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Top five complaints from remote workers — and how to respond

For some, it is a preference to commute each day to a physical office. It could be a part of their social culture, an important community of practice, or a way to maintain productivity away from children and pets. For some, it is a preference to exist solely within a home office, thereby eliminating stressful commutes, social interruptions, and being groped daily on public transportation. For many, it is a combination of the two that works best to maintain a high level of productivity. While it is difficult to give praise to COVID-19, being forced to work from home has opened up windows of opportunity for employers to cut costs and for employees to choose their most productive location. But while it seems lovely to some to simply walk to a different room and inhabit it for the workday, the shiny work-from-home wrapper is starting to wear off, and some of the less attractive elements are beginning to emerge. Lists are erupting all over social media that identify some legitimate complaints that come with the home office. Having sorted through numerous lists on numerous sites, there are five complaints from remote workers that exist on pretty much every list.

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1. Lack of collaboration

Lack of collaboration can mean a couple of things. It can be that other remote workers within the same organization do not share their ideas or actively engage in the work of colleagues. This can be frustrating because a lack of collaboration can mean that every stakeholder who engages in a project or initiative will have to learn pretty much everything from scratch. Why? Because the other team members are not sharing their status, and there is no collaboration. Each person runs with each task and solves it, or doesn’t solve it, in their own way. Organizationally, we need to ensure that remote workers are attending all required meetings and that ownership of deliverables is clear. But first, we need to ensure that meetings are, in fact, being scheduled. A new task for leadership is to review calendars, read copies of meeting notes, and mentor those with less experience on the importance of open and honest communication.

It can be that the organization houses some toxic employees, and everyone will do whatever they can to avoid an encounter with them. Oddly enough, toxic employees are often the most productive of the team members. However, they are also the people whom others trust the least. (See the video embedded below for more on this.) While it is important that we strive to hire and keep productive employees, it is more important for the longevity of any organization that employees be considered trustworthy.

2. Distractions

Distractions can come in the form of children, pets, home deliveries, street noise, fire alarms, any other person in the home, any other person in the vicinity of the home, social media, and even household chores that just really need to get done. Distractions require a level of both maturity and discipline. Culturally, we tend to label everything. And once we assign it a label, it can be used as an excuse. We may label ourselves as “easily distracted” and then consider it a personality trait. The reality is that it is often a sign of immaturity, and we need to ensure we impose discipline upon ourselves to maintain the focus required for the task at hand.

Leadership also needs to understand the warning signs of those easily distracted. These could be missed deadlines, declining meetings at the last minute that have been scheduled well in advance or asking for clarification of an item during a meeting when the same topic was just discussed in detail. Those who are easily distracted may be best suited to work within the office environment so that mentorship can be provided by those who have learned from experience.

3. Crappy WiFi

It is not an uncommon experience, which is why it is always high on the list of complaints from remote workers. The choppy video or the sound bits that cut out make it impossible to understand the message completely. For those who wish to continue to work from a home office, it is a necessity to invest in a long CAT5 cable. WiFi is flaky at best, and with WiFi technology in its current state, it is not going to replace a hard-wired connection anytime soon. It’s a small investment to make for reliable connectivity. It is well worth the consideration of any organization to make a cabled connection mandatory for those with a home office. Organizations are starting to communicate the message to Internet service providers that remote employees need to have the assurance of the ISP that connectivity will become more reliable in a future state. The home ISP customer is currently considered the little guy, and we don’t always get the attention from the ISP that we require and deserve. Corporate involvement will be changing this attitude soon. If this is not part of your plan to encourage and retain remote employees, it should be.

For those who simply cannot manage a cabled connection, provide education so that they understand how to maximize their WiFi strength through router and modem location, and also to ensure that only the applications being used in the moment should be loaded. Remember that cookies are used regularly, and while we may think that applications sitting in the background are dormant, there is a high likelihood that they are not and that data-gathering is happening in the background and is consuming WiFi air.

4. Lack of brainstorming

There was a time when employees were monitored, and it was considered bad behavior to chat with colleagues during working hours. Fortunately, we have since learned that open and honest communication is sometimes the only way to divert risk, and is always the right way to resolve issues. Old school organizational behavior textbooks very distinctly separate formal from informal communication. That so-called distinct line between the two has turned a rather subtle shade of gray. While historically, we would discourage water cooler chat in favor of formal and facilitated meetings, today, we understand the immense power of what was once referred to as informal communication. This has become even more obvious under the current work-from-home regime. What would have previously taken three minutes of discussion time during a walk down the hall now becomes an entire task unto itself. We have to cross-reference schedules, book a meeting time, hope that everyone accepts, deal with disorganized team members who want to reschedule at the last minute, ensure our kids and pets are looked after, put on a clean shirt, and hope that our WiFi chooses to be functional that day. The worst part is that by the time we get everyone into a virtual room, our creativity may have left the building.

While nothing can replace the value of unsolicited watercooler chats and the brainstorming that happens organically, there are a few ideas that our readers feel can help to fill this void. An important element of brainstorming is the comfort level that the team members have with each other. Try this fun exercise that has been proven to help everyone learn more about each other. Have each team member supply a list containing a few interesting things about themselves. During meetings, randomly read out one item and have team members try to guess who it is. Once it is divulged who the team member is with that particular interest, encourage the room to ask questions to learn more about the individual.

There are also a number of virtual games that encourage group interaction and team building. If selected well, meaning that you have taken the interests of the group into consideration, interactive games have proven to be rather effective. Always remember that trying something is much better than doing nothing at all.

5. Unplugging

Many lists speak of the inability of many to unplug at the end of the workday. However, the reality is that this is a much larger issue. Organizations long ago came to an agreement with regulatory agencies that salaried people only need to ensure that they complete their tasks and deliverables. If they complete them in less than the normal number of workday hours, they are free to stop working for the day. However, what has ensued instead is a level of workload that far exceeds what it once was when organizations were forced to pay overtime. This issue is particularly daunting in the world of technology. While not the topic of this article, this writer disagrees with the concept that the inability to unplug rests with employees.

We can still function effectively

While it is true that our new work-from-home regime is perfect for some and less so for others, there are some challenges that we all more or less agree have become the reality of our new world. This does not leave us with unresolvable issues. The more creative among us have found ways to raise our level of understanding, thereby enhancing our ability to thrive in the world of technology and continue to promote productivity and teamwork.

Featured image: Shutterstock

Louise Chalupiak

Louise is a cynical and often irritating project manager currently residing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada who is not personally responsible for anything oil sands related. She often eats popcorn for dinner and fears that her dog judges her. Special skills include milking a cow as well as the ability to uncork a wine bottle without the use of a corkscrew.

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Louise Chalupiak

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