Working from home full-time — or even part-time! — seems like a revolutionary idea. You can avoid the office commute. And office politics. And pandemics. Save money on lunches. And coffee. Fit your work schedule to your lifestyle, rather than the other way around. If you know what tasks you need to deliver and the time line, and you have regular meetings with your line manager, then being in an office isn’t a necessity for a knowledge worker. As long as you have a laptop and a wifi connection, you are good to go. Location doesn’t matter.
But is being a remote worker all it’s cracked up to be? What are the pros and cons of working from home? Everyone talks about the advantages, but are there any disadvantages? Let’s unpack the pros and cons of working from home in this post.
1. Missed connections
One of the benefits of working from home is the fact that you can work to your own schedule, and comfortably in your own environment. You can stay in your PJs all day if you want, have whatever ambient background noise you need to help you with productivity — without annoying anyone. But one of the disadvantages of working from home, particularly if you live alone, is the isolation and loneliness. And the repetitive routine of get up, work, go to bed, rinse, repeat can get real old, real quick — and have you longing for chats around the water cooler.
From a team management perspective, leaders need to build in systems to ensure their remote workers stay and feel connected to the organisation and team. Sure, it takes more effort — and staff do no want to feel like they are micromanaged, so there needs to be balance.
Solution: For those working from home, it’s important that you feel a connection to your workplace, colleagues and project while at the same time managing your daily schedule to minimise isolation. That could include a Skype call with your team leader every few days, and e-meetings every week or fortnight. Ensure your schedule includes daily interaction with others — go to a local cafe after you exercise (you are exercising, right?), find a co-working space where you feel there’s a sense of community and work there regularly. Attend professional development events — Meetup has groups organised around interests.
For team leaders, if working from home is the norm for your company, think about hiring a Chief Happiness Officer to take care of your remote workers. It’s an investment that will pay off with happier, productive and more connected staff. You can also use software like Traqq to keep team tasks and activities visible so there’s a strong sense of connection.
2. The illusion of Communication
George Bernard Shaw said that the biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. With more remote workers being part of the freelance and gig economy, and coming from countries where English may not be their first language, details can easily be lost in translation — even when aforementioned details have been verified and rechecked. That’s because cultural differences and the subtle nuances of the English language can be lost on even the most proficient of non-native speakers.
With technology ensuring there are more communication options available — Slack, Skype, Zoom, Trello, email, Facebook, WhatsApp and many, many more — it’s tempting to think communication is better. That’s not necessarily true. Sure more channels mean that communication is more convenient — and more frequent — but this doesn’t necessarily translate into quality interactions.
Solution: opt for the less is more approach to communication — and by that we mean channels. Pick one that most people are comfortable with meets but still meets the needs of the organisation — and systemise that for use and embed it in the culture of your team. Know that anything that is written, while great for a paper trail, can be open to misinterpretation, so face-to-face communication is the best option. Virtual meetings via video conferencing are the next best thing.
3. The recruitment spin cycle
Finding the right people — and keeping them — is a challenge for on-ground teams, and this becomes more so with remote workers. From a management perspective, trust is the biggest obstacle. How do you know that the person you’ve recruited will deliver what they’ve promised? How can you ensure quality and productivity? And ghosting is real concern — what happens if the employee disappears with their retainer?
There are similar concerns around trust for those who work remotely. Your team leader sounds like they may be an awesome manager, but what happens if they are a bully or micromanager who doesn’t respect your boundaries? How do you know if you will actually be paid for the work you’ve completed? And paid on time?
Solution: Recruitment is about finding the right fit — from both an employer and staff perspective, irrespective of where the employee is located. Companies need to have open and transparent information available about the business and its culture. Selection procedures must be robust enough that risks are minimised, but flexible enough that candidates aren’t put off by the process. Likewise, those employees who are working remotely need to do their due diligence around potential employer. Using a software program like Traqq will help with accountability, transparency and payment — on both sides.
4. Trust is a must
The glue that keeps teams together and working functionally and productively is the social contract of trust. Trust takes time to build and can be lost in a nano-second. One of the disadvantages of working from home is minimal access to your colleagues and managers on a regular basis. You can’t conveniently participate in small, every day conversations that provide the foundation for bigger conversations. It’s those day-to-day interactions that build trust — for both the employer and the employee.
