With the covid-19 outbreak working from home became a worldwide necessity. Companies are now forced to allow their employees to work from home, for a chance to survive the crisis. However, the idea of the home office is nothing new, it started in the early 1980’s as an alternative to traffic in peak hours and captivity in small offices. Back then, only a few companies allowed selected employees to work remotely, while others worried about the potential organizational and social hazards. Ever since then, remote work has become a global trend. In the United Kingdom it has more than doubled in popularity in eight years to 2 million employees working from home, and in the USA it is currently representing over 8 million employees.
I have been working remotely for about 2 years now. I started first as a freelance recruiter working on various projects, which allowed me the freedom to be entirely independent in choosing my working hours, daily tasks and routines. However, I think I fully experienced the ups and downs of remote work in 2019 when I started working for Caissa Global. From my very start at the company I was a remote worker, meaning my onboarding was also done remotely. This experience helped me learn more about myself and my inner motivation, which I would like to address in this article.
My experiences can be summarized in three key areas: my well-being, my work-life balance and my job effectiveness. These areas are overlapping and working remotely has had both positive and adverse impacts across them. The positive aspects, from my perspective, can be outlined as increased productivity and self-awareness, and the ability to work flexibly and from different locations. I succeeded in delivering and maintaining a high performance in my work with the help of activity measures like outreach messages response rate, conversion of CVs sent, conversion of final interviews etc. I found increased frequent contact with my supervisor to be helpful in engaging and enhancing motivation, which led to my increased productivity. Further, remote working helped me improve my efficiency in today's globalized economy. For example, I was able to conduct late interviews with candidates from different time zones. Lastly, the personal benefit of remote work was that I learned to self-motivate, increase integrity and build self-confidence. I found that working from home was helpful in managing my “other” non-work duties as well as personal relationships.
On the other side, I was affected by some unfavourable aspects of remote work. Foremost, from the start it was hard for me to build a deeper relationship with my colleagues and managers, as our only contact was online. That was described as a “professional isolation” in the research of Garg and Rijst (2015). Workers from home feel professionally isolated as they often lack “social barometers”. It was the same in my case, I struggled to figure out what was the acceptable level of humor, making it difficult to determine how I should behave. This has resulted in some self-questioning if I might have insulted someone or made any mistakes. Additionally, I sometimes felt excluded from the group of employees who work in the office. It is well known that one of people’s basic needs is to belong to a specific group and I found it hard to develop the sense of belonging. In my opinion, if not addressed, this might result in increased job exhaustion and unhappiness, which would increase the likelihood of resignation. Thankfully, I had opportunities to join my office colleagues in Berlin on several occasions which has helped bridge this gap. Though far from a ‘magic bullet’ solution the personal contact and developing a feel for people face-to-face has proven very valuable. My advice is to include the remote workers as much as possible in the company’s events and gatherings, because employees with a strong sense of organizational identification will make an effort to keep close contact with the organization and make themselves loyal members of the company. Needless to say, if there is an opportunity to enable an in-person or onsite meeting between the remote worker and onsite team, this can go a long way in bridging the gap and helping form meaningful relationships.
One additional big challenge for me was (and still is) the collapsing of boundaries between work and private life and the impact of being able to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In other words, having constant access to technology was making it difficult for me to switch off entirely from work. I was often logging-in past normal hours, was over-working, and had often worked instead of engaging with my family. Reading and answering late emails and dialing back on the “non-stop” working mentality is something I still struggle with.
If I could highlight one challenge that affected me the most, it would be the lack of daily social interaction. Being in a position where I was working remotely from the start was preventing me from building meaningful relationships with my colleagues and from maintaining good communication. However, when covid-19 spread in Europe and all Caissa employees started to work remotely, interestingly, the communication flow increased and did so across multiple channels. Now that all of us are working from home, we have introduced daily online morning coffee meet-ups and funky Fridays where the whole team dresses unconventionally in order to create a festival-like atmosphere. Having us all adjusting to the home-office and feeling how important it is to communicate and be responsive to each other made the situation for regular remote workers, like myself, much easier. My supervisors have recognized this and they are developing new processes to support remote work. Over-communication is the key for successful cooperation with remote workers. The idea here is not only to have regular daily meet-ups to share news and general feelings, but to also organize regular team or cross-team calls where employees can bring up different ideas and professional challenges they are currently facing. Gathering feedback in the form of weekly surveys is highly beneficial in showing where improvements can be made.
Both positive and adverse experiences helped me discover more about myself and my potential. If I could change something and give advice it would be that companies should consider providing training for home-office workers and their managers before they take any move towards a remote workforce. Remote workers should not be allowed to become “invisible workers”, they may be very skilled at their job, but they do still require support to be effective. That is why as part of the training, managers should learn how to over-communicate with remote workers, not just about work matters, but also psychological issues such as over-working, managing work and home boundaries and their stress levels. On the other hand, employees need to be open and maintain a straightforward communication with their supervisors letting them know of difficulties they are encountering.
Although the popularity of remote work is significantly increasing every year, and that is not surprising as it can offer so much for both the company and employees, still there is a group of people, like myself, that find it difficult to adjust and prefer the more “traditional” way of office work. Before making decisions on remote work, it would be beneficial for employees to reflect on their competencies and personal characteristics, as remote work could have a big impact on an individual's quality of work and non-working life.