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Why Remote Work Is So Hard—and How It Can Be Fixed

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/can-remote-work-be-fixed

newyorker.com

Why Remote Work Is So Hard—and How It Can Be Fixed
The challenges aren’t just technological. They’re managerial.

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How Remote Work Became Possible

How Remote Work Became Possible
  • Computers and the internet have made remote work a common arrangement, and this is a recent phenomenon. PC and internet access changed the shape of work in an unimaginable way, and the technical advances of the 90s, which was the Information Technology revolution, offices started using networked PCs and embraced e-mail.
  • As the millennium happened, broadband access became cheaper, and a cheap audio communication software was released in 2003, which was called Skype, which evolved into video conferencing later, helping people connect professionally in a remote setting.

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Slow Adoption of Flexible Work

Today, remote and flexible work arrangements are seen as a perk.
In 2018, a survey showed that around 3 percent of Americans worked from home on a regular basis. Due to technological advancements (starting with Blackberry), employees were working from everywhere, the subway, the café, home and during the commute.

But even after we have the technology required for remote working for about fifteen odd years, we have been slow to adopt mainstream remote working. The mass-adoption needed a catalyst, and that was provided in 2020 in the form of a deadly disease.

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Remote Work During The Pandemic

  • The 2020 pandemic has shown that all remote working is possible, and bosses are no longer reluctant towards it, a forced change due to the present conditions.
  • Many global giants like Google and Twitter have embraced remote work in a big way, in their bid to protect worker health and to reduce corporate liability.
  • The unpredictable nature of the pandemic and an expectation of the second wave of infections can hamper any chance to return to offices.

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Missing Face-To-Face Interactions

While remote work has a lot of benefits like reduced commute, time efficiency and safety, many conclude that the richness of in-person interaction is irreplaceable, and many studies do seem to confirm that people in the office just get more done.

Face-to-face interactions help employees communicate and bond, making them think, investigate, synthesize, write, plan, organize and brainstorm together, something the best of technology finds hard to match with people in remote locations in their pyjamas.

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The Faceless Employee

In many remote working environments, employees are reduced to their email addresses and/or slack handles, delegated with work which can easily overload them due to the current unstable situation across the world already complicating life, and most people having their kids at home.

Offices, on the other hand, have the advantage of the personal touch, with long back and forth emails are usually avoided, with a spontaneous conversation working out well.

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IT Sector and Remote Work

The software industry is already organized towards a systematic work approach that is compatible with remote working, which involves agile project management systems and coding sprints, understanding the needs of the coders.

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The Office As The Center Of Human Interactions

Modern city life has placed the office as a place where adults interact, hang out, and work together, getting into friendships and relationships in the process.

These benefits of an office, where our emotional needs are being fulfilled, are being deprived by the concept of remote working.

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The New Remote Worker

The new remote worker may find that there is unnecessary demand for his attention and attendance, bordering on intrusive, while he is trying to work remotely.

A good way to handle this is to consolidate your appointments in the second half of a day, and provide yourself a set of hours for actual productive work (known as flow). Constant email back and forth all day won't be productive.

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Time Blocking

Assigning your work in specific blocks of time adds structure to your work routine and get more done during a day, as you would be knowing that another task is time-blocked, and the current tasks need to be done in the stipulated time.

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Organizational Innovations

Good collaborative softwares like Trello, Microsoft Flow and others, make tasks appear in a more transparent manner.

Apart from software, how an employee is managed remotely by a boss also matters. The best way is to provide employees with clear goals and then leave them alone to use their own approach and creativity, while being available in case of any query.

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Why some companies fail at remote work

Why some companies fail at remote work

Companies that fail at remote work focus too much on technology and too little on the process. Successful remote work is based on clear processes that support three core principles.

  • ...

Communication in a virtual environment

It can be difficult to explain complex ideas. The lack of face-to-face interaction limits social cues, which may lead to misunderstandings and conflict.

  • To avoid miscues and misinterpretation, match the message with the medium. Videoconferencing is the next best tool to talking face-to-face. Small, non-urgent requests are best suited to e-mail, instant messaging, or all-in-one platforms like Slack.
  • Frequency of communication matters. Provide regular updates, respond to messages promptly, be available at important times.

Remote work coordination

Remote workers should be working in harmony, but people often don't know what others are doing and how everything fits together.

  • Create formal processes that simulate the informal way; for example, stopping by a colleague's desk or eating lunch together. These interactions serve as course corrections.
  • Managers should clearly articulate the mission, assign roles and responsibilities, create detailed project plans, establish performance metrics. They should also document all that and make it available offsite.
  • Managers should model and enforce the processes until they are completely incorporated.

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Longing For The Office Culture

Longing For The Office Culture
  • Earlier a privilege for a few, work from home became a norm for most office-goers due to the ongoing pandemic and is likely to remain for the rest of the year.
  • The shift towards wo...

Work-Life Balance When Working From Home

  • Though employees are happy to see the demise of daily commutes and parking hassles, they are finding out that there is no work-life balance at home.
  • Most workers live in apartments that aren’t suitable for 8 to 10 hours of work every day, as it was never designed to be a full-fledged office.
  • Many employees would want to get back to offices as soon as possible due to social and mental issues, like the feeling of loneliness at home.

Digital Monitoring

Monitoring software that checks time spent on different applications, chat response time, and keystroke recording is now in great demand.

HR departments worldwide are fueling the use of technology to have a way to control the employees that are now no longer in the office.

Early times

Before the Industrial revolution, everyone worked out of their home and sold their goods from there. With the Industrial Revolution came the need for automation and factories, and employ...

From factories to cubicles to WiFi

Just after WW2, there was a rise in corporate headquarters and larger office spaces and cubicles. During this time, the 8-hour workday was established.

Then came the advancements in computers and technology that lead to remote workers of today. The internet and public WiFi allowed employees to do everything they would in their cubicle, but outside the office. They can also work all hours of the day.

Remote work is common

4.3 million people currently work from home in the United States at least half of the time, and this figure has grown by 150% in the last 13 years.  

Remote workers tend to have higher engagement rates and higher productivity levels. Once they switch to remote work, they rarely want to become office bound again.