Digital Disruption: Working Remotely

I once worked remotely for a few months during a period of transition at the office, and really enjoyed it. I started work before the kids were up, took a break while they had breakfast and prepared to head to class … and then resumed work while some colleagues were just beginning their respective work days. I also had benefit of fairly regular visits to the office, for meetings with colleagues.

While that was a temporary situation, some employers design “Working from Home” programs and infrastructure for certain positions.

Here in Canada, Telus Communications is one such example. It’s unsurprising that a company known for a broad range of digital services would have such capacity. What about other employers in other sectors, though?

Bricks and mortar, or remote employees?

With this in mind, I asked our panelists – Sofie Koark, MistiLynn Lokken, Janice Parker, Helen Rees and Julia Schmidt – to tell us what they see in their environments. They work in Sweden, Seattle, London, Hampshire and Norway.

I asked if they see people continuing to commute and work in a traditional corporate environment. Or, had any of these panel members noted shifts away from bricks and mortar investments? For an employer, there are multiple advantages to enabling employees to work from home. First, this implies reduced needs for capital expenditures on office space, fixtures and so on. In addition, there’s potential for enhanced employee engagement and morale when an employee is able to act on a desire to work remotely.

For some people, there are also financial incentives. I know of one couple who moved their young family from Metro Vancouver to Kelowna, British Columbia, which is about 390 km / 242 miles away. They did this without the husband changing his job, and created a home office in their new city … where property values run significantly lower than those in the very expensive Vancouver.

 

Our panelists’ observations

Julia: At Basefarm we give flexibility to our employees.  Some are working remotely from home due to family duties or living outside the town. 

How would you feel about working remotely? I prefer coming to the office for the social aspect of working.  I would have to have a home office infrastructure to enable me to work remotely. I like working with two big monitors and having all the tools at hand. 

 

Helen: Again, not really applicable for us – we are effectively a single-location zoological park and conservation charity. Aside from the conservation biologists working out in the field overseas, all our staff are based here at the zoo site in Hampshire. One or two staff work from home occasionally, but nobody is “based” elsewhere for commuting purposes.

What would you think about working remotely? It wouldn’t work for me personally – as a PA/EA, I definitely need to be here to be most efficient and effective (and that’s partly about knowing where everyone is at any given time!). I have occasionally worked from home on an odd day (to get minutes finished, for example) but I always feel remote and isolated from the beating heart of the business because we are so location-driven as an organisation.

 

Janice: My answer would be different if discussing my previous roles. From experience in my current role, people are continuing to commute to work the majority of time. There is a small degree of flexibility to work from home if needed, though, as our fee earners have smartphones and laptops and are able to connect through our remote desktop system. As we are a client facing organisation, more often than not we tend to have our employees physically in the office.

Would you want to work remotely? At this stage in my life and career, I prefer to work in the office where I can interact with my colleagues and wider organisation … though it would be nice to work from home more often to avoid the commute into London! In saying that, I actually have a better work/life balance being in the office –  as I find I don’t tend to take many breaks when I am at home, and can still be without a morning coffee or in my PJs by late afternoon!

 

MistiLynn: We have greatly reduced the footprint for individuals in the office, moving away from extensive filing cabinets. With Office 365, it is very easy to share/store files in the cloud.

I have a recent story about a partner (a.k.a. a fellow employee) asking me for a USB cord. As I asked more questions, I learned that he had the dreaded blue screen of death recently and wanted to back up his entire laptop onto a personal external hard drive. I instead showed him how to download OneDrive onto his computer and get logged in with his company credentials, not only providing a safe and secure backup of his files but sharing how he could access those files from anywhere using the OneDrive app on his phone. He was so excited that he walked around to his whole team and got them set up on OneDrive as well.

How would you feel about working remotely?  I have worked in a primarily remote work environment, but it is less common in my current workplace. My executive is supportive of taking an occasional work-from-home day when he is not in the office, recognising that some of the greatest productivity happens on those days. As an introvert, it can be very difficult at times to concentrate with the volume level of an open-office concept, plus my desk is a hub for answering questions. I love being able to help everyone, but sometimes getting quiet time to power through my work is very helpful.

 

Sofie’s thougts on working remotely: I like to go to my workplace, and I gain energy from my colleagues there. Our aim is to create a great workplace where you feel energized and have fun. You can’t build a great culture if you don’t have a common place where to connect with each other. I believe that most of our internal co-workers work from the office, and I think it has to do with the great, fun culture that we have and that it facilitates teamwork.

Having the possibility to be flexible and work from home when necessary, and have everything accessible in the cloud, is also important in creating an attractive workplace.

 

What about you? 

Readers who are self-employed as Virtual Assistants (VAs) spend at least some of their time working remotely … and you may be interested to know that VAs will be the topic of my next international panel. I know that Janice’s comments regarding working through breaks resonated with me, as I routinely put in more hours than required when I worked from home. Still, I enjoyed the experience.

What about the rest of you, though? Would you work remotely, if given the chance?

 

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