Working Remotely May Not Be As Great As You Think
And here is why
Working from a beach in Bali or from a surf camp in Portugal sounds pretty fun. And it is fun. We are talking about working remotely more than ever with the pandemic. It has forced many companies to let their employees work from home.
The results have been so satisfying that big companies like Twitter announced employees can work from home forever. Facebook also voiced an interest in remote work.
These could be an example to other companies who would benefit from doing the same. I am sure others will follow.
I won’t lie, there are many advantages to working remotely. You get to save time that you would spend on the commute, have a greater degree of flexibility and autonomy.
It is good for your company too. Employers view remote work as an important part of hiring and retaining top talent, staying competitive in their field, and even saving on business costs. No more free office food or bus services.
That being said, not all work from distance is the same; it can be full, or partial remote work. When the choice is done by the employee and depending on their changing circumstances, it yields the best outcome. Balance matters. However, if they have to work remotely all the time that is something else.
Then the disadvantages are worth mentioning.
Let’s look at what they are.
Technology such as videoconferencing software like Zoom, collaboration platforms like Slack, and cloud services like AWS keep people connected and allow them to have meetings and complete projects from anywhere, anytime.
However, when all the communication is done through those platforms, it is easier for misunderstandings to occur. Due to the lack of body language present, people have a harder time understanding one another.
Wired says it is trickier for a manager to notice the cocked eyebrow or sharp inhalation that signals unease with a new decision when the meeting takes place via group video chat, rather than around a conference room table.
That may seem like a minor detail at first. However, the small cues are what makes communications strong or irrelevant.
Think of the messages you send and receive. When you don’t know the tonation and body language of the person, you don’t understand if they are angry or just joking. Video conferencing is a better option in this case but it still lacks the body posture which our minds need to evaluate.
If your internet is like mine, then you would have a harder time understanding the content too. Sometimes, just in the middle of an important discussion, mine becomes unstable and I have to ask people to repeat what they are saying. Imagine that happening at a sales meeting.
“Could you please tell me your decision again? I couldn’t hear it! ” Not a good closure.
No Water Cooler Talk
Water cooler talk, or in other words, small talk refers to colleagues taking a break from tasks and discussing their hobbies, interests, and other things. It could be about work too.
Some managers think it hinders productivity and so they try to discourage it. However, focused water cooler conversations can help grow your business and build employee relationships.
In fact, I believe small talks are necessary to build trust. I am not talking about asking for the weather. That is obviously a dull conversation. I refer to having a basic talk and following up on that.
“Did your son get better after that cold?” or “Did you manage to find the present you were looking for?” are a good start. Showing that you remember details about a person shows you care. Remember, trust isn’t built in a day. Or, was it Rome?
Work and personal life get better when trust is present. To establish that, you need to strengthen the relationship you have with your colleagues.
There may come a time where you ask them about their opinion or their help. With the foundation you have built in the past, you may have no problem asking for it. This won’t happen easily when working remotely though.
One on one messaging or video chat won’t have the same effect because two people would have to deliberately work towards it whereas it would happen naturally at a break after a meeting.
Remember your good friendships. Did they happen because two of you scheduled a time to meet and be friends or did it just happen?
Swedish people see the importance of the bonds and have fika that refers to a coffee chat to strengthen it. They engage with each other and create a dedicated time for the break during the day and talk about anything.
From leisure to work, this chat covers many things. It is said that some of the best business decisions are taken there as well as collaborations start there. The safe environment allows people to interact with each other on a deeper level and it is not something we can take it online.
Proof of Work
When working online, people feel the need to prove that they are working and not spending time doing anything else. With the work and life boundaries less clear, people naturally overlap the two during the day.
As a result, they feel like they need to show they are working and signal that they are on it. This is also a way to show their managers they are responsible and not using remote work as an excuse to be lazy.
Psychologically, people tend to be more disconnected when they don’t see the other person physically. The lack of connection the manager would feel towards an employee would mean easier and faster layout decisions. The more people they share together, the harder the manager could potentially fight for their employees.
However, that is hard to establish online. Now, is remote work that good?
I think there are two types of collaboration. In the first one, you are expected to work together and it is your duty rather than your choice. That could be a team you belong to and work towards a common goal with. In the second one, you collaborate out of nothing but your sheer will.
This is where the magic happens.
In companies like Google, they follow the 80/20 rule which allocates 20% of an employee’s time to projects they want to pursue. This is very effective because it eliminates the structures of rules or expectations and allows the individual to pursue creative endeavors.
This has some overlaps with the water cooler conversations but it covers more than that. In this one, you get to walk up to someone and just ask about their input. You don’t have to schedule anything because it takes very little time and you can see them sitting at their desk.
Maybe they are looking at their phone or they look bored.
With the ease of reaching out to one another, just like that, you get to collaborate on improving a project or make faster and better decisions.
I believe the ping-pong table that no one plays but enjoys looking at is outdated. However, there could be many elements that may make an employee feel like they belong to the company in the office.
It could be the giant logo they see when they enter or the various types of food lying on the kitchen table that make you feel like part of the team. No judgment here. Moreover, there are various types of bonding events like TGIF’s, casually grabbing a beer after work, karaoke nights, closure of a big deal, etc.
They are the fun part and may establish feelings in you that may keep you going in hard times too. Say, it’s loyalty or something else, but it is needed for the employees.
I am reading an amazing book by Simon Sinek, called Start with Why and he says that only the companies that have a clear sense of why will survive.
He gives the example of Apple and how they are not trying to sell a certain product like a computer, or phone but something more. They say “think different” and they mean it with whatever they are doing.
The product delivers the message instead of them. Other companies should give that sense of why to their employees too. I think, in order to receive that why employees have to feel the impact the company makes on the world.
They need to be in physical contact with their colleagues, work environment as well as the product to grasp that. This just can’t happen behind a screen. It is too much to deliver.
A tech enthusiast interested in innovation and entrepeneurship