The challenges of remote working

As we mark a year of mass homeworking, Blake Snow explores the latest research findings on its impact.

Working from home works more often than not, at least for office workers.

That was the big take-away last year from one of the world’s largest work-from-home studies, conducted by Harvard Business School. After surveying more than 600 cross-industry employers, the researchers were mostly encouraged by society’s forced adoption of remote work due to pandemic.

That wasn’t the case for everyone, of course. Some employers struggle more than others, particularly non-technology related ones. But there were shared challenges across all industries, according to Harvard researchers.

For example, remote employees are communicating up to 40% more with close collaborators. All things being equal, that sounds like great news. But these same employees are doing this at the expense of other employees.

That might not seem like such a big deal, until you realise how inspirational and helpful ‘weak tie’ relationships can actually be for workers.

If the last year has taught us anything, it is this: change is hard, even if the change is good

They often force us to think about our direct problems in indirect, roundabout ways. They help us see things in a new light. They’re a refreshing break from the close relationships we see and work with often. Much of that has been lost through remote work, the researchers say.

On top of that, new employees are at a big disadvantage when it comes to meeting co-workers and being assimilated into a company’s unique culture. In that way, long-term employees are doing better than others. But as workers continue to move to and fro between employers, the difficulties of onboarding and ongoing assimilation will only grow worse.

Consequently, “There’s never been more pressure on frontline managers to develop productive relationships within and across teams,” the researchers found. As such, employers are increasing their investments in communication tools and programmes to provide more clarity and opportunities for remote employees.

Not only does this help them foster new, more, and deeper relationships, but it prevents spinning wheels.

But employers must do more than facilitate new work from home (WFH) relationships, onboarding programmes, and increase encounters with secondary co-workers. They must also account for the increase in work-life balance challenges that come from hybrid working environments.

To that end, remote employee training became a popular last year to help accomplish much of the above. Before the pandemic, this service didn’t really exist – at least not on a worldwide scale.

Post-pandemic, it’s become one of the most timely issues HR leaders face, especially with the number of employees now expected to WFH. Several studies, in fact, predict the number of home-based employees to indefinitely remain at double the pre-COVID number.

If the last year has taught us anything, it is this: change is hard, even if the change is good. But this change will continue to be a difficult one to master, especially for employers and employees who were traditionally accustomed to working together in a centralised office.

With good training, however, every HR leader can overcome this dramatic change, if not opportunity, in the way we work.


About the author

Blake Snow is director of content at Power Space


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