The number of companies encouraging their employees to work from home, on the road, or on a customer site has skyrocketed over the last decade. It is estimated that at least 10% of U.S. workforce telecommutes. This is 3 times the 2000 level. The trend will continue to accelerate in response to ongoing globalization, customer demands, and costs of office space and commuting.
Remote workers benefit by:
Organizations benefit by::
These benefits can also translate into increased retention of employees, and better customer relations, if managed effectively.
There are some challenges of remote work for employees that must be addressed to reap the benefits. In an MIT Sloan Management Review Article entitled, "Set Up Remote Workers to Thrive," Jay Mulki, Sleura Bardhi, Felicia Lassk, and Jayne Nanavaty-Dahl, address some of the challenges of remote work. They focus on strategies that managers and organizations can use to address those challenges. This blog will focus on strategies that the remote employee can implement to overcome the challenges and leverage the benefits of remote work.
Work-Life Balance Challenges
Mulki et al note that remote workers generally work longer hours because they often work during times they would have been commuting. Remote employees may also have difficulty disengaging from work because they don't have the traditional boundaries between personal and workspace. Additionally, remote workers may work harder to prove themselves, because of lack of visibility, thus increasing their stress.
Left unaddressed, these challenges can result in employee burnout. Organizations can address these challenges by developing effective remote work strategies and policies; however, employees, will need to develop some effective remote work-life balance practices themselves.
Work-Life Balance Strategies for the Remote Employee
Social Isolation Challenges
Social Isolation Challenges
Mulki et al report that employees who feel isolated often have lower engagement and job satisfaction leading to increased turnover. Because they can't just ask the person sitting next to them, the remote worker may not know where to get answers to important questions. Limited face to face networking can also negatively impact career opportunities.
Social isolation increases with perceived absence of support from managers. This is frequently the case with overworked managers who manage many remote workers on several teams.
If the remote work is done on a customer site, the employee may "go native" and identify more with the customer's culture than one's own company culture. This can result in conflicts of interest between customer needs and company business goals.
If the primary mode of communication with headquarters is electronic (email, chat, IM, etc.), this can create difficulty in developing personal relationships and trust with co-workers or customers because electronic messaging can be less efficient and accurate because of lack of informal social discourse and visual cues.
The remote employee may not be aware of cross-functional business development opportunities across organization, because of lack of networking, and may miss out on important sales or customer service opportunities.
Social Isolation Prevention Strategies for the Employee
If you work remotely, don't be "out of site, out of mind." Take responsibility to reach back to the "mother ship" and take advantage of networking, training, mentoring, and developing career opportunities.
If you have worked remotely or have managed remote workers, please share some of the challenges that you have faced and your strategies for making remote work effective.
For more information about how organizations can manage virtual teams, see my blog, Tips for Virtual Team Effectiveness.