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Remote Work - Opportunities and obstacles

06/07/2022 2022/07

Imagine that remote work allows you to spend your working hours at your favorite coffee shop around the corner, on your favorite beach, or in your RV in the middle of the woods. You can choose where you want to work and flexibly arrange your working hours according to your needs. Who would like to say no to that? Doesn't this lifestyle correspond exactly to the wishful thinking a large part of us long for? 

We are all familiar with the term home office. In the context of Covid-19, this option has abruptly become a dodge. By now, we perceive working from home as normal. But the limit of flexibility in the world of work has not yet been reached. Remote work is the next step.

How does remote work differ from the home office?

In essence, remote work means working independently of time and location. The main difference to the home office lies in the mobility of the work. Instead of working from home, employees can complete their work tasks from anywhere. Thereby, a high degree of trust is placed in the employees. After all, neither the fulfillment of goals nor the quality of work should suffer. Conversely, employees trust that their superiors will keep control mechanisms to a minimum and that no mistrust will arise. Above all, staff members benefit from time and cost savings. The commute to work is no longer necessary or is shorter. This creates free time - a better work-life balance - and also leaves a green footprint. 

Productivity is also a key factor. Working hours can be adjusted according to the performance phases in the case of remote work. Are you more of an early bird and prefer to start your workday at 06:00 in the morning? Or is your sleep sacred to you, which is why a later start seems more pleasant? The decision of where to work is also entirely up to you. It's best to choose your own personal place of well-being. That makes work more pleasant and the tasks are easier to handle. If you are satisfied, your employer will also benefit. After all, motivated employees contribute to an improved employer image and thus have a positive influence on personnel recruiting. In addition, there is a higher reach when recruiting new personnel. When it is irrelevant where employees are geographically located and when you work, the boundaries are exceedingly small. Hard-to-fill positions may still be able to be filled, otherwise vacancy costs arise

That sounds like hardly any compromise. But even the most beautiful notion hides hurdles that must be filtered out and overcome. 

The hurdles of remote work

In order for time- and location-independent work to function, it's important to be clear about the challenges that lie ahead. Everyone should be aware that remote work is not suitable for every occupational group. A vivid example is embodied in the care industry. The care of the elderly lady in the wheelchair of the nursing home will not be guaranteed if the caregiver works via Google Meets online from the beach. It is therefore clear that this modern form of work "only" appeals to workers without an active part in man or machine. If the possibility of mobile working now exists for one's own occupational group, decisive agreements as well as guidelines for work and data protection await both parties. The workplace must meet legal requirements in both the physical and mental sense. How is the employer supposed to meet these requirements if the workplace can be chosen flexibly and in a self-determined manner? 

A woman on the beach with her laptop
The right tool for mobile working
The right tool for mobile working

Implementation of remote work also becomes difficult if the appropriate work utensils are missing, the necessary know-how is lacking, or there is no or an unreliable Internet connection. In addition, a much more sophisticated communication system is required to ensure the flow of information for all employees equally and to maintain an overview of the respective work status. At the same time, these means of communication ensure exchange with the college. After all, meeting in person is difficult when you are separated by several thousand kilometers. Perhaps this has an impact on team cohesion. Perhaps some employees feel socially excluded.

Compliance with the Working Hours Act is also challenging. Employees in the home office/remote work tend to work overtime more often and to neglect break times. In addition, there is a disregard for physical and/or mental unwellness. The likelihood of foregoing sick leave is much higher. Instead, tasks are completed more slowly. But actual recovery is less likely to take place. In some cases, this can lead to overwork and worsening disease states.

As nice as the work-life balance is, the boundaries between personal and professional life quickly become blurred. The potential for distraction also increases. Because suddenly the kids are scurrying around the office chair or the housework is piling up and you feel internally compelled to keep things in order. 

Remote work is not a work model that can be introduced overnight. Rather, it requires an intensive examination of the challenges on both the employee and employer sides, as well as the appropriate derivation of solutions. Or, as Teresa Hertwig correctly puts it in her GetRemote study: "Remote work is a marathon, not a sprint.” 

The right tool for mobile working

However, obstacles are there to be overcome. In order to achieve success in this regard, the appropriate tools must be provided and made available. To ensure that the workplace can be checked for requirements even without personal supervision by the employer, the employees are called upon. They receive a checklist for remote work with all the necessary guidelines, carry out the check on the basis of this and sign off on it with their signature. The checklist should, of course, be prepared professionally by experts in the company beforehand. 

In terms of data protection, the employer must take special precautions to ensure information security. Accordingly, access, access and disclosure controls as well as encryption of data and data carriers must be set up for the systems. This ensures that you only have access to the data intended for you, that it cannot be passed on to third parties and that unauthorized access from outside is prevented.

Regular feedback meetings are important for successful remote working. It should be possible to talk openly about the scope of work and any problems. Of course, active exchange and cross-location collaboration only work if the appropriate communication channels are in place. On the one hand, this requires the technical prerequisites; on the other hand, rules for internal and external communication and response times must be defined. 

If planned well in advance, mobile working can be an instrument that creates added value for the company. 

We go with the future. Remote work at ARTS.

Anything theoretical is nothing compared to practical experience. To give you an impression of remote work at ARTS, I've captured the thoughts of some colleagues and included important facts from an internal survey (from 2020).

Above all, ARTS appreciates the flexibility of remote work in terms of time, space and location. The long commute is no longer necessary. This creates more free time. Housework can be done quickly on the side. A doctor's appointment in the middle of the day is not a complicated organizational problem. Because the work tasks can be made up for at a convenient time. Nevertheless, colleagues can still communicate with each other. To make this work, employees have a wide range of communication channels at their disposal - from chat functions and work cell phones to video channels. A high degree of self-discipline and organization is required. Meeting deadlines is not the only factor. It is also necessary to ensure independently that the end of the working day means offline mode for the work cell phones. This is the only way to compensate for the very high screen time. The extent to which the flexible working model is used is decided independently by each ARTS employee. Individuality is the keyword. For one person, the daily video call is sufficient, while others prefer daily personal contact in the workspace. 

Maintaining team cohesion and interpersonal relationships despite the local distance is seen as a challenge. Occasional team events should ensure a lasting sense of community. Regular options for get-togethers after work - whether sports activities, cooking together or simply good conversation - can further strengthen cohesion. The responsibility for this does not have to lie with the manager. Instead, it is up to all employees! 

Remote work offers many opportunities, but the obstacles should not be ignored. That is why it may be advisable to involve a partner who has already gained experience in the field, such as ARTS. We are happy to support you on your way to remote work.

Source: German Federal Association | Personio | Getremote-Study | Felix Suwelack

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