Does Everyone Have the Right Context for Remote Work?
The year 2020 brought about some interesting changes in the world. Focussing on just the work and corporate sector and barring the other seismic consequences, the year introduced the world to one of the most fascinating paradigms – Work From Home or WFH as its popularly known. Not that WFH is an entirely new concept, considering we have had freelancers and consultants using the model for time immemorial. What it did though, and very well, was make it a buzzword, a trend, that many corporates are very happy to utilize given the ease it offers in our digitally driven universe. It comes with benefits aplenty. To think of doing away with the rude alarms jarring us awake every morning, to slashing the commute time to near zero, the expenses saved on space and power and just the creature comfort of working from a familiar environment or for that matter from anywhere in the world, WFH has rightly opened many doors into spaces that once remained unexplored, even for traditional industries that once could never imagine working with remote teams.
Remote working also has the potential to make workplaces more inclusive. Whether it is single parents, young professionals caring for their aging parents, or PwDs, the discussion around WFH's inclusive nature has been more alive than ever in 2020.
While WFH is catching on and may well become one of the important forms of work, may be even when the world opens up and is safe again, we decided to put on our analytical hat and give the concept a hard thought. What we found is, though WFH has much to offer, there are a few things to consider before you jump on the bandwagon, especially if it were to become a main model of work. It's also important to note that every individual's personal situation differs, making WFH a highly subjective option. Here are 6 things to consider from the behaviour and policy perspective that will help managers and people-leaders navigate WFH better.
Reiterating the Importance of Accountability
While we think the need for freedom is basic to human desire, how much freedom is good to ensure the WORK gets done? With Distributed Teams, one of our main contention is the missing out on simply being able to check on our teams and how they utilize their work time. The good old privilege of dropping by the desk for a chat and to spontaneously catch up on where the employee is on timelines, we find, is quite unavailable with the WFH model.
Communicating Enough or Over-Communicating?
Sure, with year 2020, we were able to explore many technologies. Be it the phone, video calls, texts, IM or the traditional Email and other Project Management Tools, we managed to leverage them to the best of their potential. But there is something about calling for a quick face to face meeting, at a short notice, that gets completely ruled out. Problem solving and solution oriented conversations get tougher, if not impossible, in the digital world. The internet connectivity across zones remains a challenge. And at the same time, people leaders also need to ensure they don't over-communicate. This challenge can sometimes be a tightrope walk.
Trying Harder to Maintain Interpersonal Relationships
Shared experiences and friendships built at work bring joy and ownership of outcome to the employee. Working together, employees learn to treat others with respect and understanding. Deep comradeship is born out of knowing the others on the team for more than just their titles. Teamwork becomes seamless and productive. The social experience allows employees to relax and add liveliness to their work day, which in turn allows space for happiness. Employees are incentivised to come to work for more than just work. Distancing from this crucial social aspect for WFH then seems like a near raw deal in the end. This also calls for trying harder to maintain workplace relationships. The extra effort to call a colleague and have a chat aside from work is not always an easy ask. And the inability to do this, can leave people feeling alienated. It's important to understand in such cases that your team is not a homogenous crowd of employees. Friction, strained friendships, irritability, are all very human occurrences, and as a people leader, it will do your team good when you remain understanding of these ups and downs. All you can do is continue to encourage a balance of togetherness and personal space.
Worldly Distractions Coming in the Way of Creativity
Who doesn’t love the heady brainstorming sessions, where imagination flows like a lush stream between casual quips and raucous laughter!? An idea lighting another, and then another. The carefully designed work environment, the productive state of mind and the joy of simply being able to challenge oneself and others combined have proven to make face to face brainstorming sessions highly rewarding at most times.
In contrast to that, working in silos or having a meeting on digital screen, in an environment ripe with worldly distractions, like the otherwise enjoyable squeals of children playing in the background or sounds of the TV from the other room etc. seem to take away much of the great flavour of the “in house” ideating process. This is a very real challenge that many are facing, and the one important thing we have learnt over 2020 is that while WFH is a great option, it may not be optimal for everyone.
The Big Picture May Not Always Be Visible
The further away the employee is from the company in distance, the more difficult it is to inculcate the company’s ethos and values. The employee lacks oneness with the company or misses the ownership factor that may otherwise come from regular contact. From communication to loyalty all can quickly become hurdles at this point that need to be overcome with timely fixes.
The Need for Tighter Privacy Measures
Securing sensitive, mission critical corporate data across geographies, time-zones and computer networks, becomes a much bigger challenge while working from home. Building crack teams and creating newer, more detailed WFH policies against sharing passwords and creating back-ups become imperative to manage the security and privacy issues, spiking up the costs to an extent.