The Covid-19 crisis dramatically magnified an organizational trend that was already picking up: remote work. A survey of 15,000 employees in the US found that 43% worked from home for at least part of the week and that most industries were already adopting remote work practices.
What can we learn from research?
A study of UK employees revealed that working from home improved their satisfaction and organizational commitment. These findings are supported by an experiment conducted in a call center in Shanghai. Some employees continued to work as usual (arriving at work) while others started working from home. The home-based workgroup showed greater satisfaction, lower turnover, and more productivity (13.5% more calls) over the 9 months of the experiment relatively to the workgroup that came to the call center to work. By having employees working remotely organizations can also benefit from the opportunity to rent smaller offices and spend less money on furniture (for example, $1900 savings per employee for the 9 months in the Shanghai-based experiment). In addition, there are environmental benefits as a result of less air pollution, less commute time, and more quality time with the family.
However, there are other studies that discuss the downsides of working remotely. For example, working from home leads employees to put in more working hours and many find it difficult to separate professional and personal life. Studies suggest challenges due to social isolation, the feeling that the employee and his contribution are "invisible", communication difficulties (technological and interpersonal), difficulty in creating trust as well as building a corporate culture and shared identity, and even showing how the lack of informal interaction (which occurs frequently and naturally in the workplace) stifles creatively.
Work from home and other flexible working arrangements are here to stay. Organizations, managers and employees have some lessons to learn. First, remote work has the potential to contribute to organizational productivity while reducing costs. However, working remotely will not suit every employee. If you enjoy social connections or if intensive teamwork is important to your success, if you do not like to work without guidance and you find it difficult to set boundaries - working in the office will lead you to flourish. If you are more introverted, if working in an open space environment - an approach adopted today by many organizations - makes it hard for you to concentrate - if you often work independently and can achieve your goals with minimal guidance, and if you are able to create a balance between professional and personal life - working from home will lead you to flourish.
Managers who lead remote working teams need to pay attention to the following issues. Managers should emphasize goals and shared responsibilities clearly. It is important to maintain frequent and consistent contact - with individual employees and, if relevant, with the team as a whole, formally and informally. It is also recommended to use a variety of communication platforms (email, zoom, phone conversations but also face-to-face meetings when possible). It is useful to pairs employees to work together on a project - so that a remote worker will be linked to an office worker. Managers should invest in building a relationship with remote workers that will allow to establish mutual trust, and allow the workers to identify with the organization and better handle communication issues. It is important to be attentive, flexible and available.
Professor Amir Grinstein studies and teaches pro-social marketing and entrepreneurship at Northeastern Universities in Boston and VU in Amsterdam. He writes on Twitter about behavioral research @AmirGrinstein
Yana Shechterman is an organizational consultant, executive coach, and part-time lecturer at Northeastern University in Boston. On Twitter @shechterman
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 18, 2020
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