Written by Amie Lawrence, Ph.D., Director of Global Innovation
Previously published by PSI Talent Management or Cubiks, prior to becoming Talogy.
In April 2021, the 36th Annual Conference of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) was held virtually. SIOP is a gathering of I/O psychologists who study behavior in the workplace. Due to the pandemic, many sessions delved into the topic of remote work, including a panel discussion titled “Working Anywhere: How-to Guide from Seasoned Remote Workers.” In this session, a panel of remote workers (Ché Albowicz, M.S.; Amy Gammon, Ph.D.; Katrina (Katie) Piccone Merlini, Ph.D.; Jessica Petor, M.S.; and Chair, Amie Lawrence, Ph.D.) discussed their experiences teleworking, both positive and negative, and shared advice to help those who may be newer to the arrangement. This blog provides a summary of the information that was presented in that session.
Advantages and disadvantages of remote working
There are several advantages to working remotely. For instance, some remote workers report their productivity increases when working from home and they find improvements in work flexibility. Remote workers have also shown higher levels of job satisfaction and performance, work-life balance improvements, and decreased stress and turnover intentions. The panelists stated that they enjoyed benefits such as schedule flexibility, lack of commute (time/cost savings), improved focus, and a sense of empowerment.
However, there are also some disadvantages associated with working remotely. When workers move to a remote work environment, it becomes a change to their work design in terms of how they get their work done and communicate with others. A different work environment can significantly change the job design in ways that could be less satisfactory to the worker and the employer. If someone is a poor fit for the job, it can lead to more negative job attitudes, lower performance, and increased counterproductive work behaviors. As you can see the same environment can lead to opposite outcomes depending on the person and the situation.
In a recent survey by Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC), the most common challenges reported by employees were lack of motivation, reduced productivity often due to work-family conflict, difficulties communicating and collaborating, and loneliness/isolation. Some of the panelists agreed with this list, mentioning their difficulties managing the responsibilities of home and work during the pandemic when school, childcare, and other services were unavailable. Another common issue was communication and reliance on technology. With entire remote workforces and the prevalence of virtual work teams, there was an increase in the number of meetings, which made it more difficult for workers to complete tasks and resulted in working extra hours.
Advice directly from remote workers
The panelists answered a series of questions about their experiences working remotely. They summarized their discussion into four key takeaways for remote workers:
1. Set Boundaries
Setting physical and mental boundaries is key to success as a remote worker by minimizing work-family conflict. An ideal remote work environment would include a separate office space with a door, ergonomically appropriate furniture, and all equipment needed to perform one’s job. Having a dedicated workspace allows for the worker to keep work and home as physically separate as possible. Additionally, it is important to set boundaries with time. It is easy to overwork when your home and office are the same place. Learning how to walk away from work and ignore notification chimes and/or ringing phones when the workday is done is important to shifting mental gears. Similarly, respect your work and home time by giving your time and attention to the respective activity.
2. Show Empathy & Inclusion
Many office workers have preconceived notions and assumptions about remote workers regarding work style and ethic. Some leaders may even feel the need to monitor or check up on their remote employees to make sure they are working. Be careful not to judge your remote coworkers, especially those dealing with extra challenges during the pandemic. Treat everyone with respect and empathy with the belief that everyone is doing the best they can.
On a related note, take extra steps to ensure that all team members are being included in meetings and discussions. Individuals who are less tenured or more introverted may have difficulty having their voices heard. Conference meetings can be difficult to navigate when large groups gather and there are a lot of opinions to be shared. If necessary, call out certain team members to ask their opinion or follow-up with them later to hear their perspective. Read more in a recent blog post I wrote on building an inclusive climate at work.
3. Establish Trust
Trust others. Trust yourself. Garner trust from others by following through on your commitments. Because most remote workers have an autonomous work environment, empowerment is built into their job design. However, if leaders do not trust their remote workers and attempt to monitor or control them, it can impact their working relationship. Micromanagement and remote work don’t mix. A climate of trust leads to a sense of psychological safety and acceptance. When workers feel like they belong and are accepted, it leads to more positive feelings toward their job and organization, which translates to improved performance and commitment.
4. Build Relationships
It is often more difficult to establish a strong network of colleagues when you are remote. Unfortunately, the rules of business are the same regardless of where you sit. Therefore, gaining social capital and visibility within your organization is still valuable to advancing in your career. The burden of initiating relationships is often on the remote employee. Take the extra time and effort to make that phone call, set up a meeting, or send an email to introduce yourself and learn how to navigate the organization. It is difficult to establish trust without a meaningful relationship. It may take more time than in an office environment, but you can still create strong bonds with colleagues you may never see in person.
Everyone plays a role in making remote work…well, work
It is possible to be a satisfied and productive remote worker. Under the right circumstances where the remote worker has an ideal workspace, is willing to do the work to build effective work relationships, and works for an organization that is supportive, empowering, and inclusive, remote workers can flourish. The pandemic has accelerated a remote working trend that was already taking hold. Many office workers may never work in the office again in the same capacity. As more and more employees work remotely or in a hybrid arrangement, we recommend keeping these nuggets of advice in mind to minimize challenges and maximize effectiveness for your company.
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Gajendran, R. S., & Harrison, D. A. 2006. “The good, the bad and the unknown about telecommuting: Meta-analysis of individual consequences and mechanisms of distributed teams.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, Atlanta, GA.
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IBM 2020. IBM Study: “COVID-19 Is Significantly Altering U.S. Consumer Behavior and Plans Post-Crisis Personal Mobility, Retail Shopping, and Event Attendance Are Among the Areas Most Impacted.” https://newsroom.ibm.com/2020-05-01-IBM-Study-COVID-19-Is-Significantly-Altering-U-S-Consumer-Behavior-and-Plans-Post-Crisis.
Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) 2020. “It’s time to reimagine where and how work will get done.” https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/us-remote-work-survey.html#:~:text=Top%20findings%3A,in%20our%20June%202020%20survey
SHRM 2020 COVID-19 Research: “How the pandemic is challenging and changing employers.” https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/new-shrm-research-on-how-covid-19-is-changing-the-workplace.aspx.
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