Remote Working is the buzzword in HR circles for a few years now. Of course free-lancers used to work remote at all times. But the new remote worker is the full time employee. Companies like SAP, Facebook, Xerox, VMware, Symantec, IBM, are some of the bigger companies which have a distributed workforce.
Firstly, it could be children. With the rise of a more gender balanced landscape in companies, with mothers being wooed back to work, with fathers playing a more active role in child bearing, it becomes imperative to give both parents the alternative to work remotely at least some of the time.
It could also be a more enlightened generation of employees. The baby boomers work culture of 9-5 desk work is all but out the door. The companies who are still stubbornly holding on to this traditional method are often seen as poor places to work, however big they may be. The new Millenial employee is a traveller, a knowledge seeker and a general bohemian. They need flexible work times and places. Remote working works for them.
It could also be a paucity of the right talent at the right place. The 2010-s may well be known as the decade of start ups. Every fifth person I know is an entrepreneur, a failed entrepreneur or dreams of being an entrepreneur. This means that co-founders may be in short supply at a given time in a given place. A start up based in Kolkata may have its CTO based in Bangaluru and its CMO based in Mumbai if the market for the product/ service lies there. In fact smaller companies and start ups have more remote working opportunities than larger companies.
Technology today makes remote working an easy alternative for companies who are looking for a viable way to balance the work and life of their employees. This not only brings goodwill, it also helps more traditional thinking companies to offer an option to their employees for working from their location of choice at least part of the time.
Research done in 2017 itself shows that companies who have remote working as an option has 25% less attrition than companies that don’t. The same research (State of Remote Work 2017) also showed that companies spent 33% less time in hiring when their employees were distributed and therefore, working remotely.
Even companies which brought back their remote working employees back to the offices, like IBM and Yahoo, have done so part of the time, leaving part of the week to the original remote working pattern. This gives the best of both worlds to both the employee who is looking for flexibility, as well as the team which gets more face time and thus may work more efficiently.
So you have it. Remote working is not just an HR tool to attract the best talent to a particular company, it may well be the only way that certain companies can get the best talent to consider being part of the team. As a remote worker for close to ten years now, I have mastered the art of working from home (or café/ business center/ hotel lounges, as the case may be) full time and be consistently efficient.
It’s the best way to be employed if you have small children. There are pitfalls to this. I can work full time from home only because I have a nanny taking care of the children during my work hours. Even then, with the toddler I have a tough time concentrating unless I am locked up in my home office, or opt to work from the nearby café. The positives are: 1. nannies in India are affordable for working women, and 2. I can look out for the kids and be there for them at any time in the day, should they need me.
Solution: If you have a nanny, lock yourself up. Teach the kids to respect “office time” for the parent. Move out of the house to a coffee shop or mall or even a hotel lobby to get a few hours of uninterrupted concentration.
If you don’t have a nanny, use the odd hours, like when the kids are taking naps, in playschool, or having a play date, or even the occasional silent play times. I have often stayed up and done my non-phone-calling work post 10 pm when the kids are asleep. A solid 3-4 hours of work can be completed in graveyard shifts.
If even that is not possible, the other option is to work on project basis, or for part time. This keeps one employable while these years go by. Once the kids are older and going to school, one may consider returning to the workplace.
When the commute is just too long, remote working is a blessing and a huge relief. In a city like Bombay/ Mumbai, where distances from home can be huge and traffic conditions are horrific, it may take an employee more than 2 hours to travel to office, and that is one way. In such extreme cases it makes a lot of sense to work from home part of the week. This results in less wasted time and more energy left for the actual job. Thus remote workers are proven to be more productive than in-office workers.
However, the downside is one may be conceived as not working hard enough. So one may be actually putting in more hours of work than in office, taking on more load and even helping others, just to prove oneself. It is usually also seen that remote workers have communication problems with their managers. This may also lead to unnecessary hassle for both the company and the employee.
Remote workers also end up being unable to “switch off”. Getting physically out of the workplace creates a physical boundary and helps employees to unwind. But this is not available to remote workers. I myself end up working throughout the day sometimes, and even find myself at the laptop in the middle of the night, sometimes just because I cannot sleep.
Solution: The organization needs to set clear expectations, evaluate performance based on results and set communication protocols. This puts everyone on the same page. If you are a remote worker or plan to be one, make sure your organization does this for you. Managers may be trained how to manage such employees too. (HBR has a great article on this. Linked here)
To avoid the situation of working “too much”, and it’s a reality, the key is to take breaks. Go for a walk/ jog. Spend time with the kids. Maybe go out for lunch with a friend without feeling guilty about it. And yes, it is possible to turn off notifications on the phone once you are done with the days work.
All industries don’t allow remote working. Some like banking may even find it a security threat. Sales jobs have more remote working possibilities than any other. Also, remote working works mainly at lower levels. Managerial levels may not support the remote working model since there is a lot of communication involved. However, if you are lucky to be in an industry where remote working works just fine, you may turn out more committed to your organization and happy in your personal life. A Gallup study in America proved that remote workers are more engaged and get more work done from home. In such cases remote working is win-win since it means reduced cost for the company. No real estate, and less spent on the employee herself.