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Remote working brings benefits to businesses, but it's not without its challenges

By Catherine Knowles
Wed 9 Sep 2020
FYI, this story is more than a year old

While remote working has brought many benefits to businesses and employees alike, stress, burnout, technical issues and lack of cohesive processes may hinder these benefits.

This is according to a new international Digital Etiquette study by Adaptavist. Overall, the study finds that 82% of people report they are equally (47%) if not more productive (35%) working from home, and company-wide communications have improved during the pandemic.

However, the lack of a shared understanding of which tool to use and how to communicate with it, combined with the always on nature of working from home, brings added stress and motivational challenges for workers.

On the improvements to business operations, levelling the playing field between in-office and remote workers and working in a more agile fashion with faster decision-making were seen as key benefits from the transition.

Other notable benefits include flexible working, improved communication and reduction in office politics. 52% agreed that company-wide communication had improved (39% neutral and 9% disagreed), and 48% agreed that collaboration had improved (41%, neutral and 11% disagreed)

Finally, the reduction in office politics thanks to the removal of the office was also seen as a key benefit, with 46% in agreeance that meeting effectiveness had improved, (42% neutral and 12% disagreed).

Adaptavist CEO Simon Haighton-Williams says, "In many organisations surveyed their culture and use of tools meant that those who were not in the same physical location as the people they were working with, were less able to fully input and collaborate. There was an imbalance, or divide in the way they communicated.

"The accidental benefit of everyone being remote is that communication, collaboration and decision making can be the same experience for everyone. This effect is something organisations should cherish and preserve if, and when, they return to the office."

Despite this, there are some challenges. For instance, the ‘always-on’ mentality threatens motivation and increases burnout risk, the study finds.

The absence of boundaries between work and personal lives was the highest ranked threat to motivation for employees, with 21% citing this as having the most significant negative impact on motivation.

The always-on nature of digital communications (42%) and the number of channels to check (31%) were seen as the greatest sources of stress and frustration in work-related communications.

20% of respondents were distracted from work by domestic affairs, and for 26% switching off from work was the greatest challenge.

Temptations to keep working (cited by 15%) seem to be a bigger problem than pressure from others (11%). 60% of respondents don't switch off notifications after work, however parents fared better than non-parents in switching off, with only 24% struggling to switch off vs. 29% of non-parents.

External pressures to continue working were equal, but parents were less tempted to keep working. In fact, 43% had always used the same platforms for work and personal communications, but an additional 31% have started due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another key finding of the survey is that inefficient use of digital channels means businesses lose almost half a work day each week per employee.

Overall, the top five greatest challenges in running remote teams were: technical issues, managing workloads, tracking what people were working on and the status of work, keeping teams motivated, and knowing how people are feeling.

Even with the availability of new communication tools, the vast majority are still using email (71%) and spreadsheets (62%) to track work.

On average, workers spent 45 minutes a day searching for information between different technology platforms. This increased to 50 minutes a day almost half a day each week for those using four platforms or more (42%).

Less than half of workers had been given any training to ensure they are using these channels efficiently.

Haighton-Williams says, “High-performing teams embody mastery, autonomy and purpose, so its natural that people adopt the tools that have proven to work well in their personal lives when faced with new challenges in their professional lives.

"However, organising the chaos and confusion between these channels is key to maximising the benefits they bring.”

On the whole, without clear guidelines or set expectations, workers struggle to come to consensus on what and how to communicate with their colleagues, the study finds.

38% of survey respondents admitted to worrying at least once a day about how they communicate on digital platforms for work and for 1 in 10 this is a constant worry.

Younger workers are particularly afflicted by digital communication angst and more likely to have misinterpreted the tone of digital communications.

Workers over the age of 45 are more confident in their use of digital channels with only 5% worrying constantly and only 22% worrying daily (vs 46% of under 35s).

Haighton-Williams concludes, “An overnight transition has been forced upon the business world and companies have had to rise to the challenge by doing whatever seems to work immediately.

"Now, its time to reflect and analyse this, to see what positive patterns have arisen that we need to reinforce and what negative patterns we see, that need to be changed.

"Those that get this right will innovate faster, be more operationally efficient and attract top talent. Those that don't will likely struggle to survive.”

The Adaptavist Digital Etiquette Study, which includes survey responses from 2,800 knowledge workers across the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.

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