Remote work is in the spotlight nowadays due to the Coronavirus pandemic. How do we define remote work? Why is it such a powerful tool for businesses? How can we do it well?
This article on remote work was written by Mudita's PR manager, Joanna.
During the current COVID-19 situation, many employers around the world have literally been forced by circumstances to try a remote work experiment. At least for the moment.
It’s only now that companies are realizing the health benefits of working remotely and it’s far more visible during these difficult times. The safety of employees should have always been an important element and it shouldn’t really have taken a global crisis to figure that out, but it did.
My first contact with online work was three years ago when I moved to another city, leaving my company behind. It was a completely different challenge. Then I joined Mudita where working remotely was never a problem. I always had a choice, I was able to work from my home or the office.
After a year spent working on finalising Mudita Pure, the SARS-CoV-2 virus pandemic came. Most countries announced the need to shut down businesses and go remote.
As Mudita employees, we all began to work from home. However, without prior preparation, many workers were in a difficult position. Developing new solutions that could help us all continue to work as normally as possible, even outside of the office environment, had to be a priority.
The main concerns included:
No real-time collaboration
Possibility of incorrect information
Lack of trust in employees who cannot be monitored
Limited control over how employees spend their time and create boundaries between work and private life
The belief that there are many additional tools, rules, training, and techniques to manage remote teams
Another interesting problem was the lack of interpersonal contact between employees. It's hard to admit that drinking coffee in the morning in front of a monitor is not the same as when you spend time with your colleagues in the company kitchen.
Changing the operating mode seemed to be too much of a challenge.
The biggest concerns when it comes to remote work are usually from the owners of companies.
On the one hand, during this pandemic, they were sincerely concerned that office work would not be safe for the team. As one infected employee could cause an avalanche of further infections and the need to isolate all employees and their families, as well as the enormous costs associated with decontaminating an office.
On the other hand, there was a lot of worry that their employees would slow down. They worried that people would simply stop working when they should really be focused on their responsibilities.
Remote work is not for everyone.
I had the opportunity to talk to other remote employees in Poland, as well as in the USA and UK. We have often discussed the topic of remote work and the challenges it brings.
I learned that we all faced the same or similar problems: loneliness, fear that others might think you were not working, distraction, communication problems with other colleagues who are not yet prepared to be part of an online team, the need to combine online work with caring for young children or helping older children to learn at home, as well as the problem of delineating the boundaries - figuring out where ‘work’ ends and ‘home’ begins.
Not all, but many of my friends felt that remote work suited them. Others prefer to communicate face to face and interact with their colleagues. This confirmed the rule that people who are extraverts do much worse in this situation than those who display introverted traits.
Still, 98 percent of people who already have full remote work would not return to their regular office. On the other hand, as many as 97% of the respondents would recommend remote work.
A pie chart. Would you like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of your career?
So what are the pros and cons of remote work?
As I mentioned earlier, some people love working from home, but there are also people who hate it. There are many prejudices associated with this style of work. As a result, people either try desperately to keep remote work to stay at home or refuse to work remotely because they only think about its negative consequences.
I should point out that the Coronavirus was not the only factor in creating the demand for employees who work remotely. Various types of online work have existed for years, such as:
The most famous type is the Freelancer: A person with this type of job offers clients a specific service and can work from anywhere. It determines the type of project they do and how much they will work per week. It gives amazing opportunities to negotiate with clients in terms of hours and deadlines of the work performed. Although in this case the person has a lot of freedom in the work routine, income is almost never usually secure, as you have to constantly look for new clients and/or do whatever it takes to keep your existing ones.
Own business. Being your own boss means working where you want, when you want and for as much as you want. While it means you could enjoy maximum flexibility, it also involves finding a way to generate a steady income. It often requires a large investment of money at the beginning, and at some stage even acquiring a business partner, freelancers or employees who will help further develop the business.
Finally, the Remote Worker. A person employed in a company, who does not have to come to the office. Instead, they can work from home or literally from anywhere. Being a regular part of the team, they often (but not always!) have a specific work schedule that they must adhere to, which may include times to start and end daily working hours or scheduled meetings. This is the only mode of work that is assumed to have a secured steady income, without the need to search for clients.
The above division gives an outline of the possibilities that online work gives employees.
Here are the advantages of working online:
No travel required. No more crowded buses or trains. No more annoying traffic jams. Among the most hated hours of the day is driving to and from offices. This time is considered very stressful and depressing by the vast majority of employees. Working from home is a great way to avoid those daily commutes.
Save time and money. First, you don't have to spend time in the bathroom getting ready in the morning. Since you no longer have to travel to work, you also save a lot of time. There is no morning noise and rushing (it is even worse when you have to prepare not only yourself but also the children to go to school).
Working online gives you the opportunity to get enough sleep and start your day in peace. Of course, this directly translates into money saved working from home. No public transport tickets or fuel bills for the car. Perhaps savings may also appear in the possession of official clothes and with self-prepared food instead of buying lunch. Economical and much healthier. Savings on office space and rents, savings on electricity bills in companies, and on office equipment are worth mentioning too.
Comfort and flexible working hours. This means you can work when you feel most productive. For some people it is the morning hours, others prefer to work late into the night. It’s important to know when your colleagues are working if collaboration is required.
