I very much dislike the phrase “Remote Worker”. The word “Remote” has all the wrong sort of connotations for effectiveness when an employee doesn’t have a regular office base. When we think of the term it conjures one of two mental images.
Firstly, the small device used to control a tv. That type of remote was invented because us humans are pretty lazy and welcome anything to make our lives a little easier. So rather than having to make the effort to interact with the tv itself and push its buttons, we can control it from afar.
Secondly, remote is somewhere isolated and desolate, far from civilisation. These are not the images of remote working that we want to perpetuate for our employees.
Working remotely is sold as a win-win situation. A no-brainer. The company saves on office costs, the employee gets to work at home in their pyjamas.
The statistics prove home workers are more efficient, and technological development is opening up a realm of possibilities.
However, I know from experience that managing remote workers is not a bed of roses. It’s not just a question of whether the role is suitable, it’s about the person, the business and the culture. So think carefully before jumping on the bandwagon.
“Trust” is mentioned a lot in relation to remote workers. Yes there needs to be an element of focussing on results and not worrying too much about how they are achieved. Yet too laissez faire an attitude, and the employee is cut adrift, floating further and further away.
Without regular, meaningful face to face interaction it’s easy for the remote worker to lose things like the motivation and purpose that drive their performance and commitment.
Like with the tv analogy, the remote is only going to be able to provide control for so long, until the batteries run out. When Marissa Mayer took up her post as CEO of Yahoo a few years ago and purportedly called all home workers back into the office, there was an outcry. Although the method was a little unorthodox, I can understand her position. Remote working has to take into account the needs of both the employer and the employee, but really the balance is tipped in the employer’s favour. If it’s not working for them, something has to change.
And if they’re planning a big shake up, the business needs to know its people and what they are capable of, as well as getting their buy in.
Remove just one element of that equation and the plan will be doomed to failure. I’m not suggesting more organisations need to make a Mayer-style move. Just that remote working – often seen as an organisational panacea – has a dark side. It can be liberating, but also isolating. It brings a whole new set of pressures that regular office workers don’t appreciate enough, such as the ability to bounce problems off colleagues and having a change of scenery from domestic issues. For those who dream of moving to a remote location, only to find out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, it can be a lonely existence.
Neither is remote working always the cost saver is portrayed as. The amount of work required on the part of managers to keep remote workers engaged and performing effectively can be phenomenal, and that’s a cost not considered by many. No amount of technology can replace that.
So don’t pick up the remote because you’re lazy. Do it because it’s the right solution for the business.