Overcoming Challenges that Widespread Telecommuting Can Pose to Organizational Efficiency and Worker Empowerment
The interconnectivity of our globalized world poses both challenges as well as opportunities. Technological platforms that some of us are still trying to figure out, allow for the instantaneous exchange of ideas and enable companies to access skilled and qualified labor without geographical limitations. At the same time such interconnectivity will make public health crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic and its workplace safety implications more common as well as making it more difficult for workers at the same company or in the same sector to organize in pursuit of better pay and even safer working conditions. This could happen due to the lack of shared experiences and disconnectedness from one’s direct coworkers and the work culture in general. There is also the distinct possibility that ‘working from home’ can lead to such disconnects that without special attention and attempts to mitigate these, it can be detrimental for both workers’ perception of their protections and also to their aspirations. This state of affairs can also negatively impact management in facing the challenges of employee retention or decreasing morale levels, resulting in a potentially drastic reduction in productivity and profitability.
A key to overcoming these challenges is being conscious of the similarities between the 21st Century workplace dynamic and that of the industrial past. Not that much has changed. Both management and staff have their roles to play. Management should be encouraging collaboration and communication between staff including those in more traditional non-collaborative roles… e.g. your product or advertising teams may frequently work in groups and benefit from the sense of camaraderie that can often develop, but workers with more solitary focus, such as specialized technologists, accountants, lawyers, bookkeepers, etc., may require a more intentional effort on the part of management to include them in larger company communications and encourage larger community-building efforts. There is always value in hearing diverse perspectives throughout any company, large or small.
At times like these when working from home or telecommuting is more of a norm for many, it is critical that management and employees make a point of recognizing the achievements and progress made by all teams and individuals. Management and staff must also take it upon themselves to be as inclusive as possible in their communications making sure everyone is “in the loop” – that they are ‘seen’ by the larger group. The more connected workers are, the more likely concerns can be raised and addressed since staff and management can share experiences and bounce ideas off each other at how best to proceed with any pressing issues, such as health concerns or company performance. As a greater number of workers perform their tasks remotely, there is a risk of some being overlooked or even dismissed as being peripheral to the larger team. Meeting and event scheduling technologies such as Zoom are key here – as are any and all practices that provide robust platforms for the full participation of remote workers.
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As some companies fear that increased telecommuting may have negative effects on overall productivity, employees may be concerned that workplace benefits and protections could be precarious as employers respond to real or anticipated loss in productivity and begin to cut back pay and benefits. Workers who are isolated from their workplace have limited ability to partake in collective discussion with their peers or management which may also lead to incorrect perceptions of the threat. Being aware of these risks and incorporating some of what is suggested above can help overcome these issues, even if only partially, and encourage a more productive management/employee dialog.