Webexpenses is always looking at ways in which technology can help unlock more efficient ways of working and one recent development has been remote working. So we asked one of the UK’s leading experts, Marieke Guy, to give her views on the pros and cons of remote working.
Marieke helped to develop the pioneering remote working unit at UKOLN (United Kingdom Office for Library and Information Networking) and has been working from home since 2008. She also runs a popular blog called Ramblings of a Remote Worker. Click here to read her blog
Can Remote Work for You?
Monday morning: Skype call with my line manager at 10, telecon with my UK-based distributed team at 11, lunchtime webinar on learning analytics, and catching up with my peer group on Twitter in the gaps in between. I may be a remote worker but a big part of my job involves communicating with others, so I am far from what people might call ‘remote’.
Remote (or tele or home) working is an employment understanding in which employees can complete their work from a location other than their office base, be it their home, a sub-office or even the local coffee shop.
People have been working outside the office for years but recent factors have dramatically increased up-take. Technological advancements, such as use of VPN, high-speed broadband, mobile devices and software-as-a-service, along with changes in government legislation have prompted a growth in more flexible ways of working.
It is clear that the requirements of organisations and their employees are changing. These days an increasing number of people would see themselves as knowledge workers: workers who deal with digital information and require a networked PC or device as their main tool.
Such people no need no longer be tied to a traditional office nor traditional working hours, their work is about output rather than physical presence in a specified location. As Woody Leonhard puts it in the Underground Guide to Telecommuting, “Work is becoming something you do, not a place you go to” (Click here for Reference).
I have been working as a remote worker for the University of Bath for over five years now. My initial reason for asking for this arrangement was work-life balance; I have three relatively young children and I needed to reduce my commute time to be around more for them. The arrangement suited the University who were dealing with space issues at the time and happy to sit staff off campus.
Over the years it has become clear that it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. I am a happier worker who appreciates the flexibility afforded to me: I get to drop my children off at school most days and catch many of those important school moments. My employer benefits too: I am a more productive worker who rarely takes time off sick and regularly catches up on work in the evenings.
However remote working is not without its challenges. The loss of face-to-face contact can result in feelings of isolation and lack of motivation. Rands in Response (Click here for Reference ) used the metaphor of a pond to describe how communication works in an organisation. He saw remote workers as being outside the pond, missing the ripples of information that other employees send out.
Remote workers often have to deal with the preconception of others. A quick internet search will tell you that they wear pyjamas all day, spend most of their time on Facebook and often miss phone calls because they are busy folding washing. During last summer’s Olympic games, in stark contrast to the government ‘don’t commute unless you have to’ message, Boris Johnson famously referred to home-working as a “skiver’s paradise” (Click here for Reference).
It seems most managers disagree with Boris. Remote working makes sense, for example BT has chosen to employ 70, 000 flexible workers of which 11.5% are home based (Click here for Reference). However effective remote working requires effort.
I recognised early on that if I wanted to stay motivated and avoid feeling isolated then it was up to me to ensure productive communication channels. The research-group in which I work has a high percentage of remote workers, many of whom have only ever been employed on a remote working contract.
The thinking behind this was that as employer you get by far the best candidate for the job if you allow people to apply from all over the country, rather than restricted by location. In 2009 I became the ‘remote worker champion’ within the group; in this role I actively promote remote working needs, organise weekly catch-up meetings and support my colleagues.
Successful remote working is about taking control of your working life. To do so you will need to be both self-motivated (nobody will tell you to get on with it) and disciplined (nobody will tell you to stop). A little bit of support from your employers goes a long way too.
So, you’ve heard the arguments. Is remote working for you?