“Remote work is this incredible invitation to really get good at building inclusive cultures where there’s a wide variety of types of people, and to build a culture where everyone feels included and everyone is experiencing ongoing growth and development on a regular basis. That’s the challenge, and it’s not an easy one. But the business isn’t easy.” — Shane Metcalf, 15Five
Working from home is not new. For the past decades it has been with us and reserved for some unique jobs and mostly on part-time basis. This is gradually becoming a preferred alternative for some nursing mothers and other persons who need more work-life balance. It was also a cost-saver for some industries while also reducing their dependency on physical structures.
The Escalation of Remote Working
The digital transformation has the past decade enabled this phenomenon to escalate in great proportion, while the COVID 19 has taken it to the highest level. A recent tour of hotels in Accra by a CITITV reporter showed that while some have closed, most of them were operating below 10 percent patronage. More than 80 percent of staff are on a compulsory leave with pay. The ADB Bank in Ghana as at March 2010, had sent 45 percent of its staff home on compulsory leave, while many banks are operating with a skeleton staff.
Jobs that let you work from home, an arrangement known as telecommuting, are here to stay. In the most recent American Time Use Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 57% of workers in 2018 had a flexible schedule. Additionally, 42 million wage and salary workers (29%) could work from home, and 36 million workers (25%) worked at home some of the time.
In the US, some employees would even be willing to take a pay cut in order to work from home, according to the State of Remote Work 2019 report by Owl Labs. The study reported that 34% of workers would be willing to take a 5% cut; 24% would take a 10% cut; and 20% would take a cut larger than 10%. The reasons workers want to do their jobs remotely aren’t surprising: better work-life balance (91%), increased productivity/better focus (79%), less stress (78%), and to avoid a commute (78%).
“Companies will do all sorts of things to entice employees, including offering flex time and work-from-home options,” says Fay. Indeed, according to a survey by Robert Half, 77% of workers said they’d be more likely to accept a job if it offered the ability to work from home at least some of the time.
Or course, while working from your couch sounds great in theory, like everything else, it’s important to understand the pros and cons so you know how to best maximize your arrangement.
The Pros and Cons of Remote Working
Where remote working is not compulsory, please consider the pros and cons before deciding. Working from home affords you flexibility, but it also demands a lot from you in return. Jobs that let you work from home have unique requirements. Let us examine the pros.
- Working in your favourite couch at home…mmm nice one there.
- The end of telecommuting. How on earth can one cope with two hours each to and from office, followed by unwelcome glances from the spouse, kids homework left undone and “unfresh” and over-frozen foods?
- You can snack often since your fridge is always close by and available (hmmm, be careful)
- You can doze off on your laptop without gossips and prying eyes from the boss!
- You can get up to work at midnight when your senses are sharp with great ideas. So long as your spouse understands and doesn’t feel lonely.
- Cloud technology has made it easier than ever for remote workers to work from anywhere.
- With serious objective setting and planning, you can be successful. Working from home means you’ll learn to rely on self-motivation, self-discipline, focus, and concentration. Other critical keys to successinclude time management.
- With the above in mind, as long as you do not sneak to watch movies, you can actually be more productive when working from home, without occasional annoyances of office life: interruptions, loud co-workers, chatter, et cetera.
Now let us look at the likely disadvantages:
- You may forget to clock out. While people might think working from home means doing less, the opposite might be true for diligent employees. In the absence of separation of going to and from the office, your workday merges into your home life. Sometimes, you find yourselves behind your laptop more than seventy percent of your day. The result? Burnout.
- Sometimes you can feel left out of the office group. There is constant collaboration and discussions going on at the office, and you can feel out of the loop. There are several impromptu brainstorming sessions, without anybody thinking of how to reach you through tele-conference.
- Access to data and other technology platforms. In the case of banks, there are situations in which data security or consumer protection concerns might prevent telecommuters from having full access.
- When office colleagues call you by phone, email or skype and these are unanswered, you may be accused of not working, or even idling. They may not know that you might be in the shower at that supposed “unholy” hour. You may be accused of slacking.
- Although facial interaction is the best, it must not be underestimated. Be more communicative than usual, to boost teamwork and also be proactive in finding ways to engage your co-workers.
- Use the telephone often, your voice makes a difference to just impersonal emails and whatsup messages.
Reducing the risks involved in working from home
- Create an “office” or working space at home out of bounds to family members. Even if you don’t have a dedicated office, try to set up a workspace and make it off limits to the rest of your household while you’re working. It is not very professional to always be on an important work call only to have the doorbell ringing, the dog barking, music blaring, and the kids screaming in the background.
- If you are an employee of a company, you must realize that access to the core system application is a privilege and you must adhere to the process guidelines just like you are in the office. If you are in the financial service industry, you must always have your oath of secrecy at the back of your mind, with control over system log-on and privacy of customer data. The data protection laws are there waiting for any case of negligence. Systems must always be shut when you leave the computer, even if it is for five minutes to attend to a wailing toddler.
- This is the time that cyber fraudsters are at their heightened best, looking for vulnerable systems. Your bank’s software banking application may be easily accessible to hackers next door.
- Banks may have to remodel certain aspects of their processes, to ensure “authorizations” for certain processes are heightened and if possible, additional remote approvals tightened in the end-to-end processes of retail banking, credit analysis, trade operational transactions, etc.
- Responsiveness, as one of the key elements in excellent customer service is more critical now. In remote working, I sometimes receive my calls as if I am behind my office desk. I change my tone when I realize it is not a professional call. It is best to dedicate one hotline for professional correspondence to avoid mixing private and official calls. Quick response to mails from the office or partners is key. Sometimes it is just for an acknowledgement and confirmation of receipt, while you revert later.
- Attend webinars, conference calls, etc. look out for the many webinars that will enhance your product or services. The world indeed is global.
- Avoid Burnout. Let me leave this quote: “Part of the beauty of remote work is being able to work on a schedule that works best for you, but if you’re online and working at all hours, you’ll start burning out quickly. We’ll need to build clear rules around how technology can be used to help us maintain those boundaries for work-life balance.” — Ryan Bonnici, G2 (formerly G2 Crowd)
- Set specific touchpoints with your team. Set SMART goals and book appointments for check-ins with your team members or boss. Out of sight is not always out of mind.
By entering into a sudden work-from-home situation, you may be overwhelmed but with the right mindset—knowing you may actually be putting in more effort than before—you can do a great job and enjoy the benefits that go along with it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.