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The benefits and challenges of remote work

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Mary Lim
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The world is becoming increasingly mobile. The Internet and various technological advancements have revolutionised when we work, where we work and how we communicate. Today, it is not at all unusual for employees of a company to have never met each other face-to-face and to conduct all of their work remotely.  Neither is conducting meetings over a web conferencing system, participating in a brainstorming session with your co-workers via Skype and redesigning your company’s website while sipping coffee at your local coffee shop.

Although headquartered in Queensland, Australia, GCOMM’s team is global.  In today’s technology-driven business landscape, we know that there is great value in removing geographic boundaries in order to attract and retain talent. For example, we have two employees working remotely in Sydney and another two in Brisbane. We also have directors working overseas and several of our staff work from their home offices.

The explosion of digital technology such as e-mail, web conferencing and high-speed internet connections has enabled companies of all sizes and from different industries to transition to the cloud office.

In our last article Cloud office: a better way to manage employees online, we have outlined some key benefits that virtual offices and remote work offer to organisations, as well as the challenges they create. Now, we would like to focus on the employee.

What advantages do employees working remotely enjoy? What challenges are they faced with? And most importantly, what can your organisation do to help them overcome those challenges and sustain a successful online work environment?

Benefits of working from home

  • Savings – Every year, employees spend thousands of dollars on work-related expenses, such as wardrobe, eating out, child care and commuting. Working from home drastically reduces and even eliminates some of these expenses, which makes remote work an attractive option for many individuals.
  • Improved work/life balance – Individuals working outside of traditional centralised offices are often able to achieve a better work/life balance. The comfort of one’s home and the flexibility of setting your own schedule can help decrease stress and increase productivity.
  • Enrichment that comes from international cross-cultural interactions – Virtual offices often provide opportunities for working with teams from around the world. This gives employees a chance to interact and collaborate with colleagues, customers and partners from different cultures, exposing them to global perspectives.

Challenges faced by employees working from home

  • Lack of face-to-face contact – We are all social creatures. Although various social media are changing the way we communicate, emoticons on the computer screen cannot replace human emotions and expressions in real time and space. Working from home can leave some individuals feeling isolated and detached from the organisation, which can cause creativity and productivity to suffer.
  • Difficulty staying motivated – While some workers are able to self-manage and stay on track with projects with minimal supervision, others lack this self-discipline. With a number of distractions happening at home, it can sometimes be difficult to stay motivated and focused on the task at hand.
  • Insufficient training A common challenge that many remote workers face is not having adequate training on how to use online collaborative tools (also known as workgroup support systems), such as Shareflow, Dabbleboard and Salesforce Chatter.  Not feeling comfortable using these online tools may cause anxieties in terms of performance.
According to a study by RW3, an intercultural communication training organization: Although 87 percent of white collar employees of multinational companies work virtually at least partially, most of these employees encountered challenges in virtual work as only 16 percent had any training for this type of work .

Building a successful online work environment

Building a successful remote workplace requires careful planning. Virtual office managers must be aware of the challenges faced by their staff and work on implementing appropriate solutions in order to create and maintain a successful online work environment.

Here are few important questions to consider when managing a remote workforce:

  • What type of training do I need to provide for my staff?
  • What online collaborative tools are the most appropriate for my organisation?
  • How will I facilitate interaction among my staff?
  • How will I ensure that my employees stay focused and motivated?
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About Mary Lim

Mary Lim
Mary has been with GCOMM since 2006 in a sales support role. After becoming Key Account Manager and managing the requirements of approximately 100 businesses, she became Operations Manager. Mary holds a Bachelor’s in Psychology from University of South Australia, a Master's of Information Technology Management with High Distinction from Bond University and a Master's of Communication from Bond University.