This is a guest blog by Adrian Berwick.
Remote working – the downsides
Everyone is spending so much time extolling the virtues of remote/home working and let’s be clear – it is great and has massive advantages. But, the debate must be balanced – there are downsides to remote working. What are some of the possible drawbacks of remote/home working?
Learning and development challenges
Years ago, there was an expression to describe on the job training – “sitting next to Nellie” – and the message was that whilst you could send employees away on training courses, so called “on the job” training was invaluable.
Granted, we can train “on line” and through webinars, but as more and more people work remotely, “on the job” learning, mentoring, development and coaching are possibly going to suffer. People learn so much by being in the same environment as their peers/colleagues or listening to how they deal with situations and they also learn from their mistakes. When you work from home, it’s easier to cover up your mistakes…
We also talk to-day about the ability to give constructive feedback – this is an under-valued management skill – much like listening. Giving feedback to an employee on either their performance or the manner in which they dealt with a particular situation can be done remotely but is less effective because it relies on being able to gauge how the person is reacting and responding to the feedback.
The on-boarding process is vital and increased remote working impacts on the effectiveness of the process and there is a direct correlation between poor on-boarding and employee turnover especially amongst leavers with less than 12 months service.
We hear stories of people who have joined a new business and been there for 6 months and not yet met “in person” their line manager or even been to any Company premises. They were “on-boarded” remotely and their lap top and mobile was delivered to their home address.
If this becomes the “new norm”, an “on line” induction process will become very sterile, clinical, transactional and impersonal and over time, employee turnover will increase which is a hit to the bottom line.
On-boarding is a people process but with more remote working it will become more about process than people.
Creative thinking challenges
Business thrives on people who can think differently, creatively or “outside the box”. People used to talk about “brainstorming” sessions – where people had ideas (sometimes quite crazy), discuss them and from a fairly crazy idea, someone finds a way forward. You would sense the energy in the room.
You can have a “brainstorming” session on line but they are not the same because they rely on a group of people in a room, bouncing ideas around and discussing them and you can gauge reactions by body language.
Apologies to anyone who is offended by the word “brainstorming” because of the mental health connotations but it used to be an acceptable business term – hence the use of inverted commas.
The ability to communicate at all levels
This wonderful expression is often referred to in person specifications as an essential attribute for a candidate for a job. It refers to the ability of an individual to communicate effectively with anyone in the business regardless of their level, job title or status. If people work from home or remotely, there will be less people inter-action and less opportunity to mix with people at different levels because typically, when people are in an office environment, they strike up conversations with people at all levels in communal areas like the kitchen, the vending machine – not to mention the smoking shelter!
Communication skills will suffer because people communicate differently “on line”.
However, this is a generation issue because we now have a generation of people who are more comfortable and at ease with “on line” communication. They would rather talk to a spreadsheet than a person.
The challenge of building relationships
People always say that we do business with people we like – we buy from people we like and as a relationship becomes stronger, we feel more comfortable doing business with that person because we have invested time in getting to know them.
It is possible to build and develop relationships with people in means other than “face to face” but in a business setting, we get results through people and people invest time in building a relationship with a customer or a supplier. Over time, the relationship gets stronger, the bond gets greater and customers/clients are less inclined to take their business elsewhere. Yes, price, quality and service also feature but we still do business with people we like.
Mental health challenges
People who work from home and live alone are likely to miss inter-action with others and crave seeing people in the workplace and a bit of banter. Loneliness is a factor and not seeing people in a “face to face“ situation will affect mental health leading to further issues but there will also be thousands of people whose mental health suffers because of going into the office and they prefer to work from home all the time. Can’t please everyone all the time.
Some employee don’t have the WFH option but many employers have used the Covid experience to make the decision that the business can operate more remotely or through hybrid working so either don’t need premises or need smaller – either way, saving costs.
One solution doesn’t fit all – and the pandemic has changed the way we look at how we work and technology has enabled this but remote working is not without its downsides so let’s ensure that the downsides of remote working are not overlooked.
This is a guest blog by Adrian Berwick, who is a very experienced and commercially aware Human Resources professional with a generalist HR background. He has given support on issues ranging from input on strategic planning and business re-organisation through to practical advice on employee management issues including discipline, grievance, TUPE, ill health, redundancy, recruitment, remuneration and benefits, terms and conditions and pensions. He started his own HR consultancy after having been an HR Director of a major Facilities Management company for 11 years.
If you want advice on any of the issues raised, Adrian Berwick gives practical advice and support – either call 07885 714771 or e-mail [email protected]