Are remote workers a good or bad idea?

Krista Lomu
September 14, 2021

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Are remote workers a good or bad idea?

Work from home is one of the biggest buzzwords of the 21st century. It has made countless headlines in the past decade, for good and for bad. The numbers also point to increasing interest towards a flexible approach to work. According to the most recent Merchant Savvy’s data, remote work around the globe has grown by 159% since 2005. In 2019, 61% of global companies allowed staff to work remotely. The popularity of the practice is strong, especially among the younger generation.

Working remotely: meaning and the practice in action 

Defining the meaning of ‘working remotely’ is an important part of understanding the practice and turning work from home into a success story. Too often people take it to mean staying at home and being lazy. But this is a harmful view to take.

Working remotely is more about a specific work style. Remote workers don’t necessarily have to work from home and neither should they be less productive. The concept means work is done outside of a traditional office setting. Instead of working in an office location, team members might perform tasks in other locations. The location can be their home but it could also be a café or the beach!

Working remotely does not automatically mean the removal of a traditional office altogether either. The concept offers flexibility in terms of implementation. Employers could be working from home on occasion or all the time.

When it comes to implementation, ‘how does workers’ comp work for remote employees’ is one of the big questions employers and employees have about the concept. Do employees enjoy the same benefits even if they work remotely?

The consensus is that compensation shouldn’t change whether or not the employee works remotely or not. You should think of it like this: is the value of someone’s work determined by the quality of the work or the location where the work was made? The answer should be the former. 

What are the disadvantages and advantages of working remotely?

With increasing interest in work from home, it is worth analysing the advantages of remote work. One of the major reasons the concept has taken off is how working remotely can benefit an organisation.

But working remotely can have its drawbacks. If the idea is introduced without proper care and attention, companies can end up creating disadvantageous conditions that result in unwanted outcomes.

The positives and negatives have been widely studied. Below is a table documenting the findings of different studies:

The benefits of remote work

The disadvantages of remote work

Increased job satisfaction.

(A 2015 research review published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest)

Employee isolation and lack of meaningful co-worker relationships.

(A 2-year long working study by Nicholas Bloom)

Enhanced work performance and increased productivity.

(A 2015 study of Chinese travel agency published by Oxford University Press)

Decreased work-life balance and increased distractions.

(A 2015 research analysis published in Group & Organisation Management)

Flexible work opportunities attract a more diversified workforce.

(A 2019 study by Insurance Agency AIG)

Increased distractions could result in lower productivity.

(A 2019 survey by Globant)

Cost-saving opportunities for businesses, including cutting retail and utility bill costs.

(A research analysis by Global Workplace Analytics)


How to limit the disadvantages of working remotely?

The decision to allow remote working is not always a matter of choice. It can also be a necessity, as the recent COVID-19 pandemic showed. Therefore, all organisations should look into implementing remote work and enjoying the benefits.

An organisation should never simply offer or allow remote work without focusing on how to do it. Many of the disadvantages listed above could be avoided with the proper implementation of remote work. Organisations need to manage remote workers differently and this requires unique structures to support them.

If you want to limit the disadvantages, then your organisation should:

1. Establish structured check-ins.

Manage remote workers by establishing structured daily check-ins. When the check-ins are scheduled, they are more predictable. Your employees become used to having this avenue to talk with you, knowing you listen to their concerns. It also gives managers the chance to stay on top of how well employees are performing.  

Your check-ins should include one-on-one calls or video conferencing sessions but also group calls where applicable.

2. Use several communication technologies.

Do not rely purely on email or video conferencing tools. The richer your technology use, the more access to information and help employees have at their disposal. For example, instant-messaging rooms can offer a better alternative for quick communication and document management rooms ensure employees always have access to key information without contacting the management.

You should also establish rules of engagement, clarifying which channels to use and when. For instance, you can make daily check-ins happen via videoconferencing and establish clear times for when reach-out should only happen via email.

3. Offer support and encouragement.

Working remotely can be difficult and different employees can react in unique ways to the challenges. You want to create support structures that provide employees help – for example, in situations where the employee is struggling with work-life balance.

It is also important to encourage employees, especially in cases where they are struggling. Getting remote work to click is beneficial to both the employee and the organisation so take time to ensure it happens.

4. Share leadership duties.

Research suggests remote teams might benefit from a non-traditional, shared leadership. A study of 101 virtual teams showcased stronger performances among groups that shared managerial duties. You don’t want to end up in a situation where all tasks fall on the shoulders of a single person or where work is bottlenecked because of inaction.

5. Create opportunities for social interactions.

Working remotely doesn’t mean office parties are out of the question. Small opportunities for social interactions that aren’t about work are crucial in terms of building team spirit.

Take time at the start of team video calls to talk about what team members have been up to. Have virtual office parties where you send pizza for each team member or you play online games together to unwind.

The burden of creating the right conditions should not just fall on the employer either. Working from home or any other non-traditional work environment can take some getting used to and employees have to approach it with a different mindset. As a manager, you should remind your employees of the importance of setting clear boundaries between work- and free time, as well as the importance of clearly defined workspaces.

Work from home – the key takeaways 

The concept of flexible work is here to stay and the nature of many modern jobs allows people to work without the need to tie them into a specific location. Organisations of all kinds can enjoy the benefits of remote work but only if they take the time to create a culture of remote work.

You should harness technologies like Contractbook to make sure the flow of information isn’t limited to a physical location. Technology also guarantees collaboration securely and helps teams to stay in touch even when they don’t share a physical space. Building team spirit should be a priority along with establishing boundaries – working remotely is not supposed to lead to work around the clock.

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