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

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

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

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Key Ideas

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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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.

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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.

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Changes you may see

If and when you return to your office after the pandemic, you'll probably notice some changes.

  • The doors of the building may open automatically, so you don't have to touch the handl...
Working from home

Before the pandemic, only 4 percent of the US workforce worked from home at least half the time. However, the trend of working from home had been gaining momentum for years.

It is estimated that within a couple of years, 30% of people will work from home multiple days per week.

Continued remote work
  • Before the pandemic, a lot of company management and leaders were skeptical regarding remote work. But the skepticism will go away because companies recognize that remote work does work.
  • The economic impact of the pandemic will likely force employers to cut costs. They may reduce their rent by letting workers work from home instead of layoffs.
  • Employers had to spend money on new technology and equipment to work from home - a departure from the norm.
  • Employees themselves are also spending more money to create better home offices.

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Going all-in on remote work: benefits for businesses
Going all-in on remote work: benefits for businesses

Remote work can be costly or cost-saving, depending on how well-equipped you are to really support it.

  • When done right, assessing the appropriateness of remote work for all your empl...
Defining roles for a remote work setting

Businesses can categorize employees:

  • Location-independent. Knowledge workers are not dependent on location and don't need to be in an office.
  • Location-frequent. These people spend half their time in an office and half remote. They need an in-person base to use for coordination and physical meetings. These are often salespeople, marketing people, back-office services (IT, HR, finance), and creative jobs.
  • Mandatory in-office jobs. These involve specialized equipment that you can't put in an employee's home, such as manufacturing jobs.

Far more job functions can be done remotely if company leadership will accept it. But, remote work is not for everyone. Some jobs are tied to physical locations or equipment. Some people also do not want to work from home.

Equipping remote workers

In-office employees that transition to remote work need to be equipped. Spending recommendations are:

  • A one-time stipend to purchase some office furniture and other miscellaneous work equipment.
  • Basic ergonomic training.
  • The same class of laptop or workstation they'd get in the office.
  • A monthly stipend to offset some or all home broadband costs.
  • IT support costs.
  • Basic, yet complete tech loadout, such as laptop, secondary monitor, mouse, keyboard, wired earbuds, USB hub, chair that meets ergonomic needs.

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The shared context

For the whole idea of remote work to actually work, you have to develop a remote culture for your team.
And that means having a shared context: everyone plays by the same rules, you have to ...

Working from home misconceptions

Working from home does not mean you are a remote worker. For a lot of people “working from home” is synonymous with not really working, but instead sitting at home in comfy clothes and doing anything but working. Because no one is really watching you.

Rules for remote work
  • Assume remote, even if you have only 1 person that is not coming to the office. So make sure to share all the information from meetings in a written format.
  • Have a private, quiet, dedicated space for working in your home. Preferably with a door that closes.
  • Have the right digital equipment.
  • Over-communicate.
  • Make sure you get to actual meet your colleagues face to face.
  • Have a time overlap with your team.

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Remote-first Mindset

Accept that you have to put in place remote work systems, even if more than half of your employees ultimately revert to office-based work.

  • If done right, a remote-first infrastructu...
Build a socially-connected culture

Intentionally design for the same interactions that would otherwise happen if people were in the office.

  • Culture is what naturally happens when a group of people gets together for any period.
  • A great culture happens with intentional design and influence. It's the reason you should make your company's mission, vision, values, operating principles, standards, and agreements visible. 
  • Culture is experienced through emotions, including how your employees feel about the company, you, other leaders, and peers. That feeling is developed through human interaction at the water cooler, kitchen, or hallway conversations.
Your leadership presence

Your people need to feel your presence as a leader as they will have fewer opportunities to see you face to face when they work remotely.

  • Regularly show up in a variety of forms that can include weekly video meetings, periodic company-wide emails, or presence in public channels.
  • Err on the side of more communication rather than less.

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A slow change from home to office
A slow change from home to office

The office's history shows how our work has changed and how work's physical spaces respond to cultural, technological, and social influences

  • During m...
At first, the office was an activity before it was a place
  • Before the modern office, monasteries introduced timekeeping to the monk's daily routines.
  • Later, the office was understood to be a factory-like environment.
  • Work was depicted as a series of tasks that could be rationalised, standardised and calculated into an efficient production machine.
How changes in technology influenced the office
  • The telegraph, telephone, and dictating machine changed the concept of work and office design as telecommunications meant office could be separate from factories and warehouses and differentiate between white and blue-collar workers.
  • While these technologies made a distributed workforce possible, American offices became more centralised.
  • Online connectivity potentially ensures a move away from the office to working from home.

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Telemedicine and telehealth
Telemedicine and telehealth

Telemedicine and telehealth involve remote-health-care technologies and services, known as "virtual care."

While virtual care played some role in the health-care industry, 2020 le...

Virtual healthcare recognized
  • Telemedicine can refer to the setup that allows workers in a large hospital to assist in emergency procedures from a distant support structure.
  • Telehealth uses virtual interactions between individual doctors and patients. You may have a bad sore throat and download the telehealth app, where you will be connected to a physician who can examine you and prescribe medicine.

Fifty to seventy percent of visits to the doctor's office could be replaced by remote monitoring and checkups.

Potential disadvantages of virtual health care

Telemedicine has been a hard sell in some areas.

  • Many rural clinics and community hospitals fear that their already inadequate medical staffing and the revenues generated from on-site procedures will be further diminished by remote medicine.
  • Old and poor patients who may need care the most can't afford smartphones or broadband connectivity.
  • Until recently, many people were unaware that the service existed, while others didn't trust an anonymous doctor.
  • Many people want to be in the physical presence of their physicians, believing the quality of virtual care is inferior.

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