Is working remotely the magic bullet?

Mon 02 Sep 2019

Is working remotely the magic bullet? Laptop

Working from home was once the exception and clocking up flexi hours by being in the office for longer than contractually expected was a good way of building up additional leave. A colleague built up a staggering 150 hours, arguably not the best culture to encourage efficiency! Whilst trying to justify my need to work from home my line manager cut me off by saying simply ‘I trust you’. Being trusted and trusting others is key to higher levels of motivation, discretionary effort and therefore – productivity.

Added to that is the revolution in technology, facilitating optimum productivity in a remote environment, remote access lap tops, cloud based collaborative tools, instant messaging and video conferencing, are removing barriers to achieving the same results at home as you would in the office environment.

So now we can all put on our washing, pick up the kids, save time and money on travel and increase productivity – or can we? Is the rising trend for working remotely the universal panacea we imagined it to be?

Dods training has been working with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to support embedding their smarter working objectives, which are to “collaborate in better ways regardless of location, trust one another to deliver regardless of location and managing performance on results and outcomes rather than presence”.

Scratching beneath the surface has revealed challenges.

Culture: Perhaps unique to the language of government, losing the concept of core time, flexi-time and time sheets has led to a feeling of confusion as core management activities are effectively wiped out.

Trust: Our workshops are giving line managers a safe space to talk about the concept of ‘trust’ and how to have faith that people will perform if left to their own devices and that it’s not about how long someone is ‘logged in’. This is a great opportunity to build that outcome focused culture that was missing in the old command and control system.

Boundaries: A lap top will ‘give you more flexibility ‘ although many struggle with balancing feelings of intrusion into home life with the liberation at not being tied to the usual 9 -5 hours to being overwhelmed as ‘work’ seems to take over ‘life’.

What does the always ‘on’ culture mean for well-being and judgement? Do we make the best decisions when hurriedly typing a response while simultaneously preparing dinner and calming screaming children?

Isolation: Estates transformation has meant that working remotely is no longer a choice for many in the Civil Service. We all have different preferences about how we communicate, for some who take their energy from interacting with others, working remotely can be an energy sapping drain, leading to feelings of isolation and ultimately decreasing productivity. Work can often be a person main social outlet.

Interaction: Breaking down silos is a Civil Service mantra and achieving this in a remote working environment can be challenging. Many breakthroughs in problems can be traced back to ‘water cooler’ moments.

Working remotely is not a cure-all and as with any change a concerted effort is needed to make it a success – so we can all flourish in this brave new world…

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