If you’re managing a team or running your own business, chances are you’ve heard plenty of experts extoll the virtues of remote work.
Working via telepresence allows you to cut costs since you don’t have to use as much office space to collaborate, and the freedom afforded by being able to work from wherever brings benefits for you and your staff alike, such as:
- Improved work-life balance for staff
- Increased well-being and job satisfaction
- Greater efficiency and productivity
- An incentive for top talent to work for your business
- Increased opportunity and inclusivity for individuals with disabilities, limited access to transportation, and other diverse groups
This is all assuming, however, that you’ve successfully made the transition to a remote or hybrid workforce and your industry is one that is well-suited for remote work.
As you may have guessed, that’s not always the case, and there are some instances where attempting a switch to remote work can hold your business back. The following will call attention to potential drawbacks that may come with remote work, situations where it’s less-than-ideal, and how you can mitigate the deficiencies in remote working situations that might be impeding your business’ ability to thrive.
Where Remote Work May Not Work
Though remote working offers benefits to certain businesses, it isn’t always the right fit for every industry. According to this study from the American Journal of Public Health, only 25% (about 35.6 million) workers in the United States are employed in fields where working from home is feasible. The other 75% rely too heavily on in-person interaction to work from home (a fact that was made obvious during the height of the recent pandemic).
Areas where remote work would be challenging to implement most often include a need for public interaction, like health care, education, food services, and retail. Public interaction isn’t necessarily a requirement for making an industry a “bad fit” for remote work, though, as the many jobs in construction, production, and manufacturing will also attest.
Though some specifics vary, what does seem to link the occupations where remote working is a poor option is that they require a degree of physical interaction beyond what the digital world can provide and favor collaborative efficiency over personal productivity.
If your business falls into this category, having the entire team work from home won’t be an option. Some management and admin roles might still be appropriate for the remote option, though, so you’ll want to look into hybrid models that offer the best of both worlds.
The Challenges of Working Remotely
And what of industries where remote work is a good fit, you may wonder? Many jobs in finance, software development, marketing, and other white-collar industries are prime candidates for telework. Even with these roles, though, there are challenges you might face right off the bat with your remote onboarding process.
You might find it difficult, for instance, to track down the right equipment for your team if this is your first foray into the world of working remotely. In such a situation, they may not feel well supported as your team moves to remote work and gets off to a slow start.
Similarly, you may not have a handle on properly managing and monitoring remote workers, leading to an initial period of miscommunication and low productivity.
Let’s say you’re able to make it through the remote work transition with only a few hiccups, though. There are still potential drawbacks that your team will need to contend with, including the following:
Remote Work Can Be Isolating
When you’re working remotely, you’re essentially working alone. For some, this is a godsend, as the relative lack of social interaction frees them up to concentrate almost solely on their work responsibilities. For more extroverted employees, though, it can get lonely.
Loneliness, in turn, can wreak havoc on an employee’s ability to work. Isolated employees don’t feel as connected to their work or your organization. Over time, this typically develops into a lack of effort and a sharp decline in productivity. Eventually, lonely employees are prone to stop working altogether and may seek employment elsewhere.
Might Be Harder to Delegate Responsibilities
Teams work best when everyone understands their responsibilities. However, the nature of remote work can see some conversations lost in translation and make it more difficult for you to delegate responsibilities to your employees.
In an office environment, you can easily walk over to an employee’s desk, drop off some work, explain a few details, and be on your way. However, in an all-digital environment, unless you’ve got some thorough procedures in place, such an interaction is impossible.
Sure, you can send emails, direct messages, etc., but transmitting information is always going to have that extra layer of complication. There’s a higher likelihood of details getting confused and employees not knowing exactly what to do without some back and forth.
Collaboration May Be Stifled
Remember those spontaneous conversations that would spring up between employees around the office? Those will be infrequent once you switch to a remote setup. That might seem inconsequential, but this is just one of the ways in which working apart may start to chip away at your team’s ability to collaborate.
Working remotely robs your team of these smaller interactions, along with beneficial communication clues that come along with working side by side. Seasoned teams can work around these hurdles, but working together can be a chore when you’re just starting out.
You Might Take a Hit to Productivity
It’s not just your lonely employees that might be susceptible to reductions in productivity. Even workers who are just fine with isolation may still have distractions around their home that pull them away from work. Others might have difficulty motivating themselves while they’re isolated, and will fall into the habit of unintentionally slacking.
If you have team members who reside in small living spaces without a dedicated office space, the chance for distractions increases. They might even have a more challenging time separating work time from home time, with each bleeding into the other and once-simple tasks taking longer to complete than they did when you were all working in the office. If that’s the case, ensure you constantly and consistently impress best remote-work practices on them to help ease the situation.
It Could Be Easier for Conflicts to Brew
The specter of poor communication may strike yet again in the form of interpersonal conflict. Without those subtle cues that are available in a face-to-face conversation, it becomes easier to misinterpret what your co-workers are trying to say.
A simple interaction could get blown into something much larger in someone’s mind, and without an easy way to sort that out, it can continue to snowball until it bubbles over in a way that disrupts the team’s ability to work together.
Even taking advantage of video conferencing solutions can’t solve this problem entirely, so you’ll have to encourage your team to be precise about their word choices and proactive in hashing out any perceived issues so that you can all get along.
There May Be New Security Concerns to Deal With
When your team is working remotely, it’s going to be more difficult to enforce proper cybersecurity protocols. This could potentially open your business up to various cyberthreats, such as malware, phishing attempts, and other social engineering attacks.
Unfortunately, working from home can cause your less vigilant employees to become even more lax about security. They may take to sharing passwords and ignoring other basic security procedures in the interest of time and convenience, which means you’ll need to redouble your efforts to have your remote team play by the rules.
Morale May Falter
As these smaller challenges add up, they might start to demoralize your entire staff. If employees do not trust the organization and lack the confidence that the leadership has its hands on the wheel, they are not likely to do their best.
Because of this, you’ll need to meet the potential challenges of remote work head-on, and lay the groundwork for a remote team that can effortlessly support your business vision.
Making Remote Work Mesh With Your Business Goals
If you want to use the power of remote work to its fullest potential, you’ll need to work hard to implement it properly. Starting off on the right foot is important, which means you’ll want to lay down the ground rules for remote working and employee responsibilities from the get-go, ideally in the form of a documented employee handbook.
From there, it’ll be a matter of minimizing the potential drawbacks associated with remote work and maximizing the potential benefits. For example, remote working can make it difficult for your team to communicate. Therefore, you’ll need to change your approach when you’re working out how to collaborate effectively.
You may have to embrace new technologies, like IoT devices, that make it easier for your team to work together and share information. You might even have to adapt your leadership style to make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction. With this (and almost every other) remote working hurdle, however, a solution will help you surmount it.
Finally, be sure to involve your team in the process of refining your remote working procedures and work collaboratively to find the solutions to whatever drawbacks might be ailing your program. By including them in the outcome, you can show that you are invested in their success — making them more likely to help you weather whatever storms lie ahead.