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The 3 key barriers to remote working (and how to overcome them)

COVID-19 created the world’s largest remote working experiment and, for many, showed just how possible it was for employees to do their jobs without being at the office.

Daniel Lorenzzo

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Following the real-world experiment with remote working, it’s time for business leaders to re-examine their previous misgivings, and explore how to adopt flexible working in the long term

  1. “Remote working isn’t right for our business.”
  2. “We don’t have the technology to support people working elsewhere.”
  3. “Our employees will take advantage if they’re not in the office.”

Pre-pandemic, the above were just some of the reasons business leaders gave for not adopting remote work. Following the pandemic, those reasons don’t carry quite so much weight. COVID-19 created the world’s largest homeworking experiment and, for many, showed just how possible it was for employees to do their jobs without being at the office. 

However, if you’re still not convinced, perhaps it’s time to re-examine the barriers and look at how they could be overcome within your organisation.

1. The first barrier: Technology

The pre-pandemic problem

A survey by The UK Work Foundation asked remote employees about their organisation’s provision and culture for them to work outside of the office. More than half (56%) indicated difficulties with technology available to them.

remote working: A man working at his laptop
“As a manager, your job is to keep your team connected,” says Jason Aten in Inc.

The post-pandemic solution

The rapid adoption of new technologies during the crisis means that businesses should now have a better understanding of what is required in terms of tech. Leaders should be focusing on updating your computer systems, equipping staff and ensuring adequate levels of technical support.

What the experts say

“As a manager, your job is to keep your team connected,” says Jason Aten in Inc. “Make sure your team has the technology it needs to get the work done. If you suddenly have a team of remote workers, that means there’s a good chance they need tools like laptops, software, mobile devices, or even a high-speed internet connection. It’s not reasonable to assume that everyone has all of those things, and it’s your responsibility as a manager to make sure they do.”

“It’s important for you to ‘walk the walk’ and take time to use new technology like telepresence robots, chat apps, video conference, and other unified communication channels to get your team on board with communicating this way in their daily lives,”

adds Daniel Newman in Forbes.

2. The second barrier: Company culture

The pre-pandemic problem

A study published in Harvard Business Review shows that a quarter (24 per cent) of employees say all work in their organisation is currently carried out in the company premises – suggesting a cultural barrier blocking remote working.

Don’t assume a remote working company culture will develop naturally when employees work remotely
Don’t assume a remote working company culture will develop naturally when employees work remotely

The post-pandemic solution

Don’t assume company culture will develop naturally when employees work remotely. It requires energy and effort to cultivate a remote working culture and grow it.

What the experts say

“Since [remote workers] rarely meet with their teammates face-to-face, they tend to focus on tasks and ignore the team. This may work for a while, but you must develop a remote working culture in order to foster engagement and sustain their performance over the long term,” says Sean Graber in Harvard Business Review.

“If in-person meetings aren’t possible… schedule regular informal calls – either one-on-one or as a group. It may feel awkward at first, but building a shared identity and personal connections will lead to greater engagement and better performance.”

Sean Graber in Harvard Business Review.

3. The barrier: Employees

The pre-pandemic problem: Your employees don’t have the skills they need to work remotely, don’t feel empowered to do their jobs in the way they’d prefer, or feel distant from the company as a whole. Research by ACAS shows that remote workers experience barriers to productivity, including problems with communications and team coordination.

The post-pandemic solution: Ensure clear communication with employees, including setting boundaries and managing expectations. Remember that your employees are people – recognise their concerns and create ways to make them feel like valued members of the organisation. 

What the experts say: “It can be easy to forget to involve your remote employees in impromptu onsite conversations, or to forget that they also have lives, interests, and strengths outside of their initial job functions,” says Daniel Newman. “Take time to get to know your remote employees as people, rather than just task managers. No one wants to be a cog in the wheel of an organisation – no matter how much flexibility they have. They want to be recognised for their skills and what they bring to the team.”

“Recognise employees’ fear of being replaced [by technology],” says Benham Tabrizi in Harvard Business Review. “When employees perceive that digital transformation could threaten their jobs, they may consciously or unconsciously resist the changes.

If the digital transformation then turns out to be ineffective, management will eventually abandon the effort and their jobs will be saved (or so the thinking goes). It is critical for leaders to recognise those fears and to emphasise that the digital transformation process is an opportunity for employees to upgrade their expertise to suit the marketplace of the future.”

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