Pros and Cons of Remote Work: Will Your Employees Adapt?
A deep dive into how switching to a remote team proves beneficial for European businesses, so long as you know what motivates your employees.
With the current situation of the COVID-19, employers everywhere are considering switching to a distributed team culture and have been literally forced by the circumstances to try the remote work experiment.
At least for the time being.
Personally, I can't believe the health benefits of remote work are only seen now in hard times. The safety of your employees should always be a top concern and you don't need a virus outbreak to conclude that telecommuting is safer.
Through my years of talking to other companies and remote workers I've noticed that, as a priority to face potential challenges, they're looking for new solutions to help them continue their work as normally as possible even outside of their office environment.
Main concerns include:
Different time zones to juggle
Lack of real-time collaboration
Not trusting workers they can't monitor
Limited control over how employees truly spend their time and create work-life boundaries
A belief that you need lots of extra tools, policies, training, and techniques to manage remote teams
The switch seems like too big of a challenge
I have yet to talk to a business owner who is genuinely concerned that office work won't be safe for the team. Even now, people are still referring to the whole situation as a disruption to daily business matters instead of looking at all the benefits this "experiment", as they call it, bring in.
These disturbances have also created an unnecessary opposition between remote work fanatics and people who don't even want you to suggest working from home as a possibility.
Companies are worried that their employees will slack and do everything else but work when they really should be focused on their duties. Simply, they want the team to be productive. That's why they hire experienced professionals regularly anyway.
These concerns are all logical though. Why? Remote work is not for everyone.
Yet, 90 percent of people who already have a fully remote job wouldn't get back to a regular office environment.
I reached out to other fellow remote workers across Europe to discuss why they love working remotely and what their main challenges were. What I found out was that we all dealt with the same or similar problems: loneliness, distractions, being worried that others might think you're actually not working, and communication problems with other colleagues who are not yet prepared to be a part of a distributed team.
Beyond this, there are people who are just not the right fit for doing this on a regular basis. By nature, some of us prefer to communicate face-to-face and interact with our team members.
But the remote life is by far better suited for independent workers who don't need much supervision. Similar to what an entrepreneur would do. So you're essentially looking to add people with strong skills when it comes to leadership and organization.
Have a quick look at any remote job website and you'll notice most ads are for senior positions. Explainable since we can assume they have more authority and can be accountable for their work.
Yet, how much experience do they have with remote work?
That's just a question you can take away and think about to see where "experience as part of a remote team" would fit in when seeking your next key team member. Work experience goes beyond a person's trade. I'm adding in collaboration, empathy, creativity, adaptability, and resourcefulness as top mandatory skills you'll need to evaluate.
Companies are afraid of taking a calculated risk with remote work.
Contrary to expectations of increased work from home opportunities, back in 2017, companies like IBM, Yahoo, Reddit, and Bank of America were already reducing [and eliminating] their number of telecommuting jobs. Currently, 4.7 million employees work from home at least half of the time. That's just for the U.S. alone. Even more companies across Europe and globally offer a couple of work from home days as part of their benefits plan.
So why aren't they switching to a fully distributed team? All of these problems have a clear source we're inclined to neglect.
It's usually companies that aren't fully remote or have just a couple of people working from outside of the office that come across these issues. The mere 3 percent of employees who wouldn't recommend remote work are part of such teams.
When you've got mixed teams, communication and performance problems will inevitably be exacerbated. I've seen so many remote workers [including myself] succeed at being the only or one of the few who work from home. And some of these people have the strongest influence and contributions to a project.
Beyond all success and professional growth though, there's always that struggle in the back of your mind when you're constantly worried about what the in-office workers will think of your activity.
Do they think I'm not working?
Do they not value my work equally?
Am I truly considered a part of their team?
All damaging questions.
Truth is, not all on-site employees who are collaborating with a remote team member are willing to put in just a bit of extra effort to make it work as if everything was done face-to-face. Jealousy, mistrust, or sheer lack of understanding of this relatively new style of work and living are the first three "stigmas" that need to be wiped out from your company.
Then, it all relies on what your business goals are. While some companies claimed that their remote employees were just as productive when working from home, they decided to recall their team to support stronger in-person collaboration and ideation.
It's the little things you only come across in an office that still keep in-office teams strong. Like bumping into a colleague and generating new ideas or random brainstorming sessions over lunch break.
