From Telecommuting to Remote Work: The Journey of Team Collaborationon 4 April 2017
Remember when people who worked from home were called ‘telecommuters’? That word itself conjures images of a spare bedroom converted into an office: a giant desk holding a fancy desktop computer, a credenza with an all-in-one printer/scanner/fax, an office phone with a dedicated landline, a filing cabinet full of papers that – once placed in their proper folders – were never seen again.
Instead of closing the office door to keep out the noise of chatty co-workers and the squeaky mail cart, they close the door to keep out the sound of crying children and barking dogs.
There certainly were advantages to this type of remote work. For the employee, it meant less time stuck in traffic, leaving more time for productive work and for family. For the employer, reduced office and utility costs and a happier workforce. In addition, the possibility of telecommuting gave potential employees the impression that the company valued their work/life balance – a nice incentive to aid in recruiting top talent. Not to mention the whole ‘fewer commuters means less pollution’ thing.
As the years have gone by, however, we’ve begun to see some of the disadvantages of this type of work. Telecommuters had greater difficulty with time management. They tended to work longer hours – when they remembered something later in the evening, it was just too easy to go back to the desk. Some had trouble separating their work life from their home life, spoiling the work/life balance that telecommuting was supposed to solve. They felt increasingly isolated, missing out on water-cooler talk and the feeling of being ‘in the loop.’ Studies show that telecommuters got up from their desks far less often than office workers, even taking fewer restroom breaks for fear of being caught not working.
Fortunately, remote work has now evolved. There have always been road warriors – sales people and consultants and auditors, armed with small laptops and mobile phones working out of their cars, or from client sites. Now we’re seeing more workers adopt a mobile style of work. The ‘telecommuter’ is gradually becoming the ‘digital nomad.’ Back in 2014, Richard Branson tweeted: “In this increasingly connected world, you really can work from anywhere. Here’s my office today” – accompanied by a photo of him on top of a mountain.
Along with that jealousy-inducing picture, Branson’s tweet hit on the reason behind remote work’s evolution. Advances in technology have transformed the way remote workers conduct their business. Powerful laptops have eliminated the need for the big desktop computer. Paperless workflows and online collaboration software have made the printer/scanner/fax obsolete. Virtual servers have killed the filing cabinet. Video conferencing and digital whiteboards have reintroduced group brainstorming sessions and the feeling of teamwork. Cloud computing and project management tools have made it easier to keep track of everyone’s work and time. Improved Bluetooth technology and smartphone apps have made it easier to work literally anywhere. It’s not just the home office – now it can be the living room, the coffee shop, the picnic table, the museum bench….
As more and more workers take advantage of these developments, it becomes increasingly vital that their employers set their workers up for success. Sure, it’s important that companies take advantage of the digital tools at their disposal. Today’s tech-savvy manager has access to all that they need to make their employees productive – all that I’ve already listed, and much more.
But this responsibility goes beyond the impressive array of tools that are available now. In order to take employees to the cutting edge – and keep them there – managers must be ready to provide whatever training is necessary. We can’t just assume that these digital nomads know how to use these new technologies to their fullest potential. Software and process training could help fill in any gaps. We also can’t assume that remote workers know the best ways to manage their time under these limited-supervision situations. Some veteran workers may have never worked remotely before. That’s where tools such as Glasscubes come in, ensuring streamlined, trackable practices and operations for staff and management alike.
Finally, it’s important that employers put policies in place to ensure the health (mental and physical) of their remote workers. When appropriate, hold virtual meetings that help the employee realise that they aren’t the only ones working. When the only non-email contact an employee has with their company is an occasional one-on-one phone call with their supervisor, it’s easy for them to feel isolated. Managers should ensure that their employees get up from their desks on occasion to stretch, get a drink, take a restroom break, take a lunch break – the kinds of things they’d do if they worked in the office, but are likely to overlook when working remotely. And – perhaps most importantly – remote employees need to be remembered. They need to feel like they are included and that they aren’t missing out on anything worthwhile. With Glasscubes’ team collaboration software, teams remain connected, in tune, and working together.
In today’s competitive workplace, it’s just not enough to allow employees to work remotely. To be successful, companies must learn to help those remote employees to be successful. Successful employees make for successful companies.
Glasscubes is a user-friendly collaboration software for teams. Connect everyone that you work with in an online workspace that improves the way you share files, manage projects and communicate with each other.
For more information, contact us by calling +44 (0)20 3274 2310 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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