REMOTE WORK

Work from home problems and Hybrid work challenges

The idea of remote work is not new. It has recently evolved from telecommuting, an idea forged in IBM in early 1970. With the development of the technology that allowed it to connect with the mainframe computer from basically any location using the telephone wires. Encouraged by technological advancement, the company decided to allow five employees to work from home. Later, the experiment was expanded to over 2000 staff members.

In 1995 the motto that “work is something you do, not something you travel to” was coined and adopted by multiple companies, especially startups and dotcoms founded in their founder’s homes or garages.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. According to our blog post about the remote work in Europe before and after COVID up to 40% of all European workforce was transferred to the remote mode in the first day of lockdown.

The sudden popularity of remote work and the fact that it was proven that it is both possible and desired in multiple industries has led to the introduction of the hybrid work model.

What is hybrid work

Hybrid work is a relatively new paradigm of working, where it doesn’t matter if the employee is working from home, from the office or basically any location in the world. At least in the most basic theory - the practice is always based on better-or-worse implemented and designed policies that need to be tailored to the company.

Currently, there are three dominant models of remote work:

  • Office-centric - in this model the employee is heavily encouraged to go to the office. The company policy usually limits the remote days, even to one weekly. The office remains the core of the company’s operations,
  • Remote-centric - opposite to the one above, this model considers working from home as a natural and default way of doing business. The company maintains some kind of office, but it is far from the byzantine palaces seen in na more traditional businesses,
  • Balanced - the holy grail sought by many and found by few. This model aims to leverage the benefits and reject the downsides of the two models enlisted above.

Yet despite the existing models and knowledge gathered, for every company it is a leap of faith to induce the hybrid work model.

Why the experiment is a leap of faith?

Every company experiences uncertainty and fear when encountering change, and implementing the hybrid work is no different. The key differences, when compared to implementing any other significant change, are:

  • No reliable data - the hybrid work didn’t exist before, so there is little to no data that can be used to show the direction or estimate the costs of the process,
  • No good practices - the same as above, there are but a few good practices to leverage when implementing this approach in the organisation,
  • Multiple reasons to NOT be hybrid - the management distrust the hybrid approach. People are worried about transparency and day-to-day business operations. There are unclear matters regarding costs or organisational matters regarding the meetings. Implementing the hybrid work is not a clear shot at all,
  • Multiple opinions (usually paid ones) - The Internet is full of opinions of people who encourage to adopt the hybrid work, discourage doing it, advise to use some particular tool or technique, others warning against doing it, etc. By that, there is no way to find a clear image of the hybrid work at all.

Hybrid work challenges and solutions

Despite the blockers enlisted above, companies are eager to adopt the new way of working. Employees are unwilling to commute and look for remote working opportunities. Also, the companies see the benefits of less stressed and more productive employees bring them.

To get the full benefits of the new paradigm of working, the companies need to consider the challenges and disadvantages of flexibility in the workplace enlisted below:

Coordination and Communication

The first and foremost challenge is in coordination and cooperation between the employees - remote ones, office-based ones, and the whole decentralised structure. Without the non-verbal communication and the general vibe of the conference room, the details can be lost. Also, it is tempting to scroll through Facebook or news sites during a boring meeting - and it is much easier when done online than in the conference room.

The effects can be devastating, with missed deadlines, undelivered projects, and disrupted operations.

How to overcome this challenge

While great, these challenges are not impossible to overcome. There are multiple great tools to communicate online and coordinate the work. When properly used, they can unleash the potential of hybrid workers. Good examples of remote-tailored tools include:

  • Microsoft teams - the smooth and flexible crossover between calendar and communicator,
  • Microsoft office 360 - the online tool focused on collaboration on documents,
  • Google Workplace - the office suite delivered by Google, with the company’s remote-first approach,
  • Slack - the communication giant that comes with multiple plugins and integrations, enabling it to be the central hub for the company,
  • Jira - a powerful corporate tool to manage projects with the IT-first approach,
  • Asana - a more flexible and friendly tool that is widely used to manage projects in marketing, creative industries, or office operations,
  • Calamari - last but not least, having a central hub that holds all the HR information the company needs and may need in the future is an essential feature when talking about remote work.

Having the right tech stack that supports the hybrid transformation is the key element of overcoming the communicational and coordination-related challenges of remote work. Basically, the technology is the enabler of the hybrid work and it holds the answers.

Work on projects and productivity

The right tool stack is only the first step toward the remote work done right. The next step is to use these tools properly - and mirroring the office culture is not always the proper or most effective way to do so.

When it comes to productivity during remote work, there are multiple opinions paired with research backing the claims. For example, Owl labs' report claims that remote employees are 22% happier than office-based ones. Also, the study from Ergotron shows that 56% of employees claim to be happier and see mental health improvements. On the other hand, SHRM data show that remote employees are working longer and tend to work during weekends.