Richard Laermer, the owner of a New York-based PR firm, ran an experiment on his team of 11 employees, allowing them to work from the comfort of their homes every single Friday. The whole test backfired as his workers were doing totally different things and delaying communication.
This remains an isolated case, but there's a key aspect where everything went wrong. Richard failed to take into consideration the fact that he had hired those employees for office work. Consequently, they were not prepared and likely not willing to give their best when at home.
If you think about it, this kind of behavior is predictable. Office workers are used to an entirely different routine and environment. Finding themselves at home and with no one to watch over them gives them a subconscious cue that they're actually on a vacation.
It's just too much freedom for someone who hasn't experienced this before. This being said, if you decide to try out remote work yourself on your current office team, don't be surprised when you won't get a reply for hours or no one on your team will be willing to sit in a client meeting across town.
On the other hand, regular remote workers have their own struggles.
For them, it's harder to distinguish between work hours and free time since they often spend both parts of their life in the same place. Working after hours willingly it's not uncommon for them.
I remember that for my first in-office job I literally did nothing at home. Not even open our company's website. As a remote worker, I constantly check out stats, answer emails as soon as I get them, and even do writing for hours. Remote work truly becomes a lifestyle.
What's demotivating for everyone is seeing so much opposition to remote opportunities. I've talked to some people who were super excited about finding a remote job but we're expecting to grow and advance slower at their new company.
All this because they've been reading more on the disadvantages of this career choice. On the whole, as humans we're more likely to read and stick to beliefs that are negative. So all of these remote life newcomers I've talked to were making one huge and entirely not needed mistake: they listened to the doubters instead of reading about the wonderful experiences people who were successful at working remotely had.
So how about we look at the bright side of things?
When a remote team will save your business.
Moving all fears aside, opting for a remote team holds more benefits in the long run:
You'll get to work with top professionals from all over the world
You'll attract employees and partners who might have not considered your company otherwise
You'll start to focus more on results than on administrative tasks and meetings
Your employees will be happier, being able to enjoy their work flexibility and still develop themselves professionally
You'll cut down on costs and burdensome office policies and conflicts
And, for the main concern all entrepreneurs face:
Along with the fast growth of remote teams worldwide, 78% of employees are certain that flexible work arrangements have made them more productive.
Not everyone has issues with their efficiency and collaboration. In fact, for some including myself, remote work conditions allow for faster and more detailed conversations. While also keeping those pesky meetings short and to the point so you can focus on tasks that truly matter.
As opposed to the failed remote work experiment I've talked about above, going remote has helped companies cater to the needs of clients all around the world in real-time and tap into opportunities they couldn't have gotten otherwise.
Ilma Nausedaite, COO at MailerLite, says the main reason they decided to start hiring remote colleagues was to serve their growing global customer base: "Our network of remote team members working in different time zones gives us an advantage in providing a higher level of customer support. I believe that great customer support is one of the key elements of our business growth. Remote helps make it possible."
A super interesting study from 2004 found out that previous on-site collaboration experience, similar work styles, no prejudice, and the right digital tools are all factors that contribute to the successful integration of a new team member into the remote life. Safe to say if you're good at collaborating in general, you'll also be able to handle working remotely.
That's why Ilma and other entrepreneurs are putting extra care into how their team members understand and adapt to the remote life: "Communication is the most delicate part of every organization, especially a remote one. We want to make sure that everyone is on the same page and all team members agree to contribute and follow our communication guidelines. "
It's all a matter of being a nice person who's open to thoroughly discussing all issues and has the patience to sit through one-on-one meetings, train others, and receive feedback constructively.
If you can never find a common ground with your colleagues and you're just looking for ways to finish something as fast as possible so you can continue watching your favorite TV show, clearly remote is not the way to go.
On to the trust issue, this is only a problem for first-time remote workers or teams that are just getting started with this experiment. Employees who've been with a remote team for 5+ years develop stronger bonds and are less likely to leave the company.
How can you make distributed teams work for you?
A business can thrive remotely, often with better results than in-office companies would. That is if you first place the employees at the core of your activities.
You'll need to choose the right people and put in just enough training to help them understand what and when they need to do something along with what standards they're expected to reach.
