Can remote working really turn people into “monsters”?
A few months ago, the Financial Times published a brutal takedown of the whole concept of remote working.
The author, Jo Ellison, found remote work bled into family time. She struggled to feel connected with colleagues. Worst of all, she relied on emojis to explain complex problems.
The article was pretty hilarious – and not without a lot of truth.
“In my experience, working remotely means working three times as hard… while simultaneously having a nervous breakdown,” wrote Ellison.
Being part of a remote team definitely has its challenges.
“I’ve been reduced to a monster… I hate myself, and I’m pretty sure everyone I work with hates me too.”
“Monster” feels a bit harsh… but being part of a remote team definitely has its challenges.
Which is why it’s important to get it right, because when you do, both employee and business benefit hugely.
We champion remote working at Pleo, because in our heads it’s a key part of the future of work – and making it successful can be an easy win for a lot of companies.
Working from home vs working remotely
In the UK alone, there’s been a phenomenal jump in the number of people working from home over the past decade – some research puts it as high as a 74% increase.
Technology is a huge reason for this, as is the greater focus on maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
The WFH contingent is growing, but plenty of people are finding other interesting places from which they can clock in.
It could be a sales team that’s on the road, team members repping your brand at an event or your CFO checking accounts from her sunbed in the Seychelles.
Embracing the idea of remote working means accepting that variety.
When remote working goes right
Let’s get down to the most obvious appeal of remote working for employees: it just makes life easier and more fun too.
Remote working makes life much easier… and changes the type of work you can do.
Pet owners relish the chance to walk their pooch or chill with their cat.
Parents can be there at the school gates to drop off and collect their little ones.
And it’s possible to achieve the impossible: get an appointment with a doctor at a convenient time.
Scrapping the stress of a commute is something that appeals to many: 58% of workers say they’d be more motivated if they could work outside the office.
But it’s more than just that.
For so many people, being on their own opens up a type of work that’s just not possible amid the chatty buzz of the office.
You can really get in the zone and engage deeply on a project or a topic, normally that big project that’s sat on your to-do list for months.
But in some places, remote working doesn’t go that smoothly.
When remote working goes wrong
A major international study of remote working found that Jo Ellison isn’t alone in encountering isolation when working from home.
Just because your colleagues might occasionally pinch the last of the milk or play very bad music, doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy their company.
It’s not just about banter though. Being in an office means informal information-sharing is happening all around you – you pick up on company insights that just aren’t available on your couch.
Working longer hours isn’t uncommon for remote workers either. Without a commute to take into account, it’s possible to log in earlier or stay working long after everyone else has clocked out.
There’s also a more long-term stress that remote workers can find themselves feeling. The fear that they won’t be as likely to get a pay rise or promotion if they’re not visible in the office every day is real.
The problems of remote working can be tackled in small, manageable ways.
There are plenty of challenges for managers of remote teams too.
Introducing new processes. Keeping track of productivity. Ensuring everyone’s on the same page for company culture. All of these can become harder with employees working out of sight.
The good thing about these problems?
They can be tackled in small, manageable ways – and remote workers can take the lead on finding the solutions.
How you can make remote working run smoothly
Talk about your fears
In the short term, the benefits of remote working are immediately obvious. You’ll feel them the first time you sign for a package that would have otherwise been left with that neighbour who never says hello.
But in the long term, you’ll probably want to consider things like career progression and a bump in salary.
And that’s when the fear we talked about earlier kicks in.
Will another colleague who’s in the office every day be in a better position than you for a juicy promotion?
Can you make the case for a pay rise if your boss doesn’t see you working hard every day?
Often people do strange things in a bid to fend off those worries.
Instead, why not establish a regular dialogue with your boss where tracking your productivity is a key focus? (Even if it is just you patting yourself on the back a little… )
Build up an internal network too – the more people in the company who know about the work you’re doing, the more valued you’ll likely feel.
One great way to embed remote working in a company’s culture is with managers based in different offices.
This will most likely be done through necessity rather than choice, but if the opportunity to have senior figures spread across offices arises, it’s well worth considering.
The higher up the notion of remote working goes, the more its benefits will spread.
Set your rules – and stick to them
This is where Jo Ellison’s account of her remote working nightmare really hits a nerve for a lot of people.
It’s easy for flexibility to translate into an inability to switch off. It’s so tempting to fire off that last email rather than close the laptop for the day, especially when you’re worried about being seen to be busy.
So here’s some simple advice: set your rules and don’t break them.
That means establishing with your team the hours in which you’ll be working, the breaks you’re going to take, how long they might have to wait to hear back from you.
(And hey, if flexible working for you means flexible hours or shift patterns, that’s great. Just make sure your colleagues are in the loop.)
If you need to be contacted in case of emergencies, try to identify one method of communication that’s for those crisis moments only.
Here’s some simple advice: set your rules and stick to them.
If all of the rest of your team communication is on Slack, make Whatsapp the way to reach you outside of office hours.
But make it clear too: an emergency really means an emergency.
Find tools that help you feel part of the team
Collaborative software that helps you work on projects with the rest of your team can be a game-changer.
Here at Pleo, where remote working is championed, tools like Marvel and Abstract help our design whizzes to communicate. Meanwhile on the content team, we use Notion and even things as simple as Google Docs to keep our workflow streamlined.
And of course, Pleo cards themselves are a great tool that enable remote workers to make business purchases with a minimum of fuss.
A Pleo card can be a real leveller too: you might be working from home at a time when others are asleep, but you’ve got just the same perks as they do.
Communicate… about communication
Don’t be afraid to over-explain things if you’re working remotely.
Without visual clues, it can be more difficult to identify if a colleague has totally understood the message you’re trying to convey.
Don’t be afraid to ask them if they’ve got it – without being patronising, naturally.
And anticipate it working the other way too: check in with colleagues that you’ve fully processed what they’re asking of you.
But whatever else you do, don’t just leave it to emojis to do the heavy lifting.