The Plight of Remote Work
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
We should, from the outset, admit that work from home imposes some difficulties for both the employer and the employee. Work from home is a new concept for most of the Moroccan companies. Efforts need to be made to raise awareness among the employees. The feeling associated with the option of working from home is that the newly remote employees see themselves as a second-class category of the work force. For that reason, employees need to be reassured by their senior executives that their output is of no less importance than that of office work.
One main concern of employers is how to supervise the employees now that there is no face to face interaction. In their remote work-related research, Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, Cirrus Foroughi, and Barbara Larson (1) indicate that the employers are anxious about the efficiency the remote work. The are worried about the employees’ engagement in the absence of physical face to face supervision. This feeling of anxiety is also shared by the remote workers who feel that their peers do not have time to respond to their queries and needs from a distance.
Catherine Durnell Cramton claims that “ Five types of problems constituting failures of mutual knowledge are identified: failure to communicate and retain contextual information, unevenly distributed information, difficulty communicating and understanding the salience of information, differences in speed of access to information, and difficulty interpreting the meaning of silence.” (2)
The lack of “mutual knowledge” exacerbates the situation for the remote workers, who feel they are being isolated, lonely and may gradually be less supportive of their remote colleagues. Because of the factor of distance, employers become less aware of the circumstances of their workers. Therefore, they may fail in assessing the situations which may rise because they are oblivious of the current circumstances of their employees.
Although people may have rooms converted into offices in their houses, the psychology of being at home weighs heavily on remote workers. Distractions in the home environment breaks the degree of concentration and may, at times, interrupts the work. The presence of children in the house when schools are closed may tremendously impacts the professionalism of the performed work.
Given all the above-mentioned challenges of remote work, employers should endeavour to make their remote workers’ job easier. The IT department should provide employees with reliable technology options to effectively communicate with their colleagues as well as their managers. Companies may vary their tools of communication. Beside emails, daily calls can help mangers keep track of the progress of their remote workers. Video conferencing is one the most efficient method of communication with remote workers. It is very essential to activate the camera during the interaction as it provides very useful visual hints as to how the interactants feel. The performance of nvcs (non-verbal cues) during the video conference would stimulate the growth of ‘mutual knowledge’ among the interactants.
The issue of executive directors’ availability can be quite stressful for remote workers. To encourage the remote workers to be more engaged and accountable, senior managers should provide their employees with a clear-cut schedule as regards the time slots during which they may be reached. The daily check-in sessions have to be agreed upon in advance between peers and their subordinates. The check-in routines are normally fixed according to the tasks allocated to the remote workers. Manage by objectives (MBO) may be very appropriate as a method of evaluation of the remote performance. Both peer and subordinate sit together and agree of the workload and the length of time needed for those tasks to be completed. Both peer and subordinate also need to fix intermittent sessions to assess the work progress before the already agreed upon deadline for the final output.
By Mohamed AIT BENZAITER
Deputy General Manager, Menara Holding
(1) Work-from-anywhere: The Productivity Effects of Geographic Flexibility, Harvard Business School, copyright © 2019.
(2) “The Mutual Knowledge Problem and Its Consequences for Dispersed Collaboration”, published online:1 Jun 2001 >>> https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.12.3.346.10098