We understand the pros and cons of working from home or tele-commuting. Significant amount of research has been carried out on the subject. The Third Wave of Virtual Work is an interesting read.
Though all forms of work cannot be carried out remotely, with growing concerns about traffic, commuting hours and the environment, employees are happy to tele-commute. Moreover, advances in technology have transformed the way we communicate, make decisions and collaborate at work. These days, it is pretty easy to work together on a virtual platform. Organizations save costs on physical infrastructure and employee welfare.
Yet some of us do not feel comfortable working out of small offices and home offices. Some feel under-motivated to perform at their best when they are physically removed from their colleagues. Hence, organizations are flexible in configuring their workspaces and the policies around tele-commute. Such flexibilities give rise to confusion in defining and administering HR policies. Sometimes, workers think that virtual-working will impede learning, affect career growth and attenuate their social skills.
Given this complexity, when should one promote remote-working?
How much collaboration and intuition is required at work?
Individual contributors like a writer, researcher, trainer, carpenter, plumber, electrician, draftsman, statistician, tele-caller, customer service by emails, documentation executive, accountant and so on work for long stretches of time independently. They do not need continuous guidance from their supervisor; neither do they need an interaction with another co-worker to complete the piece of output required from them. One can work from anywhere in these cases as long as one is certified for his or her proficiency in the job.
Many a times, the job involves trouble-shooting unknown issues or rarely occurring challenges. One needs to be on-site to observe the events, diagnose the problem, discuss with the others to explore solutions and develop new ideas. Though we have advanced methods such as video-conferencing, live chats and so on, in these situations, nothing compares being together and tapping into one another’s thoughts and capabilities in a seamless manner. Non-verbal communication and group dynamics play an important role in such tasks.
If you are flying a plane, driving a car, treating a patient, giving care to a child, taking order in a restaurant, playing a physical sport, receiving a guest in the hotel lobby, cooking a meal and teaching a kid, one needs to use one’s physical presence to communicate empathy, use intuition and deploy human energies. While technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics, high-speed computing and super-fast connectivity are developing fast, we haven’t yet seen machines which are able to replicate human behaviours. These roles cannot be remote-worked.
Do you have well-defined Performance Standards?
It is common knowledge but many many organizations in the world find it very difficult to define roles, structure the deliverables of a role and define the output in an objective manner. Employees remain busy in tasks and activities, but the deliverables are often not very clear to them. They think, each day is a new day and look forward to what their supervisor asks of them. They seek inputs, guidance and supervision.
The lack of clarity could be due to ignorance or assigning low priority to organization-building or inability to design a performance management system. In either case, remote-working becomes impossible. The supervisors do not trust the judgement of their direct reports and prefer to monitor them closely. In this kind of an environment, one cannot allow tele-commute.
Do you Walk the Extra Mile to Care for the Employees?
It doesn’t need a pundit to advise us that employees need to be cared for. What’s the fuss? Humans value freedom and independence, but at the same time, they need recognition, challenges and confidence of others. They need to experience the trust of their colleagues, team members and superiors. They need to connect with the purpose of their work.
Remote workers or virtual workers often are out of mind because they are out of sight. This happens when an organization has both kinds of employees in the same team. The virtual workers feel neglected; their commitment weakens and the vicious cycle of performance starts. It becomes difficult for them to recover from it. Employer brand takes a beating. Though tele-commute increases the talent pool and supposedly, increases retention, in this situation, one’s ability to attract talent goes down and productivity of such employees suffers.
The senior managers in an organization have to see the merit in tele-commute and drive the program passionately. They need to make sure that the work is designed well for individual contribution, the employees are continuously trained, work is defined well in terms of targets and performance indicators. And the remote-working employees must find an emotional connect with the organization and the work.