There are now a growing number of companies who are encouraging their employees to just stay at home and work, or stay out on the road, or station themselves at a customers site. These types of Virtual Workplace assignments have skyrocketed in the past few years, due primarily to the cost savings. It’s now estimated that at least 12% of the entire North American workforce now works out of the office.
This adaptation is over 3X times more than it was just a decade ago. The trend is obviously expected to continue to accelerate as enterprises responds towards globalization, outsourcing, meeting customer demands, cloud computing, social media and the rising cost of commuting and office space.
Remote Workers And Outsourcing Benefits
• The Time Savings Involved
Employees will save significant time and money by commuting less. This is one of the best and absolute benefits, particularly in the growing urban areas where typical commutes can be anywhere up to 60 minutes each way
• Increased Flexibility In Work Schedules
Working from a home office allows employees to be able to balance out family responsibilities, investigate additional educational opportunities while attending to other important personal or professional pursuits along with juggling domestic demands
Organizations And Enterprise Benefits
Increase in employee productivity. There is usually more available time for actual “work” because of the individuals responsibility preferences. Some employees or those who are outsourced can be flexible enough to work late at night or early in the morning to tailor their schedules.
• Companies are finding that there’s improved “hands on” customer service when the employee is on-site and the work is delivered direct at the customers location. The employee also feels an increased sense of responsibility, making it a “win-win” situation
• There’s an increased talent pool which isn’t limited by just the geographical location of the employees, this especially if the work is outsourced
All of these benefits of the virtual workplace translates into better increased retention of employees and cost savings to the employer, resulting in better customer relationships provided that it’s managed effectively.
Challenges Of The Virtual Workplace
There are a few challenges however that’s posed by remote work for employees which should be addressed. So the focus is placed on certain strategies which the remote employee should be implementing to overcome them, while leveraging all of the benefits.
Remote workers based on a sense of responsibility and independence will generally work longer hours providing more dedicated effort and focus. One advantage is that they’ll often begin working when they would normally be commuting to work.
It’s also been realized that some remote employees will often experience difficulty disengaging from their work since they don’t have the traditional office boundaries and environment when working in their personal living quarters. Because of this invisibility and the anonymity that it creates, it can at times increase their stress levels.
If these issues are not addressed properly, they can potentially result in employee burnout. Organizations will usually address these challenges by developing effective “remote work” strategies and policies. However, it’s strictly up to the employee to implement and develop their own effective work-life balance themselves.
Practical Work-Life Balance Strategies
• Make sure that you discuss of all of the dynamics along with the practices of the remote workplace environment with your employer, and have them articulate their expectations
• Request your employer to prioritize your tasks so you’ll know exactly which of the job assignments are the most important to them, otherwise, you may feel that everything on the agenda is urgent, creating panic
• Discuss the best forms of communication. For instance, it’s not a good idea to contact your employer late at night or visa versa. This will be particularly important if you work in say a different timezone from your employer, your customer, or your other team members
• When working at home, make sure that you define clear boundaries and office space for when you’re working, and when you’re “at home.” This may include completely shutting off your computer or not using your work cell phone during the defined leisure hours
Challenges Of Social Isolation
Work at home employees or those who outsource will initially feel isolated due to lower social engagement, which leads towards less job satisfaction which contributes to potential increased turnover.
If the remote work is on a customers site, the employee may then eventually “go native” and identify themselves with the customer’s workplace culture rather than their own employers company culture. This can potentially result in conflicts of interest between the customers needs and the business goals of the companies.
If the primary method of communication with the employer is strictly electronic, such as email or chat etc., this can potentially create roadblocks in developing proper personal relationships or trust with their co-workers, or the customer since these various electronic methods are usually less efficient, inaccurate and impersonal. They also lack the social integration and visual cues as well.
Preventing Isolation For Employees
• During the process of beginning the “remote work” assignment, make sure that you get to know as many co-workers and management as possible, ideally in person or via teleconferences, internal websites, social media, email etc.
• Insist on there being the occasional “check-ins” with direct social interaction in person or during conference calls to stay connected
• Look for potential opportunities to invite your direct manager to come to visit your home workspace office or the remote customers site
• Try arranging face-to-face meetings as often as possible. Commute to the office or organizational headquarters and set up meetings with those who you’d like to know better
• Take advantage of videoconferencing such as Skype and the variety of other visual media which is available, so you can have some face to face interaction with them
• Keep in touch with the company newsletters, podcasts, social functions, or any other types of media or events which communicates company news and updates
• Make sure that you recognize and take full advantage of the nature of remote work while not underestimating the amount of communication which is required to feel part of the organization
If you do work remotely and see the benefits in it, make sure that you don’t keep yourself “out of sight and out of mind.” Take complete responsibility in reaching back to your employer while taking advantage of all company training, networking, mentoring, and developing additional career opportunities.