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Three Challenges of Remote Working

Three Challenges of Remote Working
30 March 2020 John Moore

The current COVID-19 crisis has forced many employers, managers and teams to switch to remote working. Unlike enterprises that have been using remote working for many years such as Exponential Training, most have had little or no time to put in place arrangements to support managers and team members.  

Remote Working – Making the Change 

The great news is there is a lot of information about all manner of tools and technologies that can be used – check out Remote Working in Your BusinessHowever, perhaps more of a challenge than the technology are three key issues employers, managers and employees face: 

  1. While many of us have experience working remotely, not everyone has the same amount of experience, comfort or access. To address this, we need to level the playing field. 
  1. Now that we are having to work remotely, we need to learn how to structure our workthe work of our team members as well as managing our own needs and expectations. 
  1. Although some employers have policies and practices to support remote working, they were not designed to address the scale, scope and speed we are now facing. Now, we need to think holistically about what our teams need from us and how we can make better use of our social networks. 

Levelling the Playing Field  

Remote working comes with its own challenges, technology and language. Some team members maybe more familiar or comfortable with this than others. This imbalance between those who feel comfortable and skilled at working remotely and those who do not needs to be recognised and managed. 

Getting used to using on-line meeting tools, using new technologies and setting up equipment might be a HUGE challenge for some team members. Here are some of the most common things I have encountered when holding on-line meetings:  

  • People not realising their microphone is on mute 
  • Accidentally leaving the microphone on when typing or speaking to people off camera 
  • Forgetting to send the access code to your meeting participants 
  • People struggling to know if they have connected (‘can you hear me?’) 

Top Tips: Start your meeting with a sound check; ask people to join 10 minutes before the meeting so they can make sure they are connected; invite participants to share ideas and recommendations for working remotely and using the meeting tool 

Always remember that not everyone has access to the best technology at home – some might have to use smart phones; others might have standalone webcams and microphones and others might have to make do with their laptop camera and microphone.   

What is important is that everyone is aware of the technical capabilities, limitations and comfort level of their teammates. If a team member is having connectivity problems, it is rarely their fault and as frustrating as it is, DO NOT blame them or get angry with them! 

Here are three steps to using technology: 

Step 1 – Get as reliable a source of audio as possible: Remember, poor audio will always cause more issues and frustration than poor video. If you do not have a stable connection or your bandwidth is limited, always sacrifice video for audio. Most meeting platforms like GoToMeeting have a phone in option which can be used.  

Step 2 – Add video if you can: If you can add video for a richer and more socially connected experience do so. Pop a video into a Tweet or Facebook posting – you can say more in a video than a posting. 

Step 3 – Collaboration platforms: A shared virtual workspace such as FREEDCAMP are always helpful. For many, these are obvious and no big deal, but for others new to remote working it may not be the case. 

Structuring Your Work 

You need to create boundaries because working from your home can be very challenging. Keeping work and home life separate is hard enough at the best of times, but when your office is your dining room, it can be even more difficult. 

Think of a boundary as a way of creating psychological divisions between things. Boundaries are important to help us to ‘switch-off’ from work, to relax, and to avoid overload.  

Top Tips: If you can create a ‘work space’ that is just for working; decide the times when you will work; set up daily routines such as having a break at 10.30 am, taking 20 minutes for some exercise mid-afternoon; having lunch at the same time every day; finishing work at a fixed time. 

You MUST make sure you keep in touch with team members and your line manager. Never has communication been so important. We all need feedback, encouragement and support, so play your part. 

Thinking holistically 

This crisis is changing the nature of work in a more profound way. Whilst it means being cut off from the daily work routine, but for many others, it also involves self-isolation as part of the social distancing guidelinesThis is a challenge as work is essentially a social activity. Many of the informal, ad hoc ways that we chat and communicate such as making a cup of coffee, chatting about last night’s television, and taking lunch with a colleague have goneThese types of interactions provide snippets of information that help us to work effectively. They also provide opportunities to connect with friends and to support each other. When using digital tools at work, THINK OF THE BIGGER PICTURE and not just the task.  

When setting up your remote work routines, ensure that you think about the social side of work as well. Consider how you can encourage and chat between people beyond just the workMake sure you deliberately build in time to check in and connect with team members and colleagues. DO NOT think chatting and small talk is a waste of time and non-productive – it is a vital part of the working day!   

