Figuring Out Remote Work in the Future Requires Settling the Balance of Control

Remote work has now gained widespread acceptance. As companies began to adjust to the impact of the pandemic, working from home emerged as the safest solution for many knowledge workers.

This only accelerated a trend that had been gaining traction in previous years. The popularity of remote work is expected to continue, but it’s not without its downsides.

Over time, organizations will make adjustments to the measures adopted out of necessity. We might see a return to traditional offices or find a compromise in a hybrid model. How do you strike the right balance? You can weigh the pros and cons all you want, but the real issue to resolve is about control.

Giving up control requires trust

Advances in technology have played a significant role in enabling the rise of a remote workforce. Over the years, more areas have received adequate and affordable broadband coverage. Devices on the lower end of the market have long been capable of performing many office-based tasks. The advent of cloud-based solutions and communications platforms allows workers to collaborate securely on shared files.

Some employers were quick to realize the potential advantages of remote work. By doing away with the traditional office, they could cut costs on commercial space and energy consumption. They could source-specific jobs to qualified freelancers in other regions, even drawing from the international market for more affordable labor.

Still, many employers were hesitant to accommodate such arrangements. Trust is a significant concern. The two-way relationship between management and employees needs to be strong to continue meeting objectives.

Employers cede control to their workers when they allow remote work. Boundaries between work and personal life are redrawn. You can’t intrude on someone’s privacy to guarantee that every minute of screen time is spent on work-related tasks.

The best people can be trusted to stay focused, motivated, and productive. But does that describe every member of your team? What about contractors you’ve never met in person? How much autonomy do you give them without slipping in terms of productivity?

Added control can prove burdensome

On the other side of the equation, employees stand to gain even more from the shift towards remote work. And though this trend was accelerated due to safety concerns over the coronavirus, many benefits hold even when the age of the pandemic is behind us.

Workers no longer have to face the daily commute. Given the state of congestion in most of today’s mega-cities, that’s a boon to many in terms of both time and money. They can likewise save on food and fashion choices. And in many areas, employers are required to shoulder the expenses incurred by remote workers.

But employees also have to deal with the unexpected downsides of increased control. Workplace cleanliness, for instance, is now added to their tasks; you can’t miss air duct cleaning, or else your home could give you sick building syndrome.

The same goes for time management, computer and network troubleshooting, meal preparation, and various other tasks. You can’t drop by the office pantry for a quick bite; you need to call IT or do some self-diagnostics and troubleshooting if your computer or connection should crash. And you have to take charge of your own productivity.

All of these added tasks create unpaid “shadow work.” It’s not in your job description, but you do it anyway. And it’s an invisible load that comes as the price of autonomy for remote workers.

Making new adjustments to control

working from home

A company can weigh several factors to decide what to do moving forward when it comes to their remote working policy. The easy option would be cost-centered. Does the reduction in overhead offset any dips in employee productivity?

If the margins are comfortably large, it’s an easy question. But as they grow thin, and when you factor in more complex variables such as employee morale and well-being, it gets harder to answer. You’ll need to address the root of the problem, which is control.

Can you figure out a method for developing trust with employees, even when those interactions occur online? Can everybody agree on terms that will allow better coordination and supervision of remote work without crossing the boundaries of privacy?

Every team can arrive at a different solution to this challenge. If you want to ensure that you find the right balance of control, consider reworking your performance metrics. Old measures of productivity often fail to capture the hidden issues that arise from shifts in this balance. The more attuned you are to potential warning signs, the better you can tweak and refine your system moving forward.