Money & Business

The Big Limiting Factor of Remote Work: Communication

By / Apr 25, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Remote work, or at least flex time, is becoming a must-have for many employees. But making it happen comes with complications. The biggest challenge, according to one recent study: the potential for communication headaches.

It’s not like we’re talking through cans with strings, but keeping tabs on coworkers remains a weakness of remote work.

That’s according to a new survey by Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing agency and research firm.

As remote-work arrangements become increasingly popular, managers are often concerned that camaraderie and collaboration could suffer due to lack of regular, in-person interaction.

The firm asked more than 2,300 chief information officers what they saw as their biggest challenge with managing a remote workforce. Thirty percent cited communication, particularly the “lack of face time,” as the biggest issue—ahead of concerns about productivity and technology (22 percent each).

“As remote work arrangements become increasingly popular, managers are often concerned that camaraderie and collaboration could suffer due to lack of regular, in-person interaction,” