Labs & musings

Remote working challenges and benefits Remote working challenges and benefits

Culture / 06.04.2020

Remote working challenges and benefits

When having on-line meetings, there will be a lot of "hello"s or "can you hear me"s and a lot more of "oh, sorry i was muted".

Due to recent almost movie-like worldwide events, remote working (sometimes also referred as telework) and home office have become the main way of working overnight. Although this might be nothing new in domains like IT where some companies even push people to work from home due to savings in things like rent (that can go up to $10,000 per employee per year for full time), it is quite a novelty when it comes to some other branches (like architecture, accounting etc.).

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In some countries like Croatia, remote working is even a grey area - you can work from home (or any other defined place) but your workspace should fulfil some special requirements and all safe working conditions - from how well the room is lighted to having carefully positioned and marked fire extinguishers or emergency exits - you know, the usual stuff you (don't) have at home.

For us here in Syntio, remote work is nothing new, and although most of us work as consultants (some on projects here in Croatia, some in other countries), we can be seen in our headquarters more often then just for Christmas and other parties:) . So take from us what are the benefits and challenges we found in this type of work.

1. Communication is the key

Let's eat the frog first and start with the communication. This is the most painful and most important thing on this list. But, communication is the key, and therefore you should invest some time to adjust it on this type of working. You can forget about all those little things that give colour to interaction - looking carefully at other participants, your facial expressions, your nodding or even things like jokes get lost.

What you can do is turn on your camera. Yes, we all know it kills your connection's throughput and that double chin doesn't look appealing, and no, it is not you, it is the camera angle. But. Turn. That. Camera. On. It gives you that extra dimension that you need. And also prevents you from totally wandering off in your mind. It is not perfect, especially for larger groups, but it improves things. We in Syntio are using slack (it has a limit on 15 people for one call), teams (you can see either only one or only 4 people depending if you are using web version or app) and hangouts.

But, even with video it is hard to get that nodding effect that we take for granted. so it is good that instead of nodding to the whole team (or somebody who is impacted with the said matter the most) learns to confirm vocally what is being agreed on. This might be tricky because if the other person doesn't give enough time that you un-mute yourself (because you are of course muted when not talking), you will interrupt that person mid sentence. This will happen together with awkward silence if this "nodding break" takes too long, but as always, practice makes perfect.

Some people suggest having video-conference meetings at a slightly slower pace than a typical meeting due to technical delays and to leave enough time for people to ask questions or interact.

Also, if you are a participant, it is good praxis to bring attention to yourself before addressing the group by signalling with your hand or saying “question” or “comment” and then waiting a couple seconds before continuing.

If you are showing something to a group of people in the same room, don't forget to emphasise it for people in a virtual room as well (no hand gestures if there is no camera).

Another thing to bear in mind is that in the beginning there will be more meetings and they might seem less productive. But over-communication will help you stay in the loop, know each-other better and build trust. Y'all will get a grip soon, and things will go "back to normal". No need to emphasise the role of meeting agenda before (any) meetings and meeting minutes (MoMs) afterwards.

Start a meeting with some smalltalk. It takes a minute or two more, but can make the meeting more productive.

When having on-line meetings, there will be a lot of "hello"s or "can you hear me"s and a lot more of "oh, sorry i was muted". And if your remote location happens to be your home, there will be kids screaming, cats jumping, and from time to time somebody's SO will walk through wearing only underwear. But that's life, and life is not perfect, so sit down and laugh about it.

Pro tip! - If you work from home, don't forget to socialise! Organise some virtual coffee (or Fika as they call it in Sweden), e-beer or some games (scribble, paper.io) or things like on-line house tours (for the brave and tidy ones) and virtual walks. If you have time before meetings, ask your team some funny questions (our recent one was "What is the weirdest thing you have in a fridge").

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2. Breaking/Making the habit

We people are slaves of habits and our brain just waits for the opportunity to jump in auto-pilot mode. So, from time to time, it is good to have changes in our environment. Also, these changes can help you improve if you use them right. For instance, when you are at clients premises, you can expect more meetings and more communication, fast fixes and all other stuff that might be urgent, but not that important. When you get back home/your location, you will probably get a better chance to concentrate harder on the more important (and maybe less urgent) work.

I personally like my on-site of-site (remote) schedule because it keeps me in routine without being boring due to changes in environment, type of work etc. I found out that my travels often even helped me improve the way I spend my personal time (I cherish it more and organise it better so that i can lead a more fulfilled life)!

But don't go all the way here/with breaking the habits because you can easily fall of the wagon so stick to some routines - same work hours (this will also help your colleagues know when to reach you), same workspace (that by the way needs to be comfy, optimal and if possible dedicated for work only) and overall same behaviour (wake up at the same time as when working on-site, take a shower, dress appropriately, although you can downgrade it for one level. Unless you are wearing sweatpants and hoodies. DON'T DOWNGRADE sweatpants and hoodies.

3. Other benefits

For employers, agreeing to remote work opens the door to a larger talent pool where you can get anybody from around the world to work for you, without obligation to move. This, combined with home office leads to cutting Payroll Costs (most of the people I know would prefer home office or even flexible hours over a pay raise) as well as Turnover Costs (happy employee stays your employee).

Home office gives people freedom to choose their office hours (again, within reason), gives you possibility to sneak some chores in your business routine for a break (filling laundry or dishwasher), reduces time spent on commute (and therefore gives more time for oneself), is more environmentally friendly (for us working in Sweden it also helps with Flygskam ;)) and helps protecting health (77% of people believe remote work improves general health because it allows for a better diet, more exercise, and a generally healthier lifestyle), not just from corona but other seasonal things like flu and so on. Just don't forget to stretch and exercise regularly, since now you are not going to the office!

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Overall, with little training and education (especially in communication), well set goals, remote work could be a good thing to keep even after all things "go back to normal". Will it always be super productive? - No. But are your office hours always super productive? - Also no. Although it seems that down the line remote work (and specially home office) can be more productive than office work - when asked, 74% of respondents said they work remotely to get away from colleague interruptions.

We people are after all social beings (even the introverted ones, yes) and this home office can get a little bit tough and yours 100% won't be the same on all days. But keep your head up, put some good music on, maybe do a dance break or a walk in a garden/balcony break and give your today’s best!

What are your experiences with remote work? Does your company offer remote work? Is that important for you as an employee/employer?

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