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How To Make Remote Working Work

When Professor Robert Kelly’s daughter marched into his office during a high-profile video interview with the BBC, nobody could have predicted the world-wide coverage this event would be afforded (if you haven’t seen the footage, you can view it here: Heated debate has ensued around his handling of the situation and the initial reports that suggested the woman who finally apprehends the wayward children was a nanny when, in fact, she is Prof. Kelly’s wife. All this aside, the footage gives airtime to an important issue: working from home has many benefits but it is not always the holy grail many believe it to be; it comes with its own set of unique challenges.

‘Fixed hours from a fixed location’ is no longer the only way we work. Employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of incorporating the option of remote and flexible working as an effective way of reducing staff turnover and absenteeism. The positive effects on employee wellbeing are hard to deny: a recent global survey by Polycom revealed that 98% of respondents found that flexibility around when and where they worked had a positive impact on their productivity; many businesses report a substantial increase in morale and job satisfaction after introducing such options; for those with family commitments, being able to work from home can be a lifeline that enables them to simultaneously pursue a career.

But, as Prof. Kelly’s daughters so charmingly brought to light, working from home isn’t always as easy as it seems. Distraction comes in many forms, from children to household chores, it takes discipline not to fall foul to other demands on our attention. Not having colleagues around can be lonely and cabin fever can start to set after 8 hours on your own within the same four walls.

What does this mean for employers? Well, simply rolling out a remote working scheme as part of a wellbeing strategy may not be enough, putting some structures in place and offering simple training can help both businesses and their employees get the best out of such an arrangement. Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs says: “With remote work we can focus on results as a main performance measure; when and where people do their work isn’t usually important -- how, why and what they do is”. Regular contact with the team is imperative and there are endless programmes to make this possible, from Slack to Skype. Training remote workers to plan their time will help them to stay organised when away from the more structured office environment; this should include taking breaks and making sure that there is a set endpoint to the working day – both easy to overlook when working from home.

With some basic systems in place, remote set ups could be cemented as a viable way of working, with both employer and employee reaping the rewards. Sara Sutton Fell again: “a flexible work environment acknowledges that our workers are whole people, with big, and sometimes complicated, lives outside of the “office.” And it doesn’t do the company or the individual any good to make them feel they need to shut that part of themselves off when they start work each day”.