Part three – the final in our series on the reality of remote working and how to ensure success.

 

How remote workers use their time in the office is a clear point of difference from office-based staff. Perhaps due to the nature of their work, remote staff feel far more productive away from the office when it comes to deliverables. ‘There are just too many distractions and conflicting demands on my time when I go in to the office. So, I focus on supporting the team face-to-face, relationship building, and meeting with clients. I leave the billable work till I get back to my home office where I can focus properly’ recounts Jesse.

 

Although individual, focused work is completed very effectively away from the buzz of the office, teamwork and collaboration can be more challenging. Getting the team together round a whiteboard and brainstorming is something Manu sees as only possible face-to-face. ‘There is just no good substitute for that’ he declares, having tried a multitude of online tools. ‘Skype for Business is very good for being able to talk a team through what you are thinking’ counters Jesse, who regularly uses the screenshare functionality to walk colleagues through models and sketches. Collaboration can be done effectively but tends to be in a more planned, asynchronous mode, a very different feel from spontaneous conversations which can take place in the office.

 

   

 

Spontaneous changes in the office can inadvertently exclude remote workers, especially when it impacts scheduled meetings. Letting meetings slide or change in focus can be especially frustrating for remote staff, who have prepared to be online at a certain time for a certain agenda. Without the context of such changes, it can feel like timewasting and most definitely reinforces a sense of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for remote staff.  Jesse recommends that team leaders are rigorous in applying time management and planning to all meetings, but especially those involving remote staff. It is also important to ensure that any technology required is working in time, and relevant materials distributed beforehand. All basic good practice but overlooked surprisingly often.

One thing both office-based and remote staff have in common is the importance of the physical environment. For health and wellbeing, changing posture and position throughout the day are important. This is often easier for remote staff, no longer being bound by the strict policies in the office for standard issue equipment. Setting themselves up with multiple large screens, sit-to-stand desks, yoga balls, treadmills – are just some of the perks of working from home, though most people interviewed for this article have paid for these out of their own pockets. Another key advantage is choice over location – moving between home office, sofa, deck, café, head office depending on the work to be done and the environment they want. ‘I will usually do my conference calls while walking on the treadmill’ chimes in Myriam, a scientist in the medical device industry.

 

   

 

So, to summarise: making remote working effective for both staff and the employer firstly requires good, regular communication via different channels. Test different modes to establish what works best for you and your teams. Good meeting etiquette – and if last minute changes are required, remember to inform remote workers as well as those in the office. When remote workers are in the office, recognise that their purpose is not to get their head down and churn out work, rather it is to connect with colleagues and clients. This is a great time to include remote staff in collaborative activities. In managing remote staff, remember to focus on deliverables rather than clocking in and out. And don’t overlook the importance of the physical workspace at the home office as well as in the main office. Ensure all staff – whether remote, or office based - are properly equipped for their ways of working and encouraged to move around and change posture throughout the day.

Meanwhile, my coffee has gone cold, and I feel the need to stretch!

If you’re interested in how flexible ways of working can be useful for your team and your workplace, get in touch for a chat over a coffee. 

An article by Lara Stancich, STACK Workplace Strategy and Design Specialist – currently based in Italy.

 

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