Remote Working: The Interpersonal Impact

We have all been hearing about the ‘new normal’. The new normal at work can include many things. The most common factor is converting to working from home. As we listen to our community, it is clear that it is a much tougher adjustment than just setting up a home office.

We have heard that managers are trying to understand how they will:

At IHHP, we have years of experience and expertise in results-based, remote working. We will be sharing our insights and tools with you over a series of articles.

We acknowledge that this new way of working comes with some inherent challenges and potential strain. However, there are some benefits to remote working that deserve to be highlighted.

Positives of Working from Home

Flexibility

One common denominator about working remotely is flexibility. Flexibility means so many different things to different people. For instance, it could mean being able to take unscheduled breaks. It could also mean working from different rooms in your house based on your needs and comfort.

At IHHP, we are hearing that people feel empowered working from home versus a physical office space. One interviewee commented, “it empowers me as an introvert since I don’t feel pressured to be ‘on’ all the time. I’m free to take time to think, recharge, and work independently. In fact, a lot of the work I do involves creative and agile thinking and I find that I have my best ideas in less formal settings”.

Cost savings and time savings

How much money did you spend on gas driving to work, on transit, or parking? What’s the cost of the wear and tear on your vehicle each month from your commute? How much time was spent commuting either by car or public transit?

Commuting definitely impacts your financial and personal energy reserves. The depletion of energy and the consumption of time can take its toll personally. So, working from home actually sets the stage to have increased energy and time to focus on other things. You can prioritize personal health and well-being, family connection, and contributing to your community. 

Better work-life integration

Making the most of this lifestyle change of working where you live, and being in close proximity to family, offers several opportunities. For instance, you can have an unhurried breakfast, lunch with your family, and prepare healthy meals at dinnertime.

Some respondents to our work-from-home survey cited greater work-life balance by playing board games, and reading and exercising on their own or even with family.

In addition, being able to prioritize your own personal development is a definite plus. Some folks shared they now have more time to complete online courses to further develop their skills and potentially advance their careers.

One hard-working parent shared, “working remotely has allowed a greater work/life balance. Rather than stressing about my daily commute and the impact the stress had on my family, I have been able to have a clearer mindset. As a result, I can manage the day-to-day as well as better manage the chaos that comes with having a young child at home”.

Challenges of Working from Home

Communication

When working in an office, much of the communication experienced is through face-to-face talking. This is often followed up by some form of electronic communication like email. Working from home flips this around, so most communication is sent via instant messaging (IM) and email. Without tone and inflection, there is much opportunity to misunderstand or misconstrue an individual’s intention.

Therefore, there is a lot of room for personal interpretation and the building of stories as we work in our home offices. Back and forth goes the volley of an email trail, often losing the intention and message of the original sender. In short, time can be wasted, emotions impacted, and productivity impaired by a lack of clear communication.    

Distractions and interruptions

Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter as we are inundated with incoming stimuli. People get very distracted nowadays during phone calls, if they even bother to have them at all.  Their eyes wander to spreadsheets, social media, and email inboxes. Their minds and attention follow their wandering eyes.  

With an increase in socially-distanced delivery services, the likelihood of the doorbell ringing and a dog barking are exceedingly high. If you have small children, interruptions are inevitable as they seek to have their needs met, or pop in to visit mommy or daddy, or play on their computer. We are all familiar with the BBC News clip with a professional-looking dad in his home office, providing a very articulate interview. Not only does his youngster come sashaying in, but his toddler in a walker comes crashing through the door close behind too!

Isolation vs. connection

Working remotely can be challenging at times due to the lack of natural social connections with people. You lose the opportunity for both formal and informal interactions. In other words, seeing them in the hallway or the lunch room, having in-person meetings, or walking to their desk to share ideas.

Above all, working from home can feel lonely due to the isolation, especially during this time of coronavirus lockdown. Some people report feeling quite lonely during work-from-home days. Certainly, not sharing physical office space with co-workers impacts the ability to build and nurture work relationships and easily share ideas. Many people experience the absence of these human interactions and dynamics as a huge loss.

Tips to Manage Remote Working

1. Don’t let work take over everything at home.

Now that your home is your office, you might find yourself working everywhere. Be mindful of how many hours you’re working and make sure to maintain a balance. Take proper breaks and make sure you are not sitting all day. For example, you can get up and stretch, go for a walk, or invest in a standing desk to build in physical variety. 

2. Decide on a videoconferencing platform.

Leaders, support your team members to connect and communicate clearly and consistently by investing in a stable video conferencing platform. Encourage everyone to connect via that platform, internal and external (clients) to the organization.

3. Make sure your equipment works.

There is nothing more frustrating than getting on a video call with someone whose video and audio capabilities do not work effectively or consistently.  Therefore, test it and set it up ahead of time.

4. Ensure that everyone knows how to use the collaborative technology being introduced.

Moving to a virtual work landscape will bring a different comfort level for different participants. Some folks may find it immediately comfortable and intuitive. However, others may need more support with tools like Google Docs, IM, and videoconferencing.

5. ALWAYS, always, always, assume no ill intention in an email or text message.

It is often hard to craft emails that don’t come across as demanding or impatient. Seek more information once you’ve read the email. Ask questions to ensure you are clear on the sender’s intentions. 

6. Escalate communications to video calling quickly and often.

If you’ve engaged in an email trail back and forth three times, you’re basically now trying to have a conversation in email. Instead, promptly get on a video call. It will improve communication, prevent creating a scroll of unnecessary, formalized communication points, and therefore increase the likelihood of a productive outcome. 

7. Stay focused.

Avoid being distracted by multi-tasking (email, social media). Although common, this divided attention does not allow for authentic connection, focus, contribution, or collaboration. Practice what it feels like to focus and be present when on phone calls and video conferences.

8. Use your time wisely.

Plan and prioritize to ensure that your high-gain activities are completed each day. Remember to add breaks and lunch into your calendar, written or electronic.   

9. Trust your team.

Trust that people will be accountable and responsible for delivering the same level of work, or greater, as they would if working in an office. In fact, research suggests that remote workers are more productive in a day than in-office workers.

10. Maintain personal connection by allowing for personal connection time on remote meetings.

When everyone is working remotely, there is no water cooler or coffee station at which to congregate. Try having meetings start a little early to allow people time to socialize, or make your first item on the agenda a catch-up. On the other hand, if group catch-ups are not a fit for your team, book short video calls with individuals to “just catch up” as you would in a normal office. These catch-ups are a great time to have casual conversations, unwind, and express gratitude for your teammates.

Have more questions about working from home? Join our Facebook Group to build meaningful connections, access resources like podcasts, articles, and videos, as well as learn strategies that will help you in these turbulent times.

This post was written by Cranla Warren, Ph.D. Connect with Cranla on LinkedIn.