Today’s digital era is allowing businesses to opt for recruiting skilled individuals who may choose to complete their work responsibilities remotely, giving employees the choice to create their own flexible working hours which are not restricted to the usual 9 to 5 routine. Labelled as ‘the next big wave in work-life balance’, remote working promises to provide employees with the option to customise their daily schedule in accordance to their every-day responsibilities or activities out of the workplace.
What exactly is Remote Working?
Basically put, remote working allows the worker to adapt his or her working hours to their lifestyle and grants them the opportunity to optimise their daily routine by allocating the time to dedicate to their work according to their personal agenda. Ever since its growth in popularity in companies the debate on its benefits has been an issue, with some stating that although remote working tends to increase productivity, it may also reduce levels of collaboration and understanding between colleagues. Ultimately, each person has their own set of characteristics which determine the way they perform in certain conditions, and so remote working may be a preference to some, but not as much to others.
Who is Remote Working suited for?
Firstly, remote working refers to an individual carrying out their assigned work outside the traditional office. Remote workers may choose to work from home (which is the most popular choice), however they would be able to work from any location, with the exception of certain work which would require a stable internet connection. In fact, most companies which have moved towards a remote working policy are those which consist of a team of employees who work in sectors which are tech-based and rely on an internet connection for purposes of research, content publishing on online platforms (websites and social media), web developing and programming. That being said, this type of working is also undertaken by free-lance workers who work with their private clients. Such jobs are usually based in the fields of Graphic and Digital Design, ICT and Computing, Web Design and Development, Digital Marketing, Technical Support and Online Customer Service as well as Journalism, to mention the most popular.
What are the Employee Advantages to Remote Working?
To start, remote working certainly offers flexibility. Employees are able to work on their own terms, an increasing demand in the younger generation. Millennials tend to find remote working convenient - students working part time may find it suitable especially when balancing their work-related tasks with their studies, whereas those working full time may find it attractive since it allows them to be more liberal; making time for any side projects or activities, as well as opting to travel the world as a ‘digital nomad’. This emerging trend refers to individuals who opt to work while travelling, completing their work duties through the means of digital technologies and submitting it through an internet connection to the company they are working for or to their clients. On the other hand, remote working also offers a working parent the chance to work from home to watch over their children, an option which is becoming more and more popular by time. This is especially due to an increase in female recruitment figures, offering women greater job opportunities in Malta. In effect to the traditional family, this would ideally allow both men and women the chance to alternate working from home to look after their children.
In whichever case, remote working offers the employee the opportunity to create a flexible routine which allows them to alter their schedule should they wish to fit in time for personal and family affairs.
On a separate note, remote working also provides an employee with significant savings of time and money from commuting expenses, particularly when getting to and from work during rush hours. With the notable increase in traffic on the roads, getting to the workplace is never something to look forward to, coupled with the problem with finding parking which is relevant to some companies who do not offer parking spaces for employees due to spatial and financial requirements. Moreover, less cars on the road means a smaller carbon footprint, resulting in greater environmental sustainability.
Remote workers are said to be more productive, with a Stanford study finding out that remote workers were 13% more productive than their colleagues working in the office, with the main reasons being fewer interruptions and distractions through ambient noise of chatting or conversation between employees, or light background music. Employees whose work demands long hours of focus therefore prefer to work from home, so long as the conditions at home allow for such comfortable and concentrated ways of working.
This raises a debate, since some individuals say that when working from home they are more likely to be distracted by house work, social media and web surfing and other types of procrastination due to there being less pressure when at home. On the other hand, some studies show that remote workers had higher levels of organisational commitment and job satisfaction, contributing to a more beneficial job well-being.
It therefore comes to show that one’s level of productivity when remote working is dependent on the controlled and organised home environment they are working in. That being said, regardless of one’s outlook on the matter, a certain benefit which is noted to all remote workers is their reduced level of stress. Working from home offers a more comfortable atmosphere which results in a more clear state of mind - whether an employee uses that to their advantage to maintain focus and consistency or instead chooses to slack off, is entirely up to them!
The issue of positive employee engagement between remote workers is also one to be seen to under certain conditions. Some studies show that employees who work remotely 60 to 80 percent of their time enjoy higher levels of successful collaboration between colleagues when compared to their counterparts who only work the usual office hours.
If this is so, then why are some companies claiming that remote work reduces collaboration, and pulling their employees back into the office?Unless practiced properly, allowing employees to go for remote working options may not affect the company as positively as it should.
So how can employee engagement for remote workers be optimised?
Firstly, remote working is at its most effective and beneficial when there is a good home-office balance. The above figures state that employees who spend 60 percent to less than 80 percent of their workweek working out of the office benefit more productive and collaborative with their coworkers. The key to this balance is vital, since employees are able to still be physically present at the workplace, getting face-to-face time with colleagues and managers and keeping up-to-date with the company’s affairs and goals. Research shows that meetings, sharing of information and setting of tasks between employees and employers are more effective and implemented during direct conversation, in contrast to video-calls or emails. At the same time, once absorbing such concerns and understanding the way forward through direct conversation at the workplace, employees who choose to work remotely tend to progress further in their work.
This mind-set is thought of as a ‘mission and purpose’ one, where employees are given valuable insight during workplace collaboration sessions, and go about completing their work responsibilities remotely before the next session.
How does Remote Working Benefit the Employer & Company?
Companies who practice exercises such as those mentioned above with their remote-working employees enjoy greater success both in the short-term and long-term.
In terms of collaboration, employees who work remotely and only meet at the office for a limited time during the day (or during the work week, for those who work even more remotely), tend to seize the opportunity to collaborate and gain insight from their colleagues. Being restricted to a few hours daily or weekly to keep informed and merge knowledge and ideas with fellow coworkers creates a strong sense of engagement. This is due to employees feeling more of the need to keep in touch with company matters, in comparison to workers who are physically within reach of each other during all office hours throughout the work week, who may tend to take for granted the opportunity to ask for one another’s opinions or ideas.
Several sectors, namely those of Technology and Design, have begun to adopt flexible schedules and started practising methods of remote working. Such concepts would make sense when considering that companies within these industries are web-based, allowing employees to conduct their work under an internet connection. Additionally, in the case of urgent communication, video chats and conference calls are also easily set up for employees and employers to keep clearly informed with one another, should there be any matters to be accurately discussed when out of office.
So is remote working for you?
Due to there being various views about levels of productivity and employee engagement when remote working in Malta or anywhere else, it seems that it really is up to the individual to decide for themselves what they feel about the issue. Depending on one’s discipline, dedication and motivation to complete their work duties, as well as their attitude and consideration to collaborate and keep up-to-date with fellow colleagues, remote working may or may not be suitable for everyone in their daily routine, meaning that the only way for one to find out is to try it out for themselves should their company approve!