We're talking here about training both regular team members and managers. The latter are the key liaison among your employees and should be responsible for ensuring that all communication and work processes run well.
But here comes an issue all kinds of teams bump into regardless of where they work from: making sure your managers are not dictators who feel like they're entitled to control everything.
When you haven't even met your workers in real life it's easy not to trust them and turn into that manager who always asks things like:
Did you get to see the file I sent?
Have you finished that task?
Did the client reply to you?
Nothing screams "I don't believe in you" more than constantly inquiring about someone's status when you've already set a clear deadline that's nowhere close to today.
Business relations are just like any other human relationship you want to nurture. Simply, you can't gossip behind someone's back, be insulted when you're getting feedback, or always be on the lookout to contradict what everyone else says and still have a healthy relationship.
When working remotely, it's fairly easy to forget there's another human on the other side of the communication spectrum. Since [despite all meetings] most work is done solo, the yearly [or quarterly as the top distributed companies do] get-togethers and workcations are a tremendous opportunity to create real bonds. Your team gets to know each other better and learn something more about their colleagues than just how they work.
The art of independent remote work.
The debate whether working alone or in a team is useless these days.
After several studies tried to tilt the balance in favor of one or another, this study finally concluded that intermittent collaboration is most effective. This method for communication is the one that's most commonly used with remote teams anyway.
And guess what? No collaboration closely followed as the next best option.
How does this make sense?
Individuals are just more productive while working alone because they're not interrupted. When you're constantly collaborating with someone else, everyone is likely to simply wait for another person to bring in their input.
Intermittent collaboration remains the best solution because it allows people to work independently on their own duties and refer to the rest of the team for help, ideation, and feedback when needed. This way, they don't waste time on a task they just don't know how to approach or thinking of better solutions to what they're doing since they have access to other smart minds for their input.
In the end, it's just a personal preference. The only thing that's valid is that all team members must be good communicators [in any form: verbally, visually, through written messages, etc.] and tolerant of each other, regardless of their work style of choice.
Another major contributor to productivity at work is the stack of tools they're using.
Twenty percent of remote employees say their companies don't provide the right toolbox to make working remotely more productive. Like when you have to do all your communication via email.
People are directly affected by the tools they use. The right apps or software can make work more time-efficient due to their ability to optimize workflows.
And, yes, you'll need to train your team to use these tools too. Opening your video call app might not seem complicated to you, but for the employees of a huge corporation spread across dozens of countries it will come in handy since they've probably worked with different solutions up until this point.
Unquestionably, you shouldn't stick to your typical email for collaborating remotely. Just email is not a good enough tool for teams either way. Classic communication tools and techniques don't support rich collaboration opportunities that keep the team connected in real-time and make it easy for them to share files, organize calendars, and do reporting.
Deciding whether to keep working remotely.
You can't expect everyone to jump into the remote bandwagon straight away and be exemplary at it. This is what people who've been working remotely for a while do. If you're switching from in-office jobs, everything will take a while.
After a remote work experiment, you might also find your team members falling in love with this news lifestyle since it improves the quality of their lives and they've realized by now how strong of an impact it has on their time.
Worry no more about how your team can't adapt to the new remote work rules.
Companies of all sizes actually opt for partially distributed teams. These allow them to keep part of their team on-site for positions that might require you to be present for client meetings or team brainstorming sessions in-office.
Meanwhile, they can also cater to the needs of professionals from anywhere in the world or people who might prefer working individually since the nature of their career dictates so like writers or illustrators.
These days I've noticed a trend among industry experts I've talked to as they all seem to at least want to switch to a remote position. Safe to say remote work won't be seen as just a benefit for millennials in the future. It's likely to become a norm for the best individuals in a field. Opting for a remote team will no longer be a choice for employers but a must if you want to collaborate with experienced and highly-skilled workers.
Finding remote work success.
Before I sign off, I want to remind you that remote work performance is not accidental and, yes, your employees will need time to get accustomed to this new style fo work. All companies who've already succeeded at it and made a name for themselves as top remote work employers have put in years of training and organization.
Both for them as managers and for their existing and future employees. If there's one thing you need to take away now, it's how going remote will only work for your business if everyone who's on board is willing to make it work. No superhuman energy needed.
It's never been an issue of how good or bad remote work is for business, it's just about how you can make it work for you and use its assets to your advantage.