In the absence of daily interactions, being accountable and transparent are ways to build trust. Accountability and transparency is often confused with micromanaging, which is one of the dangers of working from home from an emotional well-being perspective — but think of it as keeping your word. Do what you say you’ll do, and when you say you’ll do it. And if you can’t deliver, be honest. Simple!
Solution: Apart from scheduling virtual meetings, using project management tools, hiring a Chief Happiness Officer to engage with your remote workers, a software application like Traqq can help build trust through transparency and accountability. Leaders have visibility over what their team is working on, and remote workers can build and maintain trust with their colleagues and manager by logging tasks and activities.
5. What timezone are you in again?
You’ve been scheduled to attend a virtual meeting for 9AM with your new manager. It’s an important meeting that covers lots of details and deep dives into technical issues — but. What is a 9AM meeting for your manager is a 3AM meeting for you. How can you be on top of those details when you’re groggy because you just woke up or lacking sleep because you stayed awake waiting for the call?
While managing the timezone logistics is a major con of working from home, and can be challenging, there are benefits. Knowing what timezone everyone is in can ensure that the business never closes, and issues and be solved 24/7. It takes communication — and compromise for scheduled meetings — and systems, but time tracking software can help team members know who’s located where, and what timezone they’re in.
Solution: Accounting for locations and time zones for remote workers or those working from home needs to be an integral part of the recruitment, selection and on-boarding process. Employees need to update their location details regularly, especially if they are on the move as digital nomads. Wherever possible, team leaders should factor in different time zones for virtual meeting schedules to ensure a quality outcomes. It might be that more than one meeting is necessary to account for locations.
6. The struggle is real
Human beings are creatures of habit, mainly because it’s easier and requires less effort in terms of higher order thinking skills. One of the bad things about working from home is that, well, home is home. Home is where cool stuff like your bed, your cat, your kitchen and your couch are. You have a supply of beer and wine in your fridge. Friends drop by unannounced because they don’t take the “working from home” thing seriously. Your children want you to play with them or demand your attention. There are a gazillion reasons not to work when you are working from home.
Solution: The key is discipline. Make a weekly schedule aligned to your work plan that highlights key tasks and activities — and deadlines. Colour code it if necessary. Start work at the same time every day. Dress for work if you have to. Break for lunch at the same time. Factor in daily exercise. Block out time for co-working, networking and regular breaks. Tell your friends you’re not available and that they’ll have to schedule a meeting with you. The thing is if you wait until you feel motivated to work, you won’t work. A schedule takes thinking out of the equation, makes work a habit and ensures your brain is free to problem solve and be creative — and doing what you are hired to do.
7. Hacked off
At a bricks and mortar office, you are usually supplied with all the equipment you need to work productively: computer or laptop, printer and scanner, cybersecurity. Coffee — and wine on Fridays. One of the bad things about remote work is that you use your own device — and if your laptop crashes without warning, then so does your ability to work. Sure, you may have saved your work to the cloud, but if you have to get your device repaired, it could take days or weeks. If you’re at an office, particularly an office with hot desks, you find another machine and log in. But if you’re working at home and you’re laptop is your life, you have a major problem on your hands unless you can find a replacement quickly.
And with cybersecurity a real and valid concern, organisations are rightly concerned about theft and hackers, which can cripple operations. Remote workers increase that risk, particularly if they are saving work to their personal drive on their laptops or cloud accounts, not the enterprise’s. Locked laptops and phones minimise the risk of access, and cloud accounts should be encrypted.
Solution: Ensure your workers have up-to-date anti-virus software installed on their devices, and strongly encourage them to use VPNs, password managers and encryption. Your organisation may deploy specific software to manage cybersecurity, but this should only be installed to devices that are owned by the enterprise.
It’s a wrap: working from home has pros and cons, but while there are disadvantages, the benefits to staff and the organisation far outweigh the bad things. Increased morale for staff and lower overheads for the enterprise are just two advantages to consider. If you’re not sure that you want to be a remote worker, or hire them, why not trial remote work for a period of time and see if it works for you? If you would like a no obligation, free demonstration of Traqq, particularly how this time tracking software can be used to manage remote workers or teams, just reach out to one of our friendly staff.