Benefits of Remote Working

The benefits of remote working for employers include a reduction in the need for office space and workers enjoy increased flexibility and job satisfaction. The number of people working from home is rising as superfast broadband plus easy-to-access Wi-Fi spots is making connecting to office cloud-based systems easy. Check out this article: Remote Working – Three Ingredients and use remote working tools such as TeamMate 360.

Here are some top tips to make remote working for you and your team.

Top Tip #1: Wi-Fi Connections

Home data packages are relatively cheap and easy to set up. However, with millions of   free Wi-Fi spots around the country remote workers can work in cafes, libraries and almost anywhere. The main challenge is making sure they have a safe and secure connection by using a VPN.

VPN creates a secure tunnel over a public network and therefore is a great way to stay safe when using a wi-fi hotspot. If your company provides you with VPN access, you could, and should, use the VPN connection to access corporate resources, as well as create a secure browsing session. Remote access solutions such as LogMeIn can also create a secure tunnel to the second computer at home, from which you can access files or use do other computing. Alternatively, you can use a free personal VPN service like Hotspot Shield, designed specifically to protect you when using an unsecured network.

Top Tip #2: Increasing Productivity

Remote work means you can wear the clothes you feel comfortable in, sit (or slouch) in a way that makes you feel creative; you can play the music you love. According to a Canada Life survey homeworkers rank their productivity as 7.7/10, compared with 6.5/10 for office workers. Employees working in an office took on average 3.1 days of sick leave last year whilst homeworkers only took 1.8 sick days. The ‘bottom-line is remote workers are more productive than office-based workers.

Top Tip #3: Remote Workers Can Do Most Things

To make expensive international calls or to upload data-heavy files such as PowerPoints or videos to a network. Now, free international calls can be made using tools such as Skype or other video conference tools such as GoToMeetings. Cloud-based solutions have transformed remote working

Top Tip #4: You Can Work with Friends

In an office, we must interact and work with people we might not like. Working remotely means we you can work and collaborate with them without needing to spend lots of time sharing the same office. Using Skype or GoToMeetings you can connect and share screens and work together when you need to rather than all day, every day. This is the best of both worlds!

Top Tip #5: Younger Workers are Happier

Millennials know just how capable smartphones, tablets and laptops can be. They do most of their banking online, chat to friends using smartphones and buy gig tickets and flights using apps. It makes sense that they will thrive remote working too – remember that happy workers are productive workers.

Top Tip #6: Trust Your Team

When people work remotely, you need to trust them and judge them on the results they achieve and NOT the hours they work Think about it, which is more important to you – outcomes of hours worked. By all means put in place appropriate reporting processes, but do not stifle their freedom and flexibility by ‘policing’ everything the do!

Top Tip #7: Boost your Team’s Morale

Sitting under bright lights in an office all day is the number one way to ramp up stress levels. Research studies have found typically remote workers have lower stress levels , which means a reduction in the chance of heart attacks, strokes and time-off work.

Top Tip #8: Increased Choice

People respond to being given the freedom to choose. Allow people more freedom. If wearing a suit whilst working in your kitchen makes you feel more productive, then go for it. If, however, working curled up in an armchair supping a cup of coffee work works for you, so be it. Let people choose!

Top Tip #9: Exercise Breaks

Working out in an office might involve walking up the stairs, going out for lunch, going to a meeting somewhere else in the office. Remote workers might not need to go anywhere all day therefore encourage them to take mini exercise breaks. A short walk (or jog), a bike ride, taking some deep breaths outside or just stretching for a few minutes helps concentration increases blood flow and energy levels.

Top Tip #10: Book Catch Up Meetings

Humans are social beings. Make sure you check in and touch base with remote workers. Indulge in idle chat from time-to-time rather than always keeping on-line meetings as strictly business. Find opportunities to meet both face-to-face and on-line – keep in touch and support them. Make remote workers feel part of the team.



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John Moore has over 20 years experience of training and developing Managers, Coaches, Consultants and businesses. As Managing Director of Exponential Training, John researches, speaks, blogs and writes about how to improve performance. He also designs and delivers engaging, fun and interactive learning programmes. John is a Fellow Chartered Manager and has worked with managers and organisations in over 20 different countries.