The dramatic changes brought to our working world by the Covid-19 crisis led to an overnight increase in remote working. However, as we transition into a new era of work, rather than returning to ‘9-5’ office-based work, remote work is looking likely to become far more common. After all, in the last few months, employers and professionals have realised that many traditionally office-based jobs, can in fact be done successfully from anywhere.
Remote working has been on the rise around the world for some time now. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, it was reported that remote working increased by 159% in the United States between 2005 and 2017. More recently, 49% of UK workers reported working from home this June.
Has the pandemic provided you with your first experience of working from home for an extended period of time, and you’re finding you’re enjoying it? Perhaps that’s because you feel you’re more productive at home than in the office, or maybe it’s allowed you to improve your work-life-balance? The good news is that more companies are likely to start providing their employees with the option to work remotely permanently.
Do you think your current employer will be one of the many organisations that will be offering continued remote work in the new era or work? If you’re unsure and would like to find out, there are a couple of ways you should approach the subject with your manager. As Nick Deligiannis, Hays Australia and New Zealand Managing Director, discussed recently, you should define your best practise work-from-home plan, alongside evidence of your recent achievements whilst working remotely. But if this level of flexibility isn’t going to be an option with your current employer, it might be worth looking elsewhere.
However, there’s a difference between being able to cope with remote working for a few months and being able to thrive as a remote worker in the long term.
How, then, can you determine whether a permanently remote role really is right for you? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you start the job search process:
1. Do you work most productively remotely or in the office? Sure, not having to face the commute and spending more time with friends and family makes remote work very alluring. But you need to be honest with yourself in assessing whether you are really as productive when working remotely or from home as you are when sitting in an office. Remote working isn’t right for everyone – it requires a high level of discipline and motivation, as well as strong communication skills and an ability to work well on your own. Furthermore, even if you do possess these qualities, you might get better results or simply prefer the face-to-face contact and energy that comes with sharing an office with your colleagues – so it’s worth spending some time to really assess which setting makes you feel the happiest and most engaged, thus enabling you to produce your best work. One of the best ways to compare your productivity levels in different settings is to – honestly – think about your output; how many tasks or projects do you complete on a typical day at home vs. in the office? Use the productivity formula as discussed by Harvard Business Review: productivity = units of output divided by units of input.
2. Do you feel confident working remotely? Self-confidence is important if you are to excel at any way of working, of course, but it’s especially crucial if you are working remotely. As Roddy Adair – Director at Hays UK – has recently written about, there are a lot of aspects of remote work for which self-confidence is vital. These include such things as getting accustomed to new technological tools, presenting your work via virtual meetings, and setting a daily schedule that allows you to work productively without sacrificing your wellbeing. You’ll also need to be a confident and skilled enough communicator to be able to build strong relationships with colleagues despite not physically being in the office with them. Bear in mind too, that if you’re working remotely then you probably won’t be receiving the same affirmations and boosts to your confidence from your colleagues or your boss that you would do ordinarily – for example, a spoken ‘well done’ in passing, or a quick but supportive comment about a particularly difficult task.
3. Where will you base yourself? This is an important question, not just for ensuring you set up a space that meets your practical needs, but also for devising a strategy for exactly how you will work remotely. Will you, for instance, have a specific room or area in your house that you will dedicate to work? Will you sometimes work from a cafe? Are you able to create a quiet zone that you can use for important calls or presentations? Your answers to these questions will help you to envisage precisely what it would be like to work remotely, and whether it will enable you to give your best performance and productivity, at the same time as caring for your wellbeing and achieving your career goals.
4. How will you remain visible and connected? How will you ensure you are visible, and your contributions acknowledged, by key figures at your company so that your career progression isn’t negatively impacted? There are a number of steps that you can take to maximise your visibility as a remote worker, for example keeping in contact with all members of your team – whether that’s your manager or colleague, take time to video call others (rather than communication like emails and instant messages) to discuss any work-related queries, or just to have a quick catch up after the weekend. As discussed in another recent blog, it’s also good to keep stakeholders in the loop with progress on projects, and that when it comes to improving your visibility with your boss, don’t be afraid of a little self-promotion – you must get comfortable speaking out about your successes and achievements.
It’s also a good idea to join physical meetings occasionally, where possible. Attending events such as Christmas parties or team lunches are a great way to remain present and fully part of the team. Finally, consider how you will develop your professional brand if you only ever work remotely. Again, being proactive about making connections will help, as will strategies such as cultivating an enthusiastic and engaged tone of voice in your communications with co-workers and clients alike.
5. What will you do to ensure you don’t overwork yourself? There has been evidence of working hours increasing around the world since the onset of the coronavirus crisis. This perhaps shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, when your manager has much less visibility, as a remote worker, you may feel a particular need to be seen as being productive and prove your value, which might drive you to overwork. And given the fact you’re working where you live, you now have 24/7 access to your work computer, therefore may feel the need to be ‘always on’, or always contactable.
