As 2018 starts, as with many people I have been looking back on 2017, and as far as work was concerned I’ve done a lot of ‘office’ work out of office. It has probably been the most productive I have been in a given span of time.
If it’s not clear enough, YES, I am a fan of remote working, but it’s a hard thing to do when your day job is a ‘traditional’ job where you are required to report to work on a certain time and finish at a certain time.
There’s already a ton written about remote working, so I’m not going to write too much about what it is, but rather what I think are the opportunities and challenges that are present from a Maldivian context, maybe break it down into a few parts. It’s my individual experience, yours might vary so take my thoughts for what they are; my thoughts.
I’ll start off with some informal discussions I’ve managed to have with a few HR professionals and managerial staff of some bigger (read: public, SOE, govt) companies here, most respond in a similar manner, the most common 5 themes/concerns I’m paraphrasing here for sake of clarity are listed below.
1 – “How do you know they will work? They will slack off, they will exploit the system, supervisors are incapable/can’t/won’t monitor them! How can I measure their work? “
This is a trust issue, the employer is not able to trust their employees they selected through their screening process, to do the work. But somehow, they still keep them at the company. And worse, it seems most of the time they don’t even seem to be able to trust the capabilities of the supervisors whose job it is to monitor the work progress of the team.
This has NOTHING to do with remote working, if you can’t trust your employees to do the work maybe it’s about time you replaced them with people you can instead, if you already feel that they won’t work when they are not being watched like a hawk, they probably already are slacking off anyway the moment you turn your back.
As for measuring the performance, most remote and onsite jobs can be broken down into tasks and deadlines which can easily be measured using widely available systems and tracking tools. This is not a hard thing to do, provided your supervisory team are doing their job, in fact there’s a massive benefit to catching issues and doing course corrections early on.
Also, this also has nothing to do with remote working. If you are tracking the work, its measurable either remotely or on-site.
2 – “They should be present in meetings, I need to see them all!”
It’s 2018! Laptops are as cheap or cheaper than desktops considering TCO, video-conferencing is a thing. Run the quick meetings and presentations online! Sure, it’s strange the first few times, but it’s not something new or untested. everyone’s doing it. why are we not?
Most meetings here are long winded, without an agenda, and everyone seems to be out to show how much ‘work’ they have done and to give an opinion on everything. I think video conferencing might force people to be more to the point.
3 – “If I let some people who can work remotely do that, others who can’t work remotely will complain. why have this problem? “
Treating all employees fairly does not mean they needed to be treated the same, this comes up a lot, specially in government offices / companies. Different jobs come with different responsibilities. It’s in no way practical or even sane to demand a front office counter staff in customer services should be able to work remotely because, the job by definition requires you to be at the counter to actually do your assigned work. On the other hand a developer who hardly interacts with customers on a daily basis is quite capable of getting their job done regardless of the location.
We already do it anyway, companies already practice shift-duties for certain staff. Some employees don’t get all public holidays off while others do. This is just another one of those things that needs to be put in a process.
4 – “We’ve always done it this way, this is just going to complicate things and I don’t want to take the risk.”
We’ve always done it ‘that’ way until someone else did it some other way, but I guess the concept of changing up what you are already doing is a hard decision to make, even if it may come with massive benefits.
We’re perfectly ok with demanding someone who’s in an island move to Male’, with all it’s difficulties while they might have been perfectly capable (especially true for technical and creative jobs) of working and delivering from where they were from. Internet access is pretty decent nationwide now, there’s no excuse.
5 – “There’s no process for it, and I’m too busy to do this / management isn’t asking for it / Probably will create additional workload for my department, so why take the additional workload!”
Fear of failure of doing something new and, and it not working out is a common theme too, its far easier in the current work environment not to do anything out of the norm and be ‘safe’ in the job.
Doing something new opens you up to criticism from the very same people who don’t do anything new or drastic, because they are programmed to look for ways things can go wrong. If things don’t go smoothly these are the people who’d be out with the “I told you so” signs first. We have a massive culture of avoiding doing something new because no one wants to be responsible for a ‘failed’ attempt which is inevitable at some point if you keep challenging norms.
Encouraging new things and establishing a culture of failing fast and learning from it is not something we are used to. Most likely if you do something new and succeed nine times and fail once, you would probably be singled out for why it failed , given a couple of cautionary notices and be summoned to the boards and whoever else for ‘javaabdhaarivaan’ while your successes will not be celebrated.
If the last point sounds aggressive and a bit out of topic it’s because it is meant to be. I’ve had to deal with a lot of flak for doing things out of the norm from people who don’t do anything and are perfectly content with the status quo.
Most of the top issues or concerns that seems to be on the list don’t seem to be specifically about remote working as such, it seems more so that they don’t have faith in the systems, processes or the people. This is a systemic issue with processes here, but needs to be broken.
This is not a new thing, this can be done.
Next: My Remote working experience and why I think it’s a great idea (…in part 2)