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Overcoming the Challenges to Remote Work

18 days ago by Andrea Amato

Practical guidance for organisations planning to initiate a new model of business.

The work model that favoured an office environment over more flexible arrangements such as remote work is no more. As the Covid-19 pandemic urged many workers to work their jobs from home, the dramatic shift began altering our perceptions and understanding of work altogether. After some time, video conferencing software became habitual, with many employees enjoying the flexibility a home workspace brought. Of course, that’s not to say there were no remote work challenges, though these are further explored below.

Nowadays, as employers begin transitioning workers into the office environment, many are looking for resources to helpfully determine a return-to-work plan. One that supports employees whilst considering the overarching trend of remote jobs. Large organisations, who often influence smaller companies and set the tone in this sphere, including Twitter, Facebook, Shopify, etcetera, are eager to remain remote-first even after the pandemic remits.

We’ve learned that throughout the pandemic, many employees are happy to continue working from home. Instead of focusing on an organisational model that favours a complete transition back to the office environment, a hybrid model of work is now coming into place. This means employees enjoy a balance between working from home and attending the office. Whilst the operation of this model depends on the company and its employees, it’s hopeful that a hybrid model suffices the benefits of both remote work and the social opportunities provided by the office workplace.


A Historical Popularity of Remote Work

The prospect of remote work dates to the 1970s, where work from home arrangements were a solution to expensive commutes for employees. Many employees explored their novel arrangements to work from public libraries and coffee shops, depending on their role. Though with the advent of the internet, work from home arrangements weren’t possible for most employees and didn’t become popular until the 2000s as technology increasingly became the norm to carry out our daily jobs in Malta and globally.

Naturally, when working from home began gaining traction among employer’s once more, one concern that we’re greatly familiar with surrounded employee productivity. This led a new, important area of research for academics to uncover. Bloom et al. (2015) conducted a work from home experiment in China with a sample of 16,000 employees to understand the relationship between remote work and productivity. Perhaps to their surprise, the researchers found that employees who did work from home showed increased productivity by 13%, and this number later increased to 22% when asked for their workplace preference nine-months later.

Whilst productivity and employee engagement remain a popular concept to explore in research, it’s difficult to uncover in isolation. Employee behaviour requires an observation of numerous factors, including work-life wellness and other personal and organisational characteristics. In light of Covid-19 which has shown to increase common mental health disorders (including stress, depression, and anxiety) research on employee behaviour had further factors to consider (e.g., stress as a particular characteristic to measure alongside productivity).

One such example of a study that incorporates several workplace factors is Galanti et al. (2021) that cross-examined the aforementioned characteristics. They reported that employee productivity increased when they worked autonomously and were given self-leadership opportunities. The study contributes to a greater body of knowledge where organisations have multiple factors to consider in determining a successful work from home model.


Challenges & Solutions of Remote Work

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that organisations will remain remote-first, with free leeway for employees to attend the office. We’re often looking for several advantages to promote remote work and at times neglect its challenges with present solutions and recommendations.

Challenges cited by the report Buffer (2021) found that 27% of respondents perceived the lacking ability to unplug after work to be a great deterrent to remote jobs. Communication barriers and loneliness came to draw in second place (16%), among further challenges in feeling distracted at home (15%) where at times employees struggled to remain motivated (12%). These characteristics are commonly portrayed in research. As we continue to navigate remote jobs, we will further understand how to combat these challenges and replace these with useful recommendations.  

Challenges also differ according to remote teams and employees generally. Work is oftentimes collaborative, especially for teams such as software developer jobs and the like. Common challenges for remote teams include:

  • Project management: collaboration among teams can be difficult when developers and remote workers are spread across diverse locations, and increasingly more complex when employees are situated in different time zones. Managers are tasked with ensuring deadlines are met regardless, and their role becomes further responsible in managing a team’s organisation skills. To counter this challenge, teams could work on project management software to keep track of assignments.

  • Communication: any organisation requires effective communication to be successful, but in teams this is especially true. This is because working on the same project’s necessitates involvement from each team member, where they interact across numerous components such as documentation and software tools. Teams can feel limited in this space if communication is poor, but this can be overcome in utilising communication mediums dedicated to your teams. Ensure the software you select is responsive and flexible to your team’s needs. Examples of software include Slack and Spark.

  • Cultural differences: the introduction of remote work meant employees can come from diverse backgrounds across numerous geographical locations. With this, language barriers can arise, including cultural differences in managing workplace expectations. Other social conventions can make for uncomfortable collaboration in teams, urging employees to maintain an open understanding to various cultures. A workplace culture that encourages open dialogue surrounding cultural and social differences will help promote tolerance in the workplace.

Additionally, for individual team members, personal challenges can arise whilst working remotely:

  • Productivity: feeling demotivated to work can be challenging to keep up with job demands. Luckily, many resources exist to reduce productivity concerns. For example, in avoiding multitasking, working in small bursts of time, and in removing surrounding distractions are all means to improve productivity.

  • Distractions: in the Buffer (2021) report we learned distractions to be a high reason to perturb employees working from home, as the home includes several distractions that are avoided in the office environment. Organising a dedicated workspace that is minimal and practical can help employees feel less distracted whilst working.

  • Unplugging after work: perhaps one of the greatest remote working concerns, it can feel difficult to switch off from work without the commute break in returning home from the office. However, if you set minimal daily goals you’d like to achieve, this concrete task setting can help employees turn computers off at a reasonable working hour. In achieving organised tasks, you will feel more prepared with your working routine and focus on other priorities when the working day remits.

Like all working models, as we explore remote work and understand its challenges, we can work to provide supportive resources to complex workplace issues. Remote work does apply numerous benefits due to its flexibility, though these can only be enjoyed when establishing a workspace that works for you. In so doing, you will not only enjoy your working life, but commit your time to personal pursuits and improve your quality of life overall.