessary to complete a project. I
Leadership communication also benefits from in-person meetings, rather than telephone or email connections, especially when someone has a more complicated or nuanced question. Direct feedback is more meaningful and influential when speaking face-to-face than when reading an email.
This isn’t to say you should throw out the baby with the bathwater; managing projects remotely does work. In many circumstances, it’s just more useful for a leader to guide and oversee employees when everyone is within walking distance of each other.
No matter what happens, always try to be fair. Balance your desire to allow your leaders freedom with a recognition of the fact that they are often better managers when leading in person. Save serious criticism or threats of employment for in-person meetings out of respect.
When Working Remotely Doesn’t Work
As a general rule, jobs that deal with the world outside of your company are better suited for remote work. It’s relatively easy to set up jobs like sales, graphic design, copywriting, journalism, and call center work from anywhere in the world. What most workers need in these types of roles include a few overarching goals, resources to complete their tasks, and a little supervision. Because the majority of employees, who work in their own way, at their own pace, will thrive — as long as they have easy access to support for when and if it’s needed.
Projects that require innovation and creativity, on the other hand, flow better when everyone is in the same room. It’s much easier to bounce ideas around and keep everyone on the same page, literally and figuratively, in person. Research and development, product design, advertising campaigns, and tasks relying on specialized tools or machinery are a few examples of projects where nearby internal support is needed, or preferred, and helps supercharge productivity in the workplace.
Voice calls and video conferences are still useful for highly-collaborative projects when used as additional methods of interaction. Video conferencing is the “next best thing” alternative to being in an office with your entire team – because it carries body language, unlike talking on the telephone or email.
Lacking Resource Access Stems Productivity
If you plan to allow your workers to work remotely, you must be absolutely sure they have fast and easy access to resources when they’re needed. Lacking access to resources absolutely decimates productivity, and depending on the task, it could even cost your business money and clients.
Here are few examples:
- Copywriters need relevant research materials and a clear message to send.
- Graphic designers need high-quality assets and an overall design goal.
- Sales representatives need a potential client list and sales information.
The central theme that makes these types of projects work is adequate support. You provide workers with the tools they need, showing them what the end product should look like, and they take care of the rest with supervision.
Lack of resources and infrastructure is probably the single-most impactful problem in remote work. The more time your employees spend asking questions and requesting assets they need is less spent on delivering a product. Productivity slips, tasks take longer, and people get hung up on the process instead of providing results.
Poor Workflow Streamlining
Getting the things you and your workforce need to succeed with remote work is just one part of the puzzle. Streamlining your workflow in a way that’s concise and easy to understand when working remotely is also incredibly important. Without that, your remote work setup is doomed to fail.
Also, beware workflows and tasks that are prone to distraction. It’s much easier for an employee to be distracted at home, and when they are distracted, it takes a longer period of time to refocus onto work again. This includes tasks that require the use of too many different tools, programs, or websites, gumming up the flow.
Finding that fast fact turns into a three-hour review of every cat meme on the internet – that’s not effective!
Just as you want your employees to spend less time requesting for resources, you also want to remove as much frustration from their workflow as possible. Look for tasks that are prone to failure or high support calls; what’s causing the issue? Can the task be changed to accommodate the needs of remote workers better?
One way to simplify your digital workplace is to use cloud-based software solutions. These solutions don’t usually require self-management, reducing strain on your IT department and cutting down on infrastructure costs.
Cloud services can also consolidate the tools your workers need to do their jobs successfully from both in and outside of the office. Whether you’re sharing documents or sending long chains of email replies, having every remote worker logged into the same remote platform provides congruency and ensures everyone stays in the loop. And that just might hold everything together when you’re trying to achieve balance.