The Advantages & Disadvantages of Remote Working
17th November 2014
There has always been an element of remote working in workforces of all sectors. Sometimes it’s been through necessity, other times it has been through choice. But the digital revolution that started in the mid–late-1990s heralded a new age of remote working. The biggest change was that jobs requiring the worker to be at the desk on a computer could theoretically be carried out from home. As technology improved and internet and mobile phone costs dropped, this possibility changed into a real opportunity, which many companies have embraced. Indeed in 2014 the right to request flexible working from your employer was enshrined in law (with some conditions).
But has the increased uptake of remote working had a negative or a positive effect? If you’re considering it for yourself or your employees, take a look at the pros and cons.
The flexibility to work whatever hours you want to is an attractive proposition for many employees. Offices typically open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 6:00 p.m. and there are security considerations to take account of, but if an employee can work from their home office this is not a problem.
Remote working is great for parents of school-age children as it allows them to do the morning and afternoon school runs and make up the time later on. While this probably only applies to parents of children who are old enough to look after themselves while the parents work, it remains a great way for parents to stay in work. Those with caring duties can also benefit from being able to stop work when a need arises and pick up later on, too.
Avoiding rush hour
Nobody likes being stuck in a traffic jam or on an overcrowded train twice a day, but this is the reality for most commuters working 9–5 in town and city centres. Not only is it stressful for commuters themselves, it’s adding fuel costs, train fares (which are invariably hiked at peak hours) and pollution that could be avoided if they stayed at home.
Larks, owls and hummingbirds
We all have different peaks and troughs of alertness governed by our circadian rhythms. Some of us wake up raring to go at 6 a.m., others are at our most alert in the evenings, and the rest are comfortable with working evenly before and after midday or have several peaks and troughs per day – and maybe a siesta. Employers can get the most of their staff if they allow them to work when they’re most alert, and that usually means working from home.
Saves company money
While their salaries might be the same, allowing staff to work from home saves on heating, security, electricity, parking spaces, coffee and all sorts of surprising expenditures.
The office can be a convivial place, where friendships are formed and post-work social groups can help people to feel more included. Those who work away from the office can feel isolated from all that and colleagues can view them as “outsiders” who aren’t part of the company structure. While many employees are quite happy to live without the work social scene and the banter, there’s a good number who never warm to working away from the rest of the office.
While you wouldn’t grant remote working to employees you didn’t completely trust, you still need to pay some attention to the number of hours they are working. The practices of using webcams and monitoring computer desktops are not unheard of and although they partly emulate the situation in an open office, some people feel uncomfortable with this level of monitoring. However it is necessary to have at least some proof that the claimed hours are being worked – there are cases of remote workers putting in a fraction of the hours they claim for, or even running other businesses on the side whilst being paid by an employer.
Separating home and work
Some people need that office environment to give them a kick into action. It could be the murmur of the colleagues, the tapping of the keyboards or simply the fact that they know they are there to work, but it’s the only way they can get to work. For these people, it’s a matter of splitting the home life from the work life and having a physical boundary between the two that’s the problem. They can’t get out of bed (or, for that matter, stay in bed) and start work without that journey to the other side.
If it’s difficult to get a member of staff motivated to work in the office, it’s going to be even trickier getting them to work from home. They might end up putting the hours in but it can be half-hearted and with random hours that make it difficult for colleagues to get in touch with them.
You’d never watch a bit of daytime TV or pop to the local café from your office desk, but this is all too easy for the unmonitored remote worker to do. Just a quick check of the news headlines, a dip into Bargain Hunt or an espresso round the corner can soon turn into an hour without productivity that will have to be made up later. While there’s a case for taking a little time off at unconventional hours (see larks, owls and hummingbirds above), it’s when all-too-accessible distractions can be reached willy-nilly that problems can start.