Remote Work – What Does It Really Mean?
This article has been updated for 2021.
In their February 2018 report, freelancing website company Upwork released the results of its annual workforce survey. The report examined current hiring practices of over 1,000 US managers, and it showed that 55 percent agree that remote work has become more commonplace as compared to three years ago. Two years later, remote work has become many teams’ best option. in 2021, many managers had no choice but to establish a remote team when COVID-19 required office buildings to shut down and employees to work from home if they could. Though before the pandemic many companies intended to expand their remote workforce, the shutdown forced even more teams to do that.
Before COVID-19, many people didn’t understand what remote work meant. Some didn’t realize the distinction between a person who has the flexibility to work from home a day or two a week and a team that is fully, functionally remote. Some full-time employees work occasionally from home so that they can more easily attend doctors’ appointments or PTA meetings, for example. Some may prefer the occasional quiet of home for greater focus and distance from usual office distractions. Supportive companies allow their workers to better manage their schedules by working from home every once in a while.
However, these workers do go to the office regularly and consider it their home base. They may not have a dedicated home office space since they don’t spend the majority of their work time there. This setup does not constitute a true remote work situation or remote team.
These employees’ work setup at home may not optimized to allow them to deliver the same level of productivity. For example, they may lack a dedicated workspace, fast and reliable internet connection, or even childcare.
A remote team only by name
Some companies call themselves a remote team without providing the means to be one. For instance, if a valuable employee needs to move, but the company wants to keep the person, he or she is allowed to stay with the team but work remotely.
This company does not give employees resources to be successful while working remotely. This can mean they don’t make provisions for employees to all access meetings or don’t have good enough technology for collaboration. The video conferencing software does not work well or just isn’t utilized by the team. This employee might be left out of meetings or important discussions and planning. Sometimes, these team situations happen because employees have to stay remote for a period of time but aren’t prepared for it.
A true remote team
In their 2020 workforce report, Upwork compared findings from managers about remote work, as well as other workplace statistics. They compared data from November 2019 and April 2020 (the latter date being when workplace shutdowns were at their peak and many full time employees were remote) to see not only how successful remote work had been, but also its main challenges. Managers found that their employees had a much-decreased commute and a more flexible schedule through remote work. 62 percent of managers who were polled in Upwork’s survey believe their workforce will become more remote. Though the November 2019 survey showed that many managers already expected some of their employees to make that shift, COVID-19 accelerated it.
56 percent of managers have also seen remote work exceed their previous expectations. The pandemic mitigated many of the misconceptions that people have about remote work. With the right tools, a team can be successful while working from home (or the local coffee shop or coworking space, but COVID-19 didn’t allow for those, either). However, that success requires managers to be proactive in preparing a remote workforce. If everyone can easily work outside the office when needed, that flexibility will allow the team to operate successfully with some remote members and some in-office. Equal access to communication channels and company resources, regardless of workplace, will allow the company to have a successful hybrid team. For a team to succeed while working remotely, they need:
- Virtual meetings that everyone can attend with equal ease
- A set schedule
- A private, designated office area or workspace
- A secure Wi-Fi network and good connection
- Managerial support and understanding
Characteristics of a true remote team
Employees of a true remote company make specific adaptations so that their environment is more pleasing and equally professional, just like any other co-located office. Lauren Moon of Trello detailed work processes that every remote team should implement to be successful in her 2018 article de-stigmatizing remote work. For example, communication occurs digitally in open channels. Anyone, at any time, can participate in the decision making process. People who are not present in the office are not left out of decision making. During meetings, all members are visible on their video screens. Also, employees have regular check-ins with their managers for clear expectations and deadlines.
Remote work is work
Some companies hurriedly declare that remote work is not efficient for them after haphazardly trying it with a few employees for a short period in a half-hearted manner. To truly make it work, companies must adopt policies that require regular check-ins and expectation discussions with employees.
At the same time, remote workers must be equipped to have a digital communication channel capable of recording communications and decisions in a transparent way. Furthermore, financial means must be provided to enable them to upgrade their home internet connection that is fast enough for video calls.
Remote work is still work, only it happens in locations other than the standard office. So, when some people discredit remote work, it is possible that what they experienced negatively is not the same remote work wherein all stakeholders—company, managers, and employees alike—give their best to accommodate and support the structure for the success of everybody.