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Top 9 Ways Remote Work is Different From In-Office Work

Almost overnight, we’ve gone from business as usual to working from home around the world. We’re taking extraordinary steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It’s keeping us safer and we all want that. But for many of us it’s a huge adjustment that can’t be underestimated. If there’s a silver lining in any of this, it’s that the rapid shift to remote work may ultimately have long-term benefits for employees and for businesses.

“Companies around the world are facing multiple challenges during the pandemic, including ensuring that they are agile enough to adapt to change,” said Yuchun Lee, CEO and Co-Founder, Allego. “This global health crisis has hastened the demands of the modern workplace. Businesses that haven’t already considered the financial and strategic benefits of a remote workforce need to do so now. Otherwise, they risk losing out to more nimble competitors for both customers and talent.”

Until very recently, only slightly more than half (52%)of earners said they work outside their company’s main location for at least half the week. In a few short weeks that number has ballooned. Today, a majority of those who can work from home do. Companies rushed to make remote arrangements. We got busy on Zoom and Google Hangouts. We patched together child care, taking turns with our partners. In general, we figured out how to be productive in stressful circumstances.

Now that we’ve set up our laptops at the dining room table and ordered an extra supply of coffee, the dust is settling. As we head into week 1, 2, or 3 of remote work, we’re starting to see the big picture. Working from home is simply a different beast from getting projects done in the office. Along with a (much) shorter commute and casual dress code, people report that daily schedules, collaboration, and even their sense of time are upended.

When you work remotely, you may not be able to just pick up where you left off the last time you were in the office. This is especially true if you’re using new tools to get work done. While some teams are familiar with platforms such as Allego, Slack, Skype, FaceTime, Asana, and Trello, others are learning new tech at the same time they’re getting used to new ways of communicating and collaborating.

A Three-Phase Shift to a Remote Mindset

Think of this moment as having three phases. During Phase 1, companies scrambled to equip remote workforces and develop work-from-home policies, processes, and practices. The question on everyone’s mind was simply, “How do we go remote?” In Phase 2 (today), remote work is up and running. Companies that may have doubted their abilities to be productive remotely have begun to ask, “How do we do this better?” and “What else can we do to be more productive?”

At some point, hopefully in the near future, the pandemic will end and we’ll return to a “new normal” in which remote work is more prevalent and more accepted by companies of all sizes. This is Phase 3. Once organizations that can offer remote work have done so on a large scale, few will be motivated to return to the status quo in which a majority of their teams are in-house.

This unintended experiment in remote work may end reservations about our ability to be productive outside a traditional office once and for all. When leadership sees the potential savings and increased productivity of remote work, we will begin to ask questions such as, “How can we optimize WFH?” and “How can remote work help businesses achieve their goals?”

9 Differences Between Remote and Office Work and Why They Matter

Today, the new reality of Phase 3 is still a distant blip on the horizon. As we hunker down in an extended Phase 2, we’re learning the finer distinctions between remote work and in-office work. Here are the top nine ways they’re different:

Collaboration.

Collaboration can be difficult for remote workers, even though phone calls, video conferencing, and project management software are better than ever before. Attention spans are different when working together via video. Research shows that our ability to absorb and retain information is diminished. Some experience the “Zoom in, zone out” phenomenon in which video calls are used as opportunities to multi-task rather than interact with colleagues and focus on a common goal. Work must be broken down into smaller chunks and presented differently for remote teams.

Management.

Management and oversight are easier in-office. Businesses have better control over work hours and output when everyone is in the office. It’s easier to keep an eye on employee performance. Managers can see who’s goofing off by the water cooler and who’s buckling down, but also home in on areas in need of improvement, removing obstacles and preventing setbacks. Managing a remote team requires an additional level of vigilance and on-going communication.

Distractions.

On the other hand, the office is notorious for unnecessary meetings, employee interruptions, breaks, hallway conversations, and more. Working from home (if the kids are in school) allows a heads-down focus that’s great for planning, writing, and other tasks that require long stretches of time without interruption.

Flexibility.

One of the main strengths and weaknesses of office work is that it forces everyone to work on the same schedule. In the U.S., 9-to-5 (give or take a few hours) have become the standard hours of operation. While this works for singles or childless couples, it’s a huge burden on anyone caring for school-age children or elderly parents. Scheduling coverage before or after work is difficult and expensive. The flexibility to stagger schedules with partners or other caregivers is a huge benefit of remote work. Being able to work asynchronously with people in different time zones or simply on different schedules is a breakthrough for productivity.

Motivation.

Not everyone is motivated enough to work from home. It can also be invigorating for employees to work face-to-face or surrounded by active teams. But motivated remote employees can determine their own schedules and use task management and collaboration programs to keep on track. Managers need to gauge the self-motivation of individual contributors and be ready with a carrot or stick for those who need it.

Technology.

Just as the tech stack has grown in every area of business, there are dozens of tools specifically to help remote workers plan, communicate, and collaborate. Mobile, video, and peer-to-peer networking have enriched the remote experience, allowing colleagues to read facial expressions, gestures, body language, and tone of voice. These tools can even enhance collaboration beyond what was possible for geographically dispersed teams. The only downsides are the learning curve for new tools and connectivity issues, which can shut down work if remote employees have slow access, limited data, or internet that goes out.

Productivity.

The traditional office space can be extremely productive for businesses that rely on employee interaction and teamwork. It allows for simple collaboration and bonding, which can boost overall efficiencies. That said, research also shows that more than half of all employees said they were more productive when working remotely, away from office distractions.

Commuting.

Many of us can agree that the commute into the office is the worst part of the day. Our journey to work can be long, unpredictable, stressful, and expensive. It lengthens the workday, as we answer emails and take calls to and from the office. Freeing up these hours on the train, bus, or in the car is one of the biggest advantages for everyone working from home.

Overhead.

Rent, office equipment, maintenance, supplies, snacks, and other expenses can be a significant slice of a company’s budget. Remote teams require a relatively small investment in laptops and headphones. Without the need to pay for office space, equipment, supplies, and all other expenses, businesses can save thousands of dollars each month. Some companies contribute to employees’ internet connection, but that’s a minor cost compared to supporting an in-office team.

Preparing for the New Normal

For many employers and employees, remote work has now become the norm. We’re more aware of how it differs from the traditional in-office experience every day. Businesses that consider remote work an option instead of a requirement are increasingly in the minority. Even before the coronavirus forced the issue, 74% of respondents in an annual survey said they believe it has become the “new normal.” In the past ten years, 83% of U.S. businesses have introduced a flexible workspace policy, or are planning to adopt one.

“If businesses use the right technology, they can save money, drive profitability, increase collaboration, and empower employees,” added Lee. “What we are seeing now is that companies are discovering the advantages of remote work for recruiting, productivity, and agility.”

Implementing a remote workforce can help companies scale up quickly, expand internationally, accelerate speed to market, and reduce capital and operational expenses. But going remote does take planning, excellent communication, and the right tools. In these uncertain times, businesses are prioritizing agility and cost efficiencies. It’s clear that when the crisis is over, remote work may emerge as a competitive advantage over traditional offices. Will your organization be ready?

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