Moreover, all of those inevitable homely distractions – such as your children, any pets, or even deliveries arriving – might serve to hamper your focus, thereby leaving you less productive during the day, and more vulnerable to feeling the need to catch up with work on evenings. So, you’ll need to consider how you can deal with the risk of unhealthy overworking in a permanently remote role. That is likely to include setting and communicating strict boundaries in terms of where and when you work, in addition to minimising distractions in your remote ‘office’, and establishing an open, trusting relationship with your manager.
6. What will you do to maintain positive wellbeing and mental health? In addition to the dangers of overworking and burnout, working remotely can be challenging for your mental health and wellbeing more generally. As explained in this Financial Times article, working from home can “cause mental stress, with many employees noting ‘video call fatigue’ and craving real human interaction”. After all, you’ll continue to have all of the same work pressures when working remotely as you did in the office, but with all of the potential distractions of home life as well. So before taking on a permanently remote role, you’ll need to be confident in your ability to set boundaries and maintain a work-life balance. Will you be able to take a lunch break at the same time each day, and declare your working day over when it is over? Or will you still be constantly ‘at work’ after 5pm, answering emails and not getting the adequate rest and sleep that would enable you to wake up refreshed for another day?
7. How will you combat feelings of loneliness? If you have never or rarely worked remotely before now, it can be easy to overlook just how lonely you may feel working from home on your own. As observed in The Guardian, those of us who work permanently in the office become accustomed to interacting with our colleagues and the wider world in all kinds of ways. If you move from office-based working to a permanently remote role, you’ll no longer receive the positive reinforcement that you previously got from co-workers’ words and body language in the office – aspects you may not have even noticed or appreciated until they were gone.
So, ask yourself how you expect to combat such potential loneliness. Will you initiate regular catch ups with your team members and managers, for instance, making a point to not just talk work all the time? One tip here is to keep recurring invites in the diary and try not to reschedule or push them back – this interaction is really important. It’s also a good idea, if you can, to make plans for after work as well that involve some kind of social connection. If such measures for overcoming loneliness aren’t practicable for you, you might have to ask yourself whether a permanently remote role is right for you.
8. How will you take ownership of your own learning? Being based remotely and thus having less face-to-face time with your manager may make it harder for them to assess your skills and therefore identify relevant training for you, compared to an office-based employee. In this instance, you would need to be comfortable with asking for training in the areas you think you need, build a business case for this and upskill yourself. Do you think you can motivate yourself to assess your strengths and weaknesses objectively, and take action to combat any development areas? It’s really important that you can demonstrate and communicate your commitment to your own learning to your manager, and take time to regularly update your CV and LinkedIn profile to reflect this. Also bear in mind that the skills you’ll need to work successfully remotely will be different those of an office-based worker – therefore you need to be able to dedicate yourself to learning.
9. Will you be comfortable with having a different employee experience to your office-based colleagues? As a result of the changes to our world of work, many employers are restructuring their benefits packages, which could mean remote employees are offered different perks than those based in the office. Our CEO, Alistair Cox, recently explored what could be on offer; “some businesses [are] extending benefits to dependents and loved ones, providing access to mental health and wellbeing apps (Experian is offering virtual yoga classes) and access to financial education.” Some are even offering educational programmes to those who have been out of work due to the crisis. That being said, some activities or treats that office-based employees enjoy simply won’t, and can’t, be replicated for remote workers. Factors such as free breakfasts, snacks or drinks in the office would be missed out on. Even small office perks like cakes and treats when it’s a team member’s birthday, you wouldn’t be able to join in on. These are just some examples that would be different for you, that you’d need to feel comfortable with – and not always feeling as though you’re missing out.
I hope taking time to reflect on your answers to these questions has helped you to determine whether a permanently remote role would be right for you. The immediately obvious benefits of remote working are, of course, tempting. However, it’s also worth spending some time thinking about whether this working style really will suit you, as it is a long-term decision that will impact every part of your life. So, be sure to give this important decision proper consideration before you dedicate yourself to a completely different way of life.
If you’re considering your next step, get in contact with one of our expert recruitment consultants for a confidential chat about the career options available to you, or to access a host of resources for helping you adapt to the new way of working, visit our Inspire Me in the New Era of Work Hub. As your lifelong career partner, we are with you every step of the way and will be updating this site regularly with new guides, blogs and information to support you.
Mark joined Hays in 1985 as a trainee consultant and has been in various roles, sectors and locations during his time at Hays. He is a Board member and in 2019 his responsibilities extended to Hays Ireland.
In our latest Equality, Inclusion and Diversity Report, we explore whether flexible working can help create more diverse workforces and more inclusive workplaces.
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