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Working Remotely: The Challenges

Rise of the Remote WorkerWorking Remotely

Communication technologies have transformed the possibilities for the ways we work over the last two or three decades. For many of us long gone are the days when the only way to access the information and knowledge we need to do our jobs was to travel to ‘the office’, where filing cabinets, telephones and the typing pool could all be accessed. No longer are memos carried between offices by the post boy. Digital and mobile technologies are consigning this way of working to the past.

Today it’s perfectly possible for many of us to do our jobs from home, from a hotel room, even from 30,000 feet above the Atlantic. Working remotely has become part of a large – and fast growing – number of people’s lives. If we want to thrive as a remote worker it is vital that we think about what these changes mean for our well-being, productivity and career prospects. We need to be prepared to adapt our habits to make the most of the opportunities working remotely offers, whilst managing the new challenges it presents.

Splendid Isolation?

Working remotely often means working alone. Without the social interaction afforded by the bustling office some people can become demotivated or even suffer from mood disorders and depression. Obviously this varies hugely from person to person, with some people relishing the peace and quiet or opportunities to develop relationships outside of work, for example with neighbours they would otherwise rarely see.

Many people starting out as remote workers worry about the same thing: lack of structure. Without the threat of getting in trouble for being late or the social pressure to get on with your job, perhaps you’ll become unproductive and lazy. Of course this is a possibility, but as long as you make an effort to set yourself some rules and stick to them they soon becomes habit. The lack of structure can also be a huge benefit. If you work better early in the morning or late at night you can work then – your ‘prime time’ – and leave simple admin tasks for your less productive hours. This way you’ll find you can do much more work in three or four hours working alone than in a whole day if you’re forced to fit with a 9-5 pattern that doesn’t suit your natural rhythms.

From a career point of view, the lack of regular face-to-face contact with colleagues can lead to a sense of being invisible or forgotten. Without astute political skills and a structured, strategic approach to maintaining your profile it is easier for remote workers to be overlooked or outmaneuvered by colleagues working in close physical proximity. However, working remotely also offers opportunities to cultivate key relationships in new ways, and with a wider variety of contacts than are available within the confines of the office building. Remote workers need to take control of this aspect of their working life to avoid slipping off the radar.

Linked to this, another potentially tricky area for remote workers is the changed dynamic between managers and their teams. Without the ability constantly to supervise their workers many managers feel like they are powerless to prevent overruns, to manage quality or to coordinate team members. There’s also an issue with building and maintaining morale and team spirit. Sometimes the electronic media we use seem to sap the humanity out of our interactions, making relationship building difficult and rather utilitarian. Managing remote workers may appear to be a new challenge, but many of the old rules of management apply here too, albeit in slightly altered form. Objective setting and feedback are vital tools to any manager, and this is especially true when managing someone remotely. Without constant oversight of a team member’s work process, managers of those working remotely need to focus on outcomes and providing support. Two-way feedback helps keep people accountable and give them an opportunity to discuss problems they are facing in a healthy and open way.

Learning to Work Remotely

Libero Learning provides a range of virtual training courses designed to support those working in unstructured non-office environments. These 90 minute sessions, facilitated live by experienced trainers (and remote workers) can be attended from anywhere you can get access to an internet ready computer – ideal for remote workers who can’t get to the office for a classroom training course.

For a list of our remote working virtual training sessions, please click here.