If you've ever had a full time, nine to five office job, you have probably fantasized about skipping the morning commute, staying in your pajamas till noon, and working from home. Sounds nice, right? Well, the growth of technology in the past decade has made this fantasy a reality for an increasingly large number of people. In fact, according to the Work Foundation, 30% of office workers worked from any location for at least part of their working week in 2016, and this figure is expected to rise to 70% in the next few years.
These are remote workers, and they are able to fulfill their job roles regardless of if they are in the office, at home, out of town or in a local coffee shop. Nowadays most jobs can be completed from a laptop or tablet, so the workers location has little effect on their performance or completion of their work...right?
There are numerous benefits to remote workers, for the workers and their company alike. It allows people to combine home responsibilities, such as caring for a child, with work by cutting out the location-specific aspect of a job. Reducing commute time also has significant benefits for workers, as they don't have to commit the additional time and travel money to their job. This also benefits the environment by reducing the number of people driving daily. Companies benefit from a cut in estate costs by providing fewer desks and storage facilities – and even close down entire offices. All around, allowing people to work remotely is a very tempting concept for companies and their employees alike.
However, remote working has some significant downsides that cannot be ignored. Research shows that the constant connection to one's work life through smartphones leads to a blurring of the line between work and home life. Remote working leads to an increase in both internal and external pressure to achieve more throughout the day, and to be constantly available and connected through ones phone and email.
Slaves to the Smartphone
Remote workers often have to provide employers with a report of what they did throughout the day, as well as be responsive to calls from their employer at any time throughout the day to ensure they are working. Research carried out in both public and private sector organizations, as well as among individual entrepreneurs, brings to light the additional internal pressures that remote workers often feel.
They feel compelled to work longer and later hours, and tend to become slaves to their phone and email. Interviewees reported routinely checking their work email, not only during the work day but as the first thing they do in the morning and the last thing they do at night. Not to mention smartphones give people a heightened awareness of when they receive an email, and this convenience and awareness makes employees feel compelled to respond immediately, regardless of the time of day. This interjection of work into people's non-work life can be very harmful to workers home lives, social lives and mental health.
Another worrisome aspect to remote working is the hours and style of work performed by these employees. Many of these workers take fewer, shorter breaks, or even skip breaks altogether. Interviewees reported reducing their daytime breaks to as little as ten minutes, and commonly interweaving work with leisure by checking email while watching TV in the evenings, or doing some work during weekends and holidays. This is all harmful to employees and employers alike, because it has been proven that people are happier and more productive when they take adequate breaks from work. Also, problems in people's home life often bleed into their work and productivity, so it is in everyone's favor to encourage a separation of work and leisure.
This issue can however be worked around with the right managerial style.
You can't have your cake and eat it
Managers often lack the motivation to crack down on when and how remote workers are conducting this work. After all, employees being on-call and working longer hours can be seen as beneficial to the overall company. However, while this may produce some short term benefits to overall production, stressed out and unhappy workers will be more detrimental to the company in the long run.
Before jumping to embrace remote workers, companies need to put in place policies to ensure a good work/life balance for their employees. It should not be left entirely up to workers to determine when and how they work. Good management means guiding employees to have a balanced lifestyle, for the benefit of the employees and company alike.
While it can be very tempting to transition your company to embrace remote working, it is important to weigh the pros and cons to ensure that it is the right option for your company and employees. Remote working certainly has its benefits, but you must think through how to introduce it. Design well-balanced policies that take into account both the risks and advantages to ensure a win-win strategy for both your company and it's employees.