What are the key issues with remote work?


📱 If your product is digital you can easily go remote, it is harder when you’re working with atoms.

🥑 Finding a right work-life integration is a key benefit of remote work that could become a challenge if not handled properly.

🎯 Team building is a challenge for any new company, particularly challenging for a remote team.

🌎 Be aware of team dynamics and potential feelings of isolation, health should always come first.

Before you design a new business around a global workforce that is operating remotely or transfer an existing business to a remote workforce, there are some important questions.  A few key issues define a successful implementation and they all must be considered. Some of them are part of the design and some are ongoing issues for the health of the team, but all have to be considered up front. These are:

  • When is remote work appropriate for a company?
  • How do employees establish a healthy work / life integration?
  • How do we ensure a strong team dynamic across remote locations?

These seem like difficult questions to answer, and indeed there is no one single right answer for every company and every situation.  There are many guides to help you arrive at the answers which work for your immediate situation, however, and a few practical solutions.

But first, there is one key question that needs to be answered – why should you consider developing a remote global workforce?

Why go remote?

Before discussing whether remote work is right for your company, it’s important to understand the potential benefits. Careful attention paid to the main consideration can deliver great results if remote work is a good fit for your company and properly implemented.

For example, medical billing consultant MediRevv implemented a work from home project and carefully monitored the results. After one year, they published a report at the end of 2017 on their experience which was generally quite positive. They found a 5.3% increase in productivity and a 1.2% increase in quality, based on predetermined measurements.  

Their advice for a company which wants to transition to remote workforce highlighted these key items:

  • Pilot the remote work with high performers
  • Have performance metrics in place to judge success
  • Keep in touch with technology issues
  • Maintain transparency
  • Continuously improve

With their experience in mind, these are the questions you should be asking about your own business.

When is remote work appropriate?

Generally speaking, if your product is digital you can indeed go remote. When there is a physical product produced, such as a restaurant or a machine shop, it will be difficult to have employees who are not in the same space sharing the experience.

That’s not to say it’s impossible, as demonstrated by the robot delivery system Kiwi Campus.  In that case, when robots become stuck a driver can take over from anywhere in the world. There are times when you can indeed have a global workforce even with a physical product, but it takes vision and dedication to make it work.

A company is much more than its product, however.  Before you make the decision to go remote you have to consider your management style.  If you value performance or mission-based methods of managing employees a remote system can work well.  Managers who need to see their employees at their stations to judge productivity will never be satisfied with remote work, particularly a global workforce which is in different time zones.

Similarly, communication styles play an important role.  If knowledge can be shared effectively in writing, remote work is relatively seamless. A need for verbal communication makes remote work much more challenging, particularly across language and schedule changes.  If your employees can or must take the time to communicate in writing, such as in computer code, remote work can be successful.

Lastly, your team has to be comfortable with the technology that it has and how to use it.  This was borne out in the case study presented above.

How do employees establish a work / life integration?

There is nothing more important to successful remote work than making sure that the right integration is achieved. Every employee needs a space away from distractions of family so that they can do their work.  On the other side, they need to be able to get away from it so that they do not burn out.

This is not just a question of maintenance, but a factor which has to be built into the development of any global workforce from the very start.  Do your employees need an office away from home to perform appropriately?  Do you have a performance-based system that includes their feedback on a regular basis?  These considerations need to be a part of any remote work system from the start.

It is critical that every manager of a remote work team have the processes in place to measure and check in for appropriate feedback on the right way to integrate work and the rest of their employees lives. When this is implemented at the start, the quality of the feedback is higher and the overall success of the remote global workforce is assured.

How does the team fare in remote work?

Team building is a challenge for any new company.  This is especially true for companies that have a remote global workforce that does not have physical contact.  It is very important that this is considered from the very start of any remote operation.

One study of 1,100 workers published in the Harvard Business Review found that remote workers often feel isolated and “left out” of the company and its daily operations.  This came about because special attention was not paid to including them and making them feel as though they were, in fact, part of a team despite being in remote locations.

The study recommended that an active program was necessary to prevent isolation, including:

  • Check in with workers on a regular basis.
  • Use video calls when possible.
  • Develop clear goals and expectations.
  • Be available to employees.
  • Make good use of technology.

In short, it’s important to be aware of this problem and build it into the expectations of employees from the very start.  By paying attention to both the team dynamic and the personal feelings of employees with a transparent and open line of communication, the problems associated with remote work can be avoided.

Bringing it together

Remote work does have unique issues, especially for a global workforce. There are situations when remote work is simply not appropriate based on the product, management style, or communications needs of a company.  It is critical to provide the resources necessary for the team to have an appropriate balance between their work and personal life. It is also very important to be aware of team dynamics and potential feelings of isolation.

When making the decision to go remote, all of these need to be considered.  There are clear benefits to remote work for many companies if the global workforce is properly implemented, outfitted, and maintained.

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