With technology at home often being on a par with the office, interest in remote working continues to grow. We take a look at its pros and cons, discuss the technology needed to work away from the office, and ask whether it’s a suitable option for everyone.
Working at home is no longer solely the preserve of the self-employed or mature workers seeking to gain better work-life balance. With domestic technology infrastructures frequently able to rival those in the office, workers at all stages of their career are being liberated from the desktop and able to work virtually from home or another remote location away from the main office.
The number of homeworkers in the UK hit four million last year for the first time, according to a TUC analysis of Office for National Statistics figures, and there are millions of other workers who ‘occasionally’ work from home.
Although remote working might not be suitable for all engineering and IT roles, technology companies in particular have been proactive in devising remote-working strategies that have paid off in terms of productivity gains and increases in employee engagement. With this in mind, the trend is likely to continue.
While on the increase, Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise UK, which helps organisations implement smarter working practices, reckons working virtually regularly or even occasionally isn’t something that should be entered into casually and individuals need to prepare for the experience properly.
Suited to working remotely?
Not everyone is so don’t assume it will work for you. It requires a high degree of self-discipline, motivation and good time-management. If you enjoy the buzz of working and interacting with others, you may feel isolated. With so much technology available to help keep in touch with the office and colleagues though, this may prove less of an issue. Flaxton recommends trialling working at home before fully committing to it.
“Some are surprised by how much more productive they are,” he says, adding that individuals who are “project-driven” often get most out of working remotely. Having trialled it, you might decide remote working is something that works well for you once or twice a week but not full-time, so discuss options with your boss.
The right technology
A major priority is establishing that your IT set-up is up to scratch. If you struggle with sub-standard kit at the outset but still manage to get the job done, it will be easy for your manager to ignore any request for system improvements. Another practical common sense matter individuals often overlook is having a suitable space at home that can be designated a safe and ergonomic area for working.
“You need to feel mentally at work and be free from distractions,” says Flaxton.
If you live with someone who is at home during the day, make sure they respect and understand that you have a job to do. Also consider the effect of issues that might be out of your control, such as your next-door neighbour’s barking dogs or noisy construction work on your doorstep. Individuals who are eager to work at home often gloss over or underestimate the impact of factors such as these but they can become real issues that ultimately derail plans for successful remote working.
It is important you fully understand what your responsibilities are and what you are expected to achieve. Those responsible for managing remote workers are advised to assess their direct reports on output not input so agree specific goals and time frames for achieving them with your boss.
Employers are finally accepting that they don’t have to see their people every minute of the day to ensure they are doing their jobs but you must play your part in building trust and cohesion with managers.
“There has to be trust, and if remote working is set up in the right way it shouldn’t be about your boss ringing you every 20 minutes to make sure you are working,’ says Flaxton. “But if you have been tasked to do something and you don’t, your boss will want to know why.”
Break goals down into daily tasks and organise your working day around your maximum productivity times.
“You might be the sort of person who can start work at 6.30am and work until 9.30am and then take a break and start again at 11am,” says Flaxton. “There is nothing wrong with this as you are doing your hours but in a staggered way.”
Time for interaction
Remote workers need to stay connected with the office as well as fellow team members, so processes must be instituted that will encourage communication with one another and help to make virtual working more practical and productive. Virtual meetings, conference calls, instant messaging and online forums can be used to maintain visibility and connection as well as sharing of knowledge.
Flaxton advocates regular and scheduled calls with your manager and colleagues rather than ad hoc contact. Be aware the impact that the always-on 24/7 work can have on your work-life balance. Some managers will assume you are contactable beyond the parameters of the traditional working day and it’s for you to decide if you are happy with this. Making the relationship work Both employers and employees still have a great deal to learn about remote working and depending on how progressive your organisation is in this area may determine the quality of your experience and how you ultimately perform as a virtual worker.
Flaxton advises asking plenty of questions at the outset about whether you will be judged on output, how you will be managed and general expectations.
“If your line manager hasn’t been trained properly in this area, it can lead to a lot of dissatisfaction,” he says. “Both sides need to understand the parameters and guidelines.”