The down side of remote working

Five big disadvantages of working from home and how you can adapt to the ‘new normal’

In an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19, millions of Australians have shifted their work to home. The benefits of remote working have been widely reported: zero commute, tax deductions, and the freedom to wear what you want (provided you turn your camera off). Remote working can also provide parents and caregivers with the flexibility required to tend to their responsibilities. 

But there’s another side to the coin. 

Here are five reasons a fully remote workforce isn’t quite so desirable. Plus, when it’s time to go back to the office, we’ve got some helpful tips to help you adjust to the ‘new normal.’

1. It can be detrimental to a collaborative work culture.

Face-to-face interaction is invaluable in building an inspiring, supportive, and truly collaborative work culture. And while video conferencing can be a pragmatic substitute, it’s not a perfect replacement. It’s difficult to feel part of a cohesive team when most of the day is spent working independently and any communication is on screen. This can have a detrimental impact on the culture that many companies have worked so hard to cultivate.

2. It isn’t easy to manage accountability.

From a managerial perspective, it’s often much harder to monitor and evaluate the productivity of remote workers. It’s no longer possible to keep a physical eye on how employees work, what they’re spending their time on, or when they’re clocking in or out. Some leaders may feel the need to overcompensate for this by micromanaging their staff — perhaps by enforcing frequent video check-ins or the use of time-tracking tools — which can cause further frustrations among the team too.

3. It can be very isolating.

From after-work drinks to discussing last night’s TV around the water cooler, the office environment provides countless opportunities to socialise. This interaction is an important part of the workplace and is inevitably lost when most of the staff work remotely. For those sitting at home all day, working remotely can greatly increase the probability of feeling lonely and isolated.

4. It’s harder to separate work life and home life.

While some remote employees may use their newfound independence to put in fewer hours, many diligent employees will find it hard to log off. When you don’t have the physical separation of going to and from the office, your work time can easily blur into your home time. Some staff may feel like they’re always at work and unable to switch off from work demands, which can lead to stress and an increased risk of burnout.

5. Technical issues are frequent and difficult to solve.

From poor WiFi connectivity to an update gone wrong, most of us will have encountered some technical issues over the course of working from home. And while some can be merely irritating, others — such as hardware problems, data loss, or security breaches — can grind productivity to a halt. What’s more, remote workers can’t call on an in-house IT team to sort out their problems, leaving them no recourse but to follow often cryptic instructions over phone or email.

Three top tips for working in the ‘new normal’

  • Try to maximise office time for aspects of working life you might have missed out on during remote working, such as face-to-face collaboration, networking, and team building. Check in with colleagues — at a safe distance — and take the time to rebuild relationships that might have become distant. Doing so can help to reinforce team spirit and restore a supportive and sociable work culture.
  • Don’t forget what you’ve learned at home. Chances are you’ve had to adapt to new software and other agile ways of working over the last few months. Instead of leaving them at home, try integrating them into the workplace — you might be surprised at how video conferencing and digital collaboration tools can improve efficiency in your traditional office role.
  • Upgrade your IT. The pandemic has irreversibly changed the way we work, and it’s likely that remote working is here to stay in some form or other. So if the recent shift toward working from home has exposed any gaps or flaws in your IT infrastructure, now is the time to fix them.

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