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HOW DO WE STOP REMOTE-WORKING BECOMING ‘WORKING IN ISOLATION’?

25 Feb 2021 // by Dave Hickey

Firstly, I’d change the label to distributed working because the term ‘remote’ is too isolating.

There are many indicators that office-centred working life will not resume when the rest of society moves to the next normal.

A recent McKinsey survey suggests that only about 25% of the total workforce in developed economies like ours will be impacted by this shift but those that do will do so in a big way.

Many other roles in manufacturing, healthcare, retail, hospitality, etc require people on site to carry out their roles. We are likely to see job losses in these sectors as a result of changing consumer behaviour and increased automation which will require government to plan for more re-skilling initiatives in the coming years.

What are the emerging issues with this new(ish) way of working for many people?

In a previous piece Trust Is A Must For Successful Distributed Working I wrote about the need for businesses to build a culture of trust throughout their organisations if they want remote working to work for them.

Regional Skills West, Grow Remote and the three Galway-based Skillnet groups organised a great event this week addressing some of these issues.

What else have we learned?

Today we’ll look at some work-ons or challenges. One thing to remember is that working from home during a global pandemic is not the same as the experience will be in less stressful times.

  • Don’t let remote become isolated

The absence of a colleague across a desk or someone from another department whom you can chat to over a coffee can create a sense of isolation for many people. We’re social creatures (for the most part) and function best as part of a team or at the very least in an environment where we can interact with others.

Lots of businesses try to address this through online meet-ups, virtual lunches, etc. In the medium-term it’s likely we’ll see movement to ‘blended’ workplaces with a mixture of distance and office-based working even if that is a pop-up office in a co-working space. Here in Galway, Shopify used that model successfully pre-pandemic.

  • Burn-out

Many people have reported a feeling of burn-out and increased stress as a result of working from home while others report exactly the opposite, feeling liberated by not having a commute for example.

Organisations need to establish rules about disconnecting, the need for regular breaks, etc. and provide productivity tools which are suited to this new environment not for the one it’s replacing.

My daughter’s employer provides weekly chair yoga sessions for all staff and, coincidentally, the event I mentioned above is just running a similar exercise.

  • Employee Health & Safety

Employers also need to make sure that the new workplace, whether at home or in a local remote working hub, is suitable for purpose. During the pandemic this can be difficult particularly for people who share accommodation but it’s still important to ensure people have the right tools, seating, etc.

  • Asynchronous working

Working from home allows us to work different hours from our colleagues who may have other demands on their time for example, home schooling. It also means that it can be hard to find time to work together on projects, etc. due to conflicting work patterns. This presents challenges to teamwork and collaboration which can be addressed through well-thought out scheduling, improved collaboration tools and better communication.

  • Written over spoken communication

With more communications happening asynchronously via email the quality of writing becomes more important. Equally, the quality of reading with understanding is vital, because we’re missing the visual or aural clues of face to face or voice communications the written word is more likely to be misinterpreted.

  • Employment Law, Taxation

Just because someone’s not working in the office doesn’t mean they don’t have the same rights as if they were. But if they’re also working in a different country in what court will those rights be interpreted?

Does the employee’s location have any impact on where their income tax is paid? Does it impact the definition of your place of business if most of your staff work in other countries?

Working from home or a convenient location can be a huge benefit to organisations and their people if managed well. But these and other issues need to be addressed by all organisations which plan to continue to reap the benefits outlined in my piece last week.

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