Remote Work Challenges – Here, There, and Everywhere
Hey, remember when we all worked in offices, met in-person in conference rooms, and socialized in the breakroom or at lunch together? Seems so long ago for many of us. The pandemic changed many things in our world. Remote work was already gaining serious traction in many companies, especially those in certain sectors, but suddenly everyone who possibly could work from home was expected to be a remote worker. Those who could work remotely were in many ways the fortunate ones, as many folks either had to continue to work on location thus increasing their chance of exposure to the virus; or had jobs (restaurants, travel, leisure, personal services, etc.) that effectively shut down for much of the pandemic.
According to a study by Pew Research Center, over 60% of workers who are in the same job as they were before the coronavirus outbreak started are as satisfied with their job now as they were before the pandemic; and that there’s been no change in their productivity or job security. Those most challenged were new hires or employees who recently changed roles; or employees who had seldom or never worked remotely before.
As we collectively begin moving beyond the lockdown protocols that were necessary, organizations are taking a long hard look at their work models. Sure, there are some who will go back to working full-time in an office but there are many who won’t. There are financial and recruiting advantages for organizations that can offer a hybrid model. At the same time, there are definitely challenges to remote work as well; particularly when it comes to the job itself, collaboration, and organizational culture.
Remote Work Challenges
Doing the Job
Let’s face it. Being productive and motivated can be a challenge in the best of circumstances. For some, working in a home office may boost their productivity by reducing the stress of commuting or overall ‘balance’ and by allowing them to focus their energy. Others may face continual distractions at home (kids, pets, entertainment, food or ‘Squirrel!’). They may thrive on the social routine of a workplace environment which can be completely changed or depleted working remotely. We are each different in how we are motivated and how we work effectively so, while remote work is the ‘best thing to happen to them’ for some, it’s a real challenge for others.
Working with Others
Collaborating is an integral part of most jobs. Working remotely yourself or with remote team members doesn’t negate the need to collaborate. In fact, a geographically dispersed team relies on communication and interaction with each other just as much, if not more, as a team sitting in the same room together. Thanks to tools like Zoom and WebEx, virtual meetings can be incredibly interactive. A challenge as we move back to more folks in the workplace is to ensure that we don’t create a sense of disparity between those who continue to remain remote and those in the office. One proposed idea has been to keep ALL meetings “virtual” when there is a hybrid team. Don’t have the folks in office come to a conference room together while others continue to call or Zoom in. Instead, have everyone connect in using the same method to ensure equal presence for everyone.
Maintaining the Culture
Most organizations strive to develop a certain culture or sense of community for their employees. Branding, communicating, and demonstrating that culture often relies on being present. So how do you translate the culture of an organization to a workforce where many are never actually together physically? Well, it becomes a critical element of the leader to reinforce and develop that culture for all of their team members, including those who are remote.
So how do you as a leader handle these challenges? If an employee isn’t getting the job done, whether remote or onsite, it really boils down to “don’t know it, can’t do it, won’t do it.” Check out this article for more info on what that means. The “won’t do it” issue happens daily in all organizations regardless of remote work, but it becomes a much more difficult thing to manage remotely and is at the core of what can make remote work productive – or not. Understanding the nature of the issue (don’t, can’t, won’t) when expectations are not being met is the key first step to addressing any remote productivity challenges.
Once you determine if the issue is “don’t know it” then you can plan for how the remote worker can learn what they need. Remember that, despite being remote, live (synchronous) training can still be beneficial in a hybrid work model as long as everyone can participate together and, ideally, with the outcomes being tracked in some way. This is especially important when the training covers information the team needs to function as a cohesive unit. When a participant asks a question or shares their thoughts, everyone benefits from the deeper analysis and discussion that comes from a synchronous event. More importantly, the measure, tracking, and acknowledged understanding of those meaningful learning outcomes will help to neutralize the ‘I don’t know’ issue.
A key complementary component to a hybrid model is leveraging asynchronous training options that are easy to create, update, distribute, and re-distribute when reminders are needed. You might include more on-demand training for continuous support and even recordings of the live training can be made available after the fact.
Reminders of why the information that’s available or new pertains to your team and input or content from other leaders disbursed to your team will emphasize on-demand topics and sessions that are more pertinent as well. And for on-demand training, try to build feedback loops into your system. It might be pop-up questions about the content and delivery, or simply direct messages via text or email.
Where possible. make your training interactive. I’m not just talking about clicking buttons or using simulations in online learning content – Actually have your employees on a Zoom or WebEx call together taking part in training activities (video, short course, tutorial, etc.). Encourage them to discuss and ask each other questions. This helps address the collaboration and culture aspects and reinforce they’re all part of the same team. Even if you have some employees on-site who can participate in face-to-face training while others work remotely, get them all to participate through WebEx/Zoom. That way, their engagement and ability to interact are equal. Feeling engaged and treated equitably as a remote worker may also help with some “won’t do it” challenges too!
Set goals, measure results, maintain standards. Have a way to track all learning events – big and small, online and offline. If your employee says they “don’t know it”, train them and ensure you track their understanding for future reference. Doesn’t mean they might not need further help, but it will help to avoid the “don’t know it” from being the reason something isn’t being done. Onsite, remote, or some combination…here, there, and everywhere… it’s still all about supporting your team and meeting objectives.