Over the course of my career, I experienced many tectonic shifts in the idea of workplaces. At the beginning of my career, I aspired to have an office with a door, a credenza and mahogany walls with a view. Then came cubicles, with walls growing lower and lower until they were non-existent.
Over time, personal space has eroded introducing hoteling and shared spaces positioned to foster conversations and collaboration. Location strategies are moving non-client facing positions – like those in technology – to lower-cost centers. Teams are no longer located in the same facility, campus, region or even country. Global teams are connecting virtually to solve complex problems, which creates opportunities for employees to work remotely.
But how will this shift affect employees and does gender matter?
Telecommuting is highly sought after as a way to achieve work-life balance. 95% of knowledge workers – individual contributors who work on computers – would prefer to work remotely. 74% would be willing to quit a job to do so.
For women, working remotely helps them to advance (57% were promoted compared with 35% who worked in the office). Interacting using technology (email, shared documents, conference calls and video) levels the playing field. It disrupts traditional, unconscious, gender-biased behavior such as mansplaining (where men adopt a condescending way of explaining usually basic concepts to women) or when men speak over women during meetings or take credit for their ideas.
Technology creates “face-less” contributors whose ideas stand for themselves. It provides time to think out solutions, which reduces groupthink, and slows down rapid-fire conversations. One study showed that 84% of women agreed that they were more productive using email and online collaboration tools because they could control the back-and-forth communication. 66% of women indicated that in online communications, colleagues were more receptive, their work was recognized, and they felt heard.
When employees work remotely the rules of engagement change
Remote employees have fewer distractions and feeling less stress than colleagues in the office because they control when and how they work. Interruptions from people “dropping by” is replaced by an email, or a ping, which is more easily managed. Remote workers need to produce results, attend meetings, schedule one-on-one meetings with their managers and collaborate with colleagues. Being out of sight means working harder to remain top of mind, especially when other colleagues are working in the office.
But working remotely no longer derails a career. In 2019, remote workers were 40% more likely to get promoted than their in-office colleagues, received more raises and felt valued by their companies.
Managers have been skeptical about remote, citing the most common reasons for resistance as:
- More frequent distractions (with laundry, house chores, kids)
- Immediate access to speak with an employee
- Need to allow all employees to work remotely
- Lack of professionalism
These are all myths, of course! Remote workers are more focused and productive than employees who work in the office. They can be contacted as easily as on-site workers and collaborate as effectively. Remote workers can’t fake productivity by sitting in a cubicle looking busy. They need to produce results – and they do!
Freedom, transparency, solutions
Remote work provides freedom from being in the office from 9 to 5, offering the ability to create a schedule that intentionally integrates work and non-work activities without over-committing. For women who might be insecure about showing their competence and managing their image, it is better to be transparent, by disclosing when you will be available rather than attempting to juggle tasks. Earlier in my career, I did not take this advice and was taking a conference call while carrying my child. It did not go well and ended with a trip to the emergency room.
Understand the way you prefer to work and shape your environment to fit your needs. No solution is perfect. Working remotely can lead to social isolation. If you enjoy meeting at the water cooler, working remotely can be lonely. But active time management can help:
- Schedule “touch base calls” or find outside activities to increase your socialization. Work out the engagement with your manager and team to guarantee your inclusion in conversations.
- Get away from your desk and stretch. Prolonged time in front of a computer is not healthy.
- Be conscious not to blur the lines between work and home life. When you are working out of a home office, it is easy for work to intrude into family time or create longer working hours.
- Establish boundaries and manage your priorities. When your home-life and work are intertwined it is important to impose a separation.
Currently, the Coronavirus is forcing companies to embrace remote work. It may help managers recognize the benefits to their organizations, such as promoting collaboration and communication. To work effectively, remote employees need to actively manage schedules to maintain a connection with managers and colleagues and create separation between home and work.
Understand how you work most effectively and structure your time and space. Unplug, to be fully present when you are at home. Be visible and engaged when you are at work.