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Remote Working: Why Are We Not All Doing It?

Declan Mulkeen

9 Jan 2017

We have recently seen very mixed opinions in the press regarding attitudes to remote working (also known as flexible or virtual) arrangements and in particular remote working models at some high-profile organisations such as Yahoo and Bank of America withdrawing these arrangements in favour of increased visibility and face-to-face contact. But who is right and can the march towards a more flexible way of working be stopped?

Remote Working: Why Are Some Companies Against It?

Detractors of remote working will quickly suggest that it is an all too easy excuse for employees to ‘slack off’ and find themselves distracted by non-work related tasks or the temptation of doing nothing.

Flexibility improves staff retention and by offering top talent more attractive working arrangements organisations are more likely to hold on to them

And then there are lost opportunities for training, networking, building relationships and increasing your profile if you are not present in the office. It is also easier to brainstorm and create more energy when working in proximity with your colleagues and working remotely can cause feelings of isolation and disengagement.

It is important to remind ourselves that flexible working means exactly that. It offers flexibility rather than an all or nothing solution.

Some organisational models might allow employees to work from home on a permanent basis, but more often it means giving employees the flexibility to work from home when they need to, allowing an earlier or later start and finish time or giving staff the technology to access systems while they are on the move.

Harvard Business Review has recently reported that despite the recent high profile cases, flexible working arrangements are now the norm rather than the exception with 81% of sample employees reporting they have the option of remote working.

Most organisations now see that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and if we look more closely at these drawbacks we can see that in most cases we can turn them around to our advantage.

Employees have more time available both for themselves and their organisation as they remove the need to commute

Productivity is reduced through flexible working arrangements – Really? 

While some people take advantage of working from home to catch up with a few household chores or keep an eye on the day’s news, most organisations would agree that flexible working increases productivity. Employees have more time available both for themselves and their organisation as they remove the need to commute.

According to a Harvard Business Review survey, 81% of sampled employees reported that they have the option of remote working

And a better work-life balance usually means a more energised and productive mind. Also, morale improves as employees feel trusted and empowered. They can organise their time in the way that works best for them and avoid the constant interruptions and distractions of a busy office environment. Also, flexibility improves staff retention and by offering top talent more attractive working arrangements organisations are more likely to hold on to them.

Also, flexibility improves staff retention and by offering top talent more attractive working arrangements organisations are more likely to hold on to them.

Remote workers miss out on opportunities for training and development- Let’s look at this 

The availability of a myriad of learning technologies means that this is no longer an excuse. One-to-one mentoring and coaching can take place just as easily remotely as face-to-face whether through telephone, instant messaging, desktop sharing or better still a combination of methods.

Virtual training platforms simulate the features of face-to-face classroom and enable colleagues to share materials, discuss ideas and brainstorm problems together as they would if they were physically present.

My profile will suffer if I am not present in the office 

Social media is no longer a new phenomenon and our online profiles, if used well, carry just as much impact if not more as our face-to-face persona.

Remote workers need to put some thought and effort into how they use their intranet and other online communication tools (e.g. Skype for Business, Yammer, Slack, etc.) but these can help them build their profile just as much as attending meetings and events at the office. And of course, there is nothing to stop remote workers coming to the office now and then.

Impromptu brainstorming and face-to-face meetings decrease our potential for creativity and innovation

Of course, this depends somewhat on each job role and industry but generally speaking teams can come together collaboratively and very easily through technology platforms.

Remote workers need to put some thought and effort into how they use their intranet and other online communication tools

And it is also important to recognise that not everyone draws their energy and creativity from being with others and in fact some people work much more effectively when looking inwards and working alone.

Flexible working is a growing trend and one that is not going to disappear. Organisations that want to hold on to their employees need to consider the options and systems for making remote working a reality and put in place the individual, team and organisation wide initiatives that offer their employees flexibility within their flexible arrangements.

Want to find out more? Take a look at this course we offer on Global remote working.