Debbie Sharp, the web manager for Opportunity Now and Race for Opportunity, gives an insight into life as a remote worker.
With all the talk in the media of the change of direction for Yahoo! in terms of their remote flexible working strategies I felt it was an appropriate time to share an insight into what it is like to be not only a remote worker, but a woman that is in a male dominated sector and of shall we say mature years.
Remote working is a way of working that undoubtedly needs effort to make it succeed and this effort has to come from both the employee and employer. It has to remembered at all times that communication is a two way street. If as the worker you haven’t asked the right questions or requested and been provided the right technology to facilitate the completion of your tasks, remote working will fail. If as an employer your line managers have not received the right training and remote working is perceived incorrectly as not being productive any strategy will fail.
It is essential as a remote worker to have a strong and disciplined work ethic. I defy anyone to show me a focussed remote worker whose productivity is not increased by the very fact of not being drawn into water cooler conversations or inadvertently involved in office politics. On the flip side of this are the feelings of isolation that can be experienced. Especially as a great deal of decisions are made during those water cooler conversations mentioned earlier. So how can this be avoided? Well, there has to be buy in for this form of working by all the team, not just the remote worker. Yes it is inconvenient having to actually find a meeting room with conference calling facilities, yes it is inconvenient having to follow conference calling etiquette, having a clear agenda etc, but if remote working is a offered by the employer every effort has to be made to make it work. It is not something that will work if only attempted half heartedly by both parties. The onus must not just be on the worker, it needs to be seen as a culture change for the whole organisation.
I truly believe that Yahoo! got the strategy wrong for remote working. If a lack of productivity is cited as a reason for bringing the workforce back into the office I ask a simple question - why were the remote workers not working to clear objectives with deadlines and questions asked if these deadlines were not met ? This is fundamental to a successful strategy and it is I believe the responsibility of the remote worker to ensure deadlines are very clear and above all deliverable. I also believe it is the responsibility of the remote worker to ensure the team is not put at a disadvantage because it contains members that work ‘differently’ to the rest.
I have over the years witnessed a great deal of misunderstanding of remote working , but I have also in that time brought in two major projects, both of which would not have been possible had I been confined to office working and adopted a nine to five mentality. So my vote will always be for a carefully thought out, fit for purpose flexible working strategy that is designed to assist in the development of a truly inclusive culture.