Is Remote Work About to Become More Difficult?
One year ago, companies worldwide pivoted to working remotely as lockdowns and a global pandemic forced them to adapt their operations. Since then, many companies have announced they would become remote-first or continue to allow employees to work remotely in a hybrid working arrangement.
The statistics indicate that it could be here to stay, with 74% of companies expected to shift some of their employees to remote work permanently, according to Gartner. The benefits seem clear: increased productivity, shorter or non-existent commutes, flexibility for travel, and other hobbies. However, remote work has not been without its challenges.
Some companies may have fully embraced the remote work phenomenon with open arms. Others have found difficulty adapting to working from home or might not have expected to be doing so for such an extended period. We spoke to experts to understand the extent of the challenges yet to be experienced due to remote work.
Revisiting the Benefits of Remote Work
Before touching on the challenges of remote work, it’s important to put the benefits into perspective.
- Shorter Meetings: For many companies, spending time in the office involved many meetings that went on for extended periods. While Zoom meetings are still prevalent in the remote work environment, the frequency is much different. “I find meetings to be much more concise and beneficial given the shift to remote working," said Charlie Wright, head of marketing at Norwich, England-based Epos Now. "People cut straight to the point of conversation, which makes meetings run in a much more productive manner.”
- Less Office Politics: In addition to fewer meetings, many employees are also benefiting from the reduction in office politics. Oded Zehavi, co-founder and CEO of New York-based Mesh Payments said senior employees in particular have become more productive due to these changes. “Their effectiveness has increased as the level of potential politics has decreased, while the level of enablement has increased,” he said.
- Increased Productivity: With shorter commutes and fewer distractions from others in the workplace, some employees have become more productive. Even employees who face distractions at home may also report more productivity due to more flexible work hours.
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The Challenges of Remote Work
Despite the documented benefits of remote work, there are still challenges that need to be overcome, such as:
- Blurred Work and Personal Lives: Lockdowns and work from home didn’t only affect those with jobs but students as well. Consequently, many parents have had to juggle more responsibilities, managing their children who would usually be at school and still having to deal with deadlines and meetings at work.
- Communication: Communication between employees isn’t the same in the current virtual world and sometimes things get lost in translation. “Having to solely base relationships via Slack or virtual meetings makes misunderstandings much easier to happen,” said Marja Verbon, founder and COO of London-based career advice company jump.work.
- Team Camaraderie: Another issue is that with more people working at home, the previous opportunities for non-work-related communication have dwindled. For Verbon, this change in routine has meant its own set of challenges. “I miss going to the office. I want to get back to my old routine and see/work with my colleagues again,” she said.
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Why Remote Work Will Become Harder
As we enter the second year of the pandemic and things slowly return to more normal conditions, it's clear the remote work honeymoon period is over. Additional challenges remain for organizations looking to retain remote work flexibility.
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In Zehavi's industry, that may mean unequal access to important groups such as the finance team.
“Historically, an employee was able to physically meet with the finance team to discuss their needs," he said. "Working remotely has made this more challenging, and both sides are now faced with the situation that they need to adapt processes to keep the same standard of open communication even though the employee is working remotely."
This also speaks to the unequal opportunities between in-office or hybrid and remote-only employees when some companies return to the office. Remote employees were once thought to be less productive or not quite part of the team in the same way. Now things are different, but those in-office could end up with more face time with managers, resulting in an uneven distribution of assignments and opportunities.
That's not to mention the compensation complexity. Salaries are often based on the cost of living in a particular town, state, city or country. With more employees scattered across different locations, some employees may find themselves unable to receive the same salary structure because they changed location.
The reality is that work has changed in the last year and many companies are still considering the model they will adopt for the future. Ultimately, the ability to make remote work easier or harder will come down to the policies individual companies implement and their plans to overcome challenges.