When it comes to the remote productivity there are two key aspects to think about:

  • Meetings - the remote meetings are numerous and prevalent. According to reclaim.ai, a typical professional has 25.6 meetings per week - that makes 5.1 per day. With an average meeting lasting for 50.6 minutes, it is fair to assume that 4 hours and 20 minutes every day are spent on meetings. And there is also a job to do.
  • Transparency - an employee needs to feel safe in his or her work. On the other hand, the employer wishes to see if the employee is working according to their agreement. The lack of transparency in the matter of measuring the performance is hurting mutual trust and builds a culture of suspicion.

How to overcome this challenge

The only answer is in delivering a trustworthy and fair policy that treats every employee equally. Such policy needs to leverage the advantages of tech tools mentioned above and utilise their power as much as possible.

If Asana is the mutually trusted source of knowledge regarding the ongoing projects and Calamari holds the information about the time spent on a particular project, it is much easier to see the effects of the work and the productivity one can offer.

If the policy is supported by clearly set goals, both parties can feel safe and secure regarding the job done.

Team building and wellbeing

As mentioned above, it is easy to get overworked and overwhelmed by remote work. Employees tend to overwork themselves due to the fear of under delivering. Also, the lack of a little chit-chat near the coffee machine or during a lunch break is devastating for the team spirit.

So how does hybrid make you feel? According to the data gathered by The Atlantic, full-time and fully remote work increased loneliness by 67%, making some employees more miserable than without the remote work.

Also, with the distributed teams it is more challenging to keep the team spirit - apart from the physical distance, there can be cultural differences and different time zones undermining the efforts focused on team building.

How to overcome this challenge

If the team is remote, the team building needs to be remote also. Allowing the team to have integrations online is a way to do so. There are games designed to build remote teams. The employees can have a typical chit-chat yet without the coffee machine.

The key is in showing the commitment to the integration - if the manager is not engaged and not interested in his or her team, it is unlikely for team members to believe that the online integration is really meant for their benefit.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is about gathering all the ideas and picking the best ones. While challenging when having all employees gathered in the conference room, it can be impossible online, in a distributed team.

How to overcome this challenge

Experiment. There are multiple approaches to online brainstorming with some practices described and delivered. A good idea can be to use specifically-designed tools like Miro board in conjunction with online conferencing tools like Google Meet or Zoom.

Also, the traditional mess of the brainstorming session needs to be replaced by a strict schedule that allows non-extrovert members of the team to deliver their input to the session.

Building and maintaining the company culture and team

Another challenge associated with the fact that the company has little impact on remote employees. In an extreme version, the company one works for is irrelevant - he or she sits near the same computer, in the same room all the time.

How to overcome this challenge

First of all, the company needs to encourage employees to come to the office - inviting them to the specially designed space and inviting them to participate in building the day-to-day feeling of the office can do wonders.

Also, the company can invest in a more digital way to build the culture - the online sessions with a therapist or coach are great examples of how to get the edge over the competition when it comes to building a remote culture.

Inequalities between home-office and office

A looming threat when it comes to making the organisation hybrid is a silent and unspoken inequality between remote and office-based workers. Three major examples of this include:

  • Hard collaboration - different styles - office makes focusing harder while facilitating meetings and collaboration. The home-based work is completely the opposite, delivering wonderful focus and hurting the cooperation capabilities.
  • The greener grass bias - the silent team killer. While home-based employees envy the chit-chat near the coffee machine, snacks, and general office vibe, people in the offices dream about sitting in sweatpants and having a silent nap on their own bed.
  • Access to the promotion or career advancement - last but not least and maybe the most severe. There may be a preference for either on-site or remote employees regarding promotions or career opportunities. This is a killing blow for any attempt to implement a real hybrid work policy.

How to overcome this challenge

The key is to a transparent and fair policy that prefers neither the office-based nor the remote employee. A good policy treats everybody equally, regardless of the location, gender or personal philosophy, linking the promotions and development with skills, potential, and performance.

Anything else is prejudice and nothing more.

Cost management

Last but not least when it comes to challenges with remote work - the cost management. With the hybrid work implemented, the company finds itself in a bitter spot of overspending on the office and lacking the resources to secure the needs of employees in case of a run for office.

Also, there is an even more delicate matter of participating in employees’ bills. The electricity, internet, and heating that one is paying for would have been paid by the company if one was sitting in the office, right?

How to overcome this challenge

The only good answer is delivering a clear policy on hybrid work. If it is obligatory, participating in bills would be fair. If not, and working from home would be considered a benefit - hardly so.

When it comes to managing the office bills and space, the only way is to unleash the inner agility.

Summary

Hybrid transformation is far from easy and when done wrong it can wreak havoc on the company. Minding the challenges, and preparing to overcome them is a wise and agile way to unleash all benefits of the hybrid model without suffering from its pitfalls.

If you wish to talk more about the ways implementing remote work can benefit your organisation, don’t hesitate to contact us now!

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