Working Remotely – Why Organizations Want to Consider this Growing Trend by Leanne Matthes

A new, exciting challenge was presenting in my career about a year ago. I was given the opportunity to do a job I love in a location I’m most comfortable – my home.

I’ll admit through my excitement of this new opportunity I also had some reservations. I was apprehensive about working so independently, away from the team, away from my manager and her daily support and guidance, away from the constant flow of donuts. I do love donuts, but I also love the interaction with my co-workers; leaning over and asking a question, telling them what’s happening in my personal life, and learning from their everyday experiences as much as my own.

-The HR team for my company is based in another city, a province away, and I didn’t know them yet. How would I go about building successful, trusting relationships with people I don’t see every day?

-I’m a bit of a scatter brain, I’ve always needed a little nudge here and there to keep me on track and engaged in the tasks at hand. How would I deal with the daily life that would now interrupt my work time?

The great opportunity shone a light on the situation, I pushed my fears and hesitations aside, invested in some comfy slippers and accepted the challenge!

After a year in my new role, things are going great for me. I have been successful in my role and I have a great relationship with everyone on my team. Communication is key to relationships, and thanks to the great messaging system we have this is easy. Knowing that I’ll likely be expected to share my video at least once a day means I still have to dress appropriately and brush my hair.

The engaging work that I do keeps me on track. Loving the work and enjoying the daily challenges means that I don’t allow myself to have distractions. When I’m working, I’m working. (Yes, I switch my laundry on my coffee breaks, but when the dryer buzzes I don’t feel the urge to jump up and fold laundry!) My family has come to understand that supper won’t be ready at 5 and the house isn’t ‘tip top’ just because I was home all day. Some days I struggle to leave my office because I don’t have to, I can easily stay late or work extra if needed. I need to be disciplined to ensure this isn’t a habit, and I need to remind myself constantly that work is work, and outside of these office walls is what I’m working for. I’ve been able to find a good balance. On days when I hesitantly leave the office, knowing that work is on my mind and will likely remain there I use my “Burden Tree”. I’ve actually rearranged my kitchen so that our tree is near the exit of my office, and as I leave work I’m able to hang all my burdens on it before interacting with my family. They deserve 100% of me when I’m not working – which is true for each of us, no matter where we do our work.

I’ve become more productive and I’m better able to represent myself through my work rather than the daily in person interactions. I’m known for being results driven and for managing my workload well and responding to emails and requests professionally and efficiently – not for what I wear, how grey my hair is getting or who I was seen going for lunch with.

I’ve learned a few things over the past 12 months and in writing this article I requested additional input from my co-workers, my manager and other remote workers I know. We discussed the greater opportunity to source talent for our company when location isn’t an issue. Another topic we touched on was how well existing employees do when they take on an opportunity to work from home. They already know the company culture and have established themselves within their roles and the team; the reduction in turnover is well worth the time to be creative with your staffing model! As a group we’ve identified some Do’s and Don’ts that have helped each of us overcome the challenges involved with having a remote workforce.

Do’s:
Do have an instant messaging system available to the team. This will replace the untimely phone calls and increase the team’s ability to connect quickly. The video capability most of these services provide is a great asset during meetings and introductions.

Do include everyone in the team activities. Even remote workers can enjoy a team lunch or an impromptu fun event with the aid of video messaging or a speaker phone. Share pictures, stories and laughs from any team activity.

Do encourage coffee and lunch breaks away from the desk.  This is important for everyone, and remote workers may find it hard to give themselves permission to step away without the encouragement..

Do have regular opportunities for the whole team to be together. This might include monthly, quarterly or bi-annual meetings at the office, or even a day set aside where everyone takes their lunch to a meeting space and the whole team can have lunch together via conference.

Don’ts:

Don’t assume that someone isn’t working just because they didn’t answer their phone or didn’t reply to your message promptly. Everyone takes bathroom breaks. Everyone manages their workday differently. Remember, you can’t see if they are tied up in conversation or working on something that requires 100% of their attention.

Don’t forget to inform or include everyone on conversations that have happened or announcements that were made in person. There is nothing worse than finding out about a change in practice or staffing changes too late.

Don’t give up on trying to come up with ways to include everyone. Creativity goes a long way when it comes to keeping remote workers engaged.

I hope this will encourage employers and employees to further consider the option of staffing remotely, and help to ensure a successful result. Working from home isn’t what I love about my job, but it sure does make having to work a lot more attractive!

Leanne Matthes, CHRP

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