More time with the family. Not only in non-pandemic times but also when most of us have switched to remote work due to the Coronavirus, the presence in the life of the family is important. Working online at home rather than in an office allows you to shift your responsibilities throughout the day to be more present.
Own work environment. This is one of the biggest advantages: no more uninspiring atmosphere in the office. You can create your own work environment that suits you best. In true digital nomad style, it does not have to be a desk at home, it can be a cafe, a meadow overlooking the beautiful Tatra Mountains, or an empty beach by the sea and this has an amazing effect on:
Stress reduction. Premiere Global Services, Inc. confirmed in the conducted research that online work significantly reduces stress in employees.  No boss stands behind you waiting for your results. No co-workers shouting on the phone, no clatter of many fingers typing on the keypads, no intimidation or internal fighting. This saves a lot of nerves in the long run.
Improve work-life balance and improve health. Many remote workers feel they have more time for themselves. They can spend more time with their family and are responsible for their own performance at work. Even if you spend the same (sometimes even more) time working from home than in the office, it still feels closer to your private life than before. Work-life balance improves significantly.
I think there are many more advantages of working online. The above points give quite an interesting picture of the advantages of such a mode of operation but do not exhaust the topic.
Of course, where there are advantages, there are also disadvantages.
Here are the most crucial:
No physical interactions between people. Although there are occasional phone calls and online meetings with clients or team members, you are home alone most of the time. No short coffee breaks, no lunch together, no exchange of weekend plans with colleagues. The lack of social interaction can be really difficult for some people.
Hard to switch off. You sleep at home. You work at home. Sometimes it is difficult to separate private and business life. At some point, life begins to revolve around work. If you like your job, it might not be a disadvantage at first. But you can burn out more easily as work and private life have become one. Therefore, it is important to create a dedicated home office and set up work procedures.
Distractions. Is there enough time to do the laundry quickly, do grocery shopping, clean the house, and maybe watch the latest episode of the favorite Netflix series, what if your child needs attention or help with homework? What about animals? Cats do not require so much attention but dogs, well they’ll keep rolling a ball under your feet for you to play with them. Not to mention notifications from Facebook or Instagram. It is enough to read one post but no one stops at one, through which we end up scrolling for hours. When you work from home, you can be distracted anywhere. It takes a lot of discipline to stay focused on your work and get things done. There are various methods that can help you cut yourself off from distraction. You can install various applications on devices that help to focus by reminding you to keep working whenever you want to use social media, for example. But it is also good to spend some time on the so-called digital detox. 
Lack of productivity. With the problem of distraction, our productivity also declines. It seems that some people won't be able to get a lot of work done without that little pressure from a supervisor. Productivity can be a huge concern when working from home.
Unhealthy lifestyle. On the one hand, working from home can increase the vitality of the employee. On the other hand, it can be harmful. Most companies equip their offices with ergonomic chairs for employees and adequate lighting. Working at home, we usually do not invest any money in the right equipment. That could be a big mistake. More than once, I have experienced excruciating back pain myself after working all day in a reclining position on the couch. It's worth emphasizing: if you work all day without leaving your home, you are doing your body no favors. The quickest solution that comes to mind in this situation is a dog. The need to go for a walk with the pet causes a change of position and the movement necessary for proper functioning.
Socialization. It doesn't matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, you always need more or less contact with other people. Of course, there are emails and video calls. But some things are just easier and faster to explain face to face. Limited communication options can make collaboration difficult. This is especially noticeable when all team members are in the office and only you are working from home. Without mutual cooperation, you may miss important things that are discussed on the occasion. You can even get the impression of rejection, omission, which in the next part has a huge impact on morale. This is something managers should work on.
Information flow. It's very easy for remote workers to feel sidelined. Without being able to collect information by simply being around their colleagues, they can feel disconnected from both the organization and the team as a whole. It is important to remember to update your team regularly and not assume that everyone knows everything. Information provided on an ongoing basis by email, telephone or via internal communication channels will allow remote employees to stay up-to-date. At the same time, the remote worker will not be stigmatized due to the lack of physical presence in the office.
Now we come to the heart of the matter (which is also, unfortunately, very common):
Low reputation of remote workers. This type of job is not often seen as a real job. While you can work significantly more hours now than you did before, people (particularly some members of older generations) just don't see it as work. The topic is much deeper and its basis can be found in the boss's low trust in the remote employee. To prevent this, it is certainly important to be able to develop an appropriate management and motivation system and, which may seem strange, a credit of trust on the part of the employer is very important, and on the part of the employee - honesty. Otherwise, all cooperation will cause a lot of frustration on all sides.
As you can see, working from home has many pros and cons. However, as it turns out, every disadvantage can still be turned into an advantage, with a little will.
Encouraging teamwork and creativity can be challenging when people work remotely. But with a little imagination, it is possible to stimulate creativity and encourage both sides to cooperate. Thanks to the technology that online webinars or live video broadcasts provide, there's no reason not to meet or work just because people aren't in the same room.
It is important for both a boss and an employee to remember the four basic pillars of remote work:
Time management skills
Have you tried remote work? What did you like or dislike about it? If you’re interested in sharing your experiences with us or writing a guest post for us, send us an email via firstname.lastname@example.org! Please feel free to get in touch via social media (send us some photos or videos too), you can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, let’s connect!