A guy sitting on the edge of a wall with a cityscape behind him working on a laptop.
A guy sitting on the edge of a wall with a cityscape behind him working on a laptop.

Working From Home, The Challenges We Still Face

Paul Kiernan

When the pandemic first landed and moved a vast swath of the workforce out of the office and into the home, some people did what they could to put on a happy face, buck up, and make the best of it. After all, we persuaded ourselves, it won’t be forever.

When the pandemic first landed and moved a vast swath of the workforce out of the office and into the home, some people did what they could to put on a happy face, buck up, and make the best of it. After all, we persuaded ourselves, it won’t be forever.

That attitude carried us through the long months. Making the best of it meant being excited to work in pajamas. More time with family, less stress from office politics, or dealing with the dude who cooks fish in the microwave. So, making the best of it was okay.

Now, that while is up, or some people believe it should be.

Many companies have decided that a workforce of remote workers is better than paying for an office. So they have decided that working from home will be the way for the foreseeable future.

Maybe it's good, perhaps it’s bad; it comes down to the individual. But the truth is, this is not a passing phase; remote working changes so much in our lives, and since it seems like remote work or hybrid work is the way of the future, we need to deal with some issues that are still plaguing this new change in the way we work.

Seeing "Good” Work

We have learned a few things in this new work environment. We’ve learned that good work can be produced no matter where an employee plants their butts and decides that’s their “office”. They don’t need to be watched over to deliver excellent and consistent work. So, the idea that you’ll only have a productive team if they are under the watchful eye of management has been proven wrong.

Those in management may feel a loss of control, but setting up new ways of working, reporting, and producing work, still gives management plenty to do, so relax.

This all sounds good, so what’s the problem?

The problem is that you cannot judge how much work is done just by looking at how long an employee spends online.

When we were in offices, it was easier to spot those working hard. That is less obvious now and is becoming a problem for some. Not being seen makes it harder for workers to get ahead and is often cited as one of the reasons workers have found career progression so difficult in the past two-plus years.

This situation affects women in the workforce disproportionately. Studies have shown that women are more attracted to remote work because of its flexibility; however, being remote also makes it more difficult for women to be noticed by predominately male decision-makers within the company. The result is that women are often passed over for promotion, raises, and even credit for their work.

Facts show that women are already fighting harder and are more likely to be overlooked when it comes to advancement within the company; now, with remote working, their challenge to be seen, valued, and promoted gets even harder.

There is already an imbalance, but remote working is exacerbating that imbalance. Companies need to up their game and provide fair and equal footing for in-office and remote workers.

We are already scattered and struggling, figuring out ways to keep a cohesive feeling while spread across the country and having most interactions being carried out on screens. Alienating women will force them out of the workplace and into finding different ways to support their families.

Managers focusing on the output of workers rather than the number of days they spend in the office is a way to even the playing field and understand the value of women in our workforce.

The workforce cannot take the loss of women. We are already contending with “quiet quitting” and burnout; a mass exodus of the female workforce would cripple us.

Define the Terms

A typewriter with a sheet of paper in it displaying the words Terms of Service

Remote working is intertwined with flexible and hybrid. These may seem the same, but differences can cause problems. Be clear with your definitions of the work situation for new and existing employees. The terms are not interchangeable, so managers and hiring teams have to be precise when offering positions; what will the work situation be?

Hybrid working means your employees are splitting time between the office and the home or whatever remote situation they are using. As the pandemic progressed and people realized working from home would be the norm, some have taken to working in rented offices or even coffee shops. Making working away from the office work has been a challenge all its own.

Flexible working is a situation where different models of working are explored. These models incorporate more freedom around when and how employees work. Flexibility in scheduling, start and finish times, and even non-traditional work weeks are all parts of the flexible work plan.

Being clear and specific with these terms is especially important for hiring managers and their ads for new workers. If you advertise that you’re offering a flexible work situation, you’ll find that you will lose employees if they show up and find they are required to work 9 to 5 and be in the office five days a week. That is not a flexible work plan.

This may seem like a minor or passing issue to some, but don’t be fooled. Especially in the tech quarter, salary will not be enough to attract top talent. If you're an employer, it behooves you to help your future employees by setting up the best possible work-life balance. The days of defining who you are by your work are passing quickly. Most people now view the job as a way to have the freedom to do what they want. And doing what they want is even more important than the big salary and the parking perks.

Define the terms clearly and adhere to them. You’ll discover happier employees that stay with the company longer.

Trust Them

While working in your pajamas seems like a good idea, the shift to working at home is not all snuggly jammies and endless bathroom breaks. The work-from-home change has uncovered some rather icky trends by management.

Employers are using more invasive and underhanded ways to keep tabs on their remote workers. Prospect, a professional trade union, did research that showed employers are using software tools specifically designed to track the activity and productivity of workers in their own homes. They are also employing technology that tracks workers through the camera on their computers. That shows a considerable lack of trust and an enormous amount of creepy.

Remote working introduces all sorts of challenges both for employer and employee. However, how a company chooses to address those challenges will set the tone for remote working for years to come. If you’re using these borderline unethical ways of keeping track of your employees, your company will get a well-deserved reputation for lacking trust and crossing some ethical lines.

Remote work offers employees more flexibility and the chance to make work part of their lives, not all of their lives. These invasive techniques for checking up on workers destroy the freedom most employees have grown to enjoy in the new climate.

Trust your workers to do the work they have been hired for. Most people like work, and it gives them a sense of purpose and belonging, as well as a means to live a better life. If you don’t trust your workers, ask yourself why. Perhaps you made a poor choice in hiring, or you may just need to rethink how you view your employees. Either way, trust them. It goes a long way to building a more productive and loyal workplace.

The Salary Issue

A hand holding a roll of 20s with trees in the background

This is a divisive subject in the remote work conversation. With the change to remote work, the questions arise for employers, are you paying someone what they are worth, or are you paying them according to where they live?

Salaries have usually been calculated according to where the job is located. If we’re talking about a designer or a developer, those who live in New York City or Los Angeles can expect to be paid more than someone who lives in a rural town; this considers the cost of living. Now here’s the conundrum. If an employee decides to move to a cheaper city, should their salary be adjusted to match that relocation?

One argument states that remote employees should be paid less as they no longer spend money on a commute or the exorbitant cost of living that some larger cities impose.

On the other side of this argument is the notion that employers are already saving money with their remote workforce. They no longer need to heat and cool an office and pay for upkeep, parking, and the like, while their employees are seeing the cost of utilities rise due to working from home.

Ultimately it is up to the employer to discuss this issue with employees. Be careful; however, if you decide to cut salaries for those working remotely, you better have a strong, defensible reason for doing so. You need to communicate that clearly with great transparency, or you will lose employees.

The Need for Work-Life Balance

There are emotional and psychological consequences to working in the same place you eat, sleep, and do whatever else your life requires. No separation of work and home is causing more and more cases of burnout. Burnout at work was already on the rise in the office, but the pandemic has exacerbated that situation, and, frankly, it has not been appropriately addressed by most companies.

We have, somehow, accepted the always-on culture of working where we think nothing of sending emails, taking phone calls, or doing just one quick thing after work hours. It has become expected that your job is your life, and you drop everything when work calls. No matter the hour. This give-it-all-to-your-job mindset has increased with the pandemic, and now, employees feel that there is no way to have a personal life if it can be encroached upon at any time by a demanding boss.

These bosses think that remote workers are not doing the work during the week and that the luxury of working at home means they can be called to do extra work at any time to make up for that luxury.

The lines between private lives and work demands are blurring more and more. Some countries are getting on top of this problem and doing all they can to keep employers from taking over their employees’ lives.

In Portugal, for instance, a law prohibits employers from contacting employees outside work hours except in exceptional circumstances.

Across the EU, there are calls for a right to disconnect law. This would allow digital workers not to respond to work demands outside of work hours and experience no repercussions.

The Need for Change

These are just a few issues that we’re still dealing with, even though the pandemic has given us years to work on it. Remote work will not vanish; we’re not going to hit a button and send things back to how they were. Too much has happened.

This is the new work world, the new order of work, and we need to embrace it more fully and examine how to make it work for employers and employees. We need to understand that work-life balance isn’t just a new age catchphrase; it is imperative for good mental and physical health.

We shouldn’t have to pass laws to make this work for everyone. It will take time, patience, and a lot of rethinking about how to manage people and their needs.

As we move forward, we need to strengthen our communication, be as transparent as possible, learn trust and understand that an employee doesn't need to devote every waking hour to their job to do it well.