The Remote Working Revolution

Research-backed rules for a solid work-from-home policy

One of the first known uses of the term “digital nomad” was in a 1997 book of the same name. Today, digital nomadism, or remote working, is both a lifestyle and a career option legitimized by freelancers and consultants.

In the time of COVID-19, millions of people across the world are taking work home under nationwide lockdowns. Last week, Microsoft Teams reportedly crashed because of a surge in the number of Europeans working from home.

Remote working, from home or elsewhere, packs a bunch of perks for businesses. It’s a great way to recruit diverse talent, make cost reductions, optimize for disruptions such as the global pandemic, and be environmentally considerate. Here are some tested ways to make work-from-home (WFH) work for you.

  1. Remote working is not a one-size-fits-all model. A study on work-home boundaries identified a spectrum of workers in terms of how they delineate work-home boundaries.

On one end of this spectrum are Segmenters, who like to keep home and work separate, and on the other are Integrators, who prefer to mix the two.

Keep your WFH policy mindful of this spectrum, and flexible enough to accommodate it. You do not want boundary violations or feelings of isolation getting in the way of accomplishing goals.

Set clear expectations and allow employees to do the same, and respect their space when they choose to unplug.

  1. This study on Building Virtual Intelligence points out that cognitive ability depends a lot on the context in which it is applied. Homes are familiar environments, and it’s easy to slip into ennui despite a steadily-increasing workload.

Based on the study’s findings, here are a few ways to make the home environment a WFH-friendly place for your employees:

  • Recognize that virtual work is different from traditional methods. Incorporate it into your planning as well as your outreach by being adaptable and resourceful.
  • Plan appropriately for the virtual workspace–put relevant processes in place rather than sending your workforce a barrage of follow ups.
  • Co-monitor and co-evaluate together. Making accountability a two-way channel is a great way to build trust, and mitigate the psychological effects of social distancing.
  1. Remote working demands autonomy, but you must still lead from the front. Future of Work’s study on Managing A Remote Workforce strongly suggests thinking strategically for seamless work function.
  • Establish clear goals and mandates that are linked to the business outcome, and maintain employee performance goals. People work better when they see what they are working towards.
  • Know your employees–their abilities, track records, and training needs.
  • Determine the non-negotiables, such as communication norms and working hours.
  1. Remote working is at a spatial disadvantage. Responses are not received in real-time, and evaluating nonverbal cues is complicated (unless the team decides to spend the whole day on video conference).

A study titled Distance Matters uses a simple case in point of the physical dimension of work- “the group wheeled their chairs to a particular place and focused their discussion on the ideas that were spatially clustered at that location.”

Leverage technology the best you can to combat this problem. Productivity tools such as Asana and Trello, communications tech such as Slack and Zoom, and even Teooh’s avatar based virtual conferencing technology are some effective options.

  1. Keep your team’s socio-emotional needs in mind. This study by Kelley School of Business highlights simple tactics such as adjusting deadlines, scheduling video check-ins, or creating a virtual breakroom for team members to have free conversation.

The entire work-from-home structure is based on two-way trust. Follow an open-door policy just as you would in a brick-and-mortar office, encourage information and knowledge sharing, and don’t hesitate to contribute feedback where needed.

The important thing is to stay flexible. Remote workers are faced with several distractions when they work from home, but the opportunities to multitask and upskill are also many. Aim to create a conducive space for functions and procedures to work seamlessly, and the result is a dynamic environment where workers grow personally and professionally.

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