Working remote is high in demand. We are seeing it priority in requests from applicants, and with the economy as seeker-friendly as it is, telecommuting has become a benefit companies are matching. Studies show that one of the leading reasons employees leave for a new company is to accept an opportunity to work remote. For those who have it, it’s “necessary”, for those who want it, it’s a step towards freedom from “the man”, and for those who don’t agree with it, it’s “a distraction”. Here’s what we do know:
Both leaders and team members working remotely understand that telecommuting benefits outweigh the challenges. The challenges, however, are not easy, and are often not what is expected. Why haven’t we heard more about the challenges? We are only now discovering them. Like much of technology, we are jumping into telecommuting with both feet before we have the chance to study how it affects psychology, communication, and behavior. With technology moving as quickly as it does, reactive problem solving is simply the nature of the game.
Before delivering the bad, we can discuss the good.Factors that satisfy both the employer and the employee are possible, and there are many. Autonomy, trust, less unplanned interruption, and no commute; thus more gets done, and you are more likely to pick up an extra task or two after 5 PM. Less micromanaging (and explicit hierarchy) does wonders for moral, and allowing a flexible schedule is more suitable for personal life balance. This holistic approach to a career shows an employee that the company is interested in more than their output, but also how they benefit from the role. It’s no surprise that we see great quality and loyalty in many employees telecommuting – mutual appreciation.
So, what’s the trouble? Counter to the stereotype, less productivity is not the greatest issue in working remote (in fact productivity increases along with hours worked). The biggest hit companies are taking is in communication. (We’ve seen this in the past when social media was exposed for not meeting our human need for deep connection; its effect on mental health.) Communication is not just how well spoken you are. Communication is your ability to deliver with words and with your body language, and also accounts for your skill in listening to another’s words and body language. Taking it one step further, good communication requires empathy, and if you’re not able to do your part in listening in order to put yourself in your colleagues shoes, the two of you are likely going to be talking in circles.
Now, not being in front of someone then poses a challenge. If you cannot see their actions and hear their tone of voice, the words you interpret will be tough to understand. What’s the big deal? Humans have a knack for story mapping in their heads. So missing the communication mark a couple times can be OK, but when your team is regularly misunderstanding your request, your intention, or your emotional intelligence, big problems surface in relationships.
The industry has provided for us tools to improve – video meeting platforms, remote working spaces, offsite team collab spaces (there is a time and a place for in-person work), etc. Because the lost art of good communication is the biggest hiccup we see, make an effort to do these few things: Talk with your supervisor first. Setting boundaries before you start can help to avoid misaligned expectations. It is likely your boss will want to set boundaries as well- especially as you are building trust. Do this. You’ll both respect one another’s needs, and avoid frustrations later along. Building trust amongst your colleagues is the second key. Case in-point: because your not being monitored, that delayed response in the meeting can be seen as you not paying attention, and that short reply can come across as snarky. Or not: if you take the time to know your team, they’ll assume that you were stuck on mute and were typing, not annoyed, when you said “fine”. Finally, old fashioned teamwork: help eachother out. Remember that you are working remote, not alone. So, pick-up an admin task, or round off something that you could have passed along, and it will prove more than a simple thank you. Actions speak louder than words, and because they can’t see you, work to make team collaboration as enjoyable possible – the extra effort will offer you cushion for whatever else is lost in translation.
So long as you go in prepared, telecommuting will be a win for everyone involved.