Remote Work is Hard Work

A man doing hard work pushing a huge wooden wheel

Headlines have heralded the arrival of the new normal all year long. A world contained, with workspaces and life in general transitioning online. Perhaps, permanently. But centering all of our business around on our desktops come with certain caveats and consequences. We are in survival mode right now, according to Michael Strain from the Insurance Journal. As soon as the situation with the pandemic changes, we will have to deal with the impact of having transformed our world to adapt to these challenges. For now, it’s clear that remote work requires an anchor for organizations as they navigate a continuously borderless world. Remote work requires hard work. 

The new normal is not new

The world has been experimenting with remote work since people reimagined the world through the filter of the Internet. A flattened, borderless, information-rich space that allows people more control over their work and life balance.

A laptop full of people meeting online
Some companies and industries are already used to working online.

But up until the global pandemic of 2020, businesses had been reluctant to fully embrace the promise. 

It was not just the logistical side of it that worried companies. Some businesses, like restaurants and schools, found especially it hard to replace the close contact arrangement at the core of their services. Additionally, many companies worried about productivity and company integrity. Being able to see and be in contact with who you’re working with seemed too important to let go. At most, employees were allowed to work at home on certain days. 

Of course, there were companies who were ready and willing to try. To improve their bottom line, some companies worked with outsourcing companies and participated in some degree of remote work arrangement. Some were concerned about the impact of exposure to the risks of disruptions and to unbridled competition. But those who weren’t deterred were rewarded with experiencing the benefits of working remotely. 

After 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic hit, remote work went from being experimental and optional to mandatory. Many more now are trumpeting its productivity benefits and proving previous fears unfounded. And while some people and companies might feel that they are sufficiently prepared to welcome the dawn of the new normal, it is necessary not to understate the consequences and the amount of work that companies have to put in just to adjust to the challenges.

Workspaces are unraveling

One of the most important things threatened by the unspooling of the office space is organizational cohesion. The shift to remote work precipitated urgent demand for solutions to smoothen out the disruptions in the process flows. Companies have long been utilizing various productivity apps. But office interactions via email or Skype or Slack had been supplementary rather than integral, always accompanied by person-to-person validation. Now, they are central to how everything works.

A picture of a man contemplating productivity measurements
Productivity tools must be reimagined.

Over the past few months, we’ve started to realize the difficulty of relying wholly on technology to connect with one another. No application so far has been able to capture and transmit the gestures, intonations, and behavior that are critical to maintaining the quality of those connections. 

Relationships are key to working well together.  If organizational leaders can’t get through to employees and vice versa, then that generates more than just a communications problem. Beau Jackson writes that companies shouldn’t just adapt online platforms to navigate internal company relationships and call it a day. They need to rework their entire processes if they want not just a functioning company, but a cohesive one. Kate Lister of Global Workplace Analytics urges companies to resist the urge to implement the same productivity measures that they use offline.

Instead, leaders should focus on creating the conditions for growth, not control.

The intensely connected and isolating reality of remote work

On a personal level, employees face emerging difficulties the longer they continue to conduct business online. There’s a common, uniting fear about what a remote arrangement could mean for them in the long-run. Anxiety festers over getting furloughed, or, worse, the idea that people may survive the pandemic, only to succumb to a lay-off once the company decides to outsource their jobs to a more competitively priced talent pool. On both sides of the fence, employees and companies are exploring ways that they can protect their interests, without losing sight of the gains of working remotely. 

Because remote work arrangements are in their infancy, companies and employees are only just discovering stress points involved. The mixing of life and work is crumbling the delicate balance. Employees are beginning to lose their sense of belongingness and camaraderie. 

A picture of empty chairs and tables.
Organizations must find alternatives for their members to socialize

Strain points out that the office has always provided a natural point of contact for employees to become colleagues. Remote work essentially renders people strangers. Organizations must explore ways to foster and maintain office camaraderie. Outsourcing and tech companies who have mastered remote work rely on a variety of strategies to cultivate culture. One of the most helpful strategies is facilitating activities that prioritize collaboration and focus on creating communal good. 

The silver lining of working remotely

The shift to remote work has given companies an opportunity to evaluate their organizational weaknesses and strengths. It prompts them to reimagine how they can make their company more resilient. 

There’s a hypothesis that having employees working from home or their own communities will help bring in more diversity of thought to the company. Having and nurturing different point-of-views on the team can help organizations detect and avoid blindspots in decision making.

Productivity has increased, although there’s a question as to how long this revitalization will last. It works now because people have nothing else to do, and there’s the desire to make it work, for survival. But beyond the pandemic, what will the impact of remote work have on the very fabric of society itself? 

We’re still a long way from drawing any definitive conclusions. Meanwhile, companies can make strategic changes to the way they do business based on the information at hand. 

Solutions hard at work

They can innovate how they build their networks and alliances, choosing to make reliability and resilience their bottom line over profit. They can center their organization around building strength, and focus on innovating their hiring processes and how they take care of their people. On that, businesses can learn a lot from outsourcing companies and freelancers who have been navigating the global marketplace and the remote work space for years. Freelance websites like Upwork offer opportunities to reinvision tasks, and new ways to monitor satisfaction and performance. Companies like Staff Street and Flatworld Solutions provide expertise and experience on job-matching skills and building remote work teams.

In conclusion, adjusting to the dramatic changes will require a lot of effort. But the solutions do exist. The pandemic has pushed companies to rethink how they do business, how they take care of their people, and how they function in the global marketplace. The journey is beset with pitfalls and challenges, but the only way forward is to meet them head on.

A laptop in an empty office