Remote Work: The challenges today and tomorrow

What was once a luxury or a perk has now become the bane of optimal function. Remote work has been adopted as the norm across the planet, but its efficacy isn’t unanimously agreed upon. When asked about it, James  Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. said, “I don’t know the future better than anyone else. I think going back to work is a good thing. I think there are negatives to working from home. We’ve seen productivity drop in certain jobs and alienation go up in certain things. So, we want to get back to work in a safe way.”

With productivity in question, innovation is soon to follow, or so believes Ellen  Kullman, CEO of Carbon Inc. “What I worry about the most is innovation. Innovation is hard to schedule—it’s impossible to schedule,” she said, raising concerns about remote working. While its adoption was a timely and obvious response to the pandemic, it doesn’t seem sustainable as the primary option in the long run. The notion of a perpetual remote working model has several concerning drawbacks. Right from the basic problems of a disorganized workforce and work environment to more complex psychological  issues, it is clear that remote working can undermine progress.

But by how much? What are the common areas of concern? Who’s most affected—the organisation or the employee? The answers to all these questions shed light on the challenges of remote working. To delve deeper into the current roadblocks of the remote working model and the foreseeable slippery slopes further down this path, read on.

 

Rising instances of impostor  syndrome

With a Gartner CFO survey revealing that 74% of companies are thinking about the permanent shift to a remote working model, problems like impostor syndrome are definitely something to be aware of. Impostor syndrome is when an employee feels inadequate or undeserving of success even if the task at hand is being met. Such a problem thrives when an employee is isolated, which is what remote working usually entails.

There are 5 main types of the syndrome that affects employees, especially those who are new to remote working.

1. The perfectionist:

Those that believe that a task must be completed perfectly or it’s no good. This creates a fear of imperfections, leading to procrastination. The solution here is a simple credo, ‘Don’t get it perfect – just get it done’.

2. The superhero: 

High-achievers push themselves too hard, ultimately resulting in a burn out. Effort is devoted to being the best colleague, family member and more, all within the confines of 24 hours. The solution here is a joint effort of the employee and employer. The former must identify their own limits and recognise that they are being spread too thin, and the latter must ask the question, ‘Is it fair to demand work from a superhero just because they can?’

3. The natural genius: 

This is an employee who believes any type of struggle is a failure. If it isn’t instantaneously understood, applied and mastered, they feel like an impostor. The solution here is to adopt a growth mindset. Employees must realise that struggle doesn’t mean incapability.

4. The soloist:

These employees feel the need to accomplish tasks alone and that asking for help is a failure. In a remote work situation, this is not only worsened, but can greatly impact quality of work too. The solution here is to encourage collaboration and communication.

5. The expert: 

These are employees who feel unqualified to begin a task if they don’t feel like they have every shred of information about it. These employees often talk themselves out of opportunities if they feel underqualified. The solution here can be to adopt just-in-time learning, meaning to learn as needed.

Combating impostor syndrome is a process that demands clear steps, and with remote working this can be a challenge. However, Mike McDerment, CEO of Freshbooks, believes that there is a way to tap into this insecurity and leverage it fruitfully. Admitting  you don’t have the answers is advantageous, he says, as it helps define and solve problems more efficiently.

 

Myriad distractions  affecting the productive output

While working from home can be comfortable, it isn’t always conducive to progress or productivity. At home, employees are bombarded with distractions ranging from personal chores to family members. This makes focused work harder to achieve, especially during the peak hours of the day. To keep this from happening, the responsibility lies on the employee’s ability to keep distractions at bay. The employer has limited, if any, means to keep productivity in check, unlike in an office setting. The lack of IT provisions for supervision restricts an employer’s ability to direct those who need it. Communicating often and relaying key information such as task milestones, updates, and personal challenges can help, but isn’t an all-encompassing solution.

 

Reduced efficacy  of IT infrastructure

At the office, IT infrastructure serves as the digital overseer that monitors, supervises, protects and connects. However, much of it is useless in a remote working scenario as employees aren’t on site anymore. The first system to face challenges is security. When working outside the enterprise network, security risks skyrocket and sensitive data is vulnerable. Granting remote access to all employees isn’t a smart solution. In fact, 70 % of IT professionals surveyed across Canada, UK, Australia, USA, and New Zealand said that it was increasingly challenging to support remote workforces while keeping data secure.

Working off site also means the use of personal devices, which may not have or support the applications required. Some companies also have legacy applications in use, making the transition to remote work that much more of a hurdle.

Finally, remote work often comes with endless technical difficulties and addressing these remotely can be a herculean task. IT technicians must resort to time-consuming and comprehensive support measures, especially for those that aren’t tech-savvy, which is highly inefficient.

 

Growing complaints of overworking

When work and personal life happen in or around the same place, the line that separates the two becomes blurry. In some cases, it ceases to exist, which then leads to overworking. Employees may often feel like their success is solely dependent on a day’s work, especially when it comes to start-ups or SaaS firms . No doubt such a mindset leads to increased levels of fatigue and other bad habits like sleep deprivation.

For the rest, the lack of an office routine can make it harder to define reasonable work hours. Since employees are always at the ‘office’, working late or resuming leftover tasks during downtime, which is a common if inefficient practice.

 

Lack of ‘watercooler ’ moments causing isolation

Loneliness and isolation is another challenge for employees and plays out differently based on their living arrangements. When living alone and working in the same space, employees are restricted from crucial social interactions and bonding experiences they would otherwise have access to in an office. In some instances, employees may get into the habit of being within the same four walls for several days. This can cause cabin fever, which clearly cripples productivity. For those who live with small or large families, this isolation from co-workers is a handicap that cannot be bridged by Zoom or Slack. Remote work robs employees of those ever-precious cubicle-wall or water-cooler meetings, which create bonds and build feelings of inclusiveness and camaraderie.

 

Improper communication  resulting in siloed  information

Communication is already quite a challenging professional activity and adding a layer of complexity to it doesn’t help. In remote work, complete communication is incredibly hard to achieve and failures in this regard have less than ideal outcomes. Such a challenge exists mainly due to the fact that the communication tools such as e-mail, WhatsApp, Slack and more lack in comparison to an in-person conversation or group meeting. As a result, there is a higher chance of miscommunication, which can then breed ill feelings or even result in operational errors.

While the use of Skype and Zoom has served as a stop-gap in many situations, they have limitations. The attendee capacity or call quality alone is a dampener for most professional settings. Moreover, remote work also restricts free movement of information as it would in an office. This results in siloed information that can affect how smoothly an individual, team, or even an entire sector operates.

The forced shift over to a remote working model across the globe should be seen as a large-scale experiment on its efficacy. Considering the hit to productivity and mental well-being of the employee, it may seem like an easy call to make. However, crisis breeds innovation and with the right mandates in place, there may be a solution in store that favours some iteration of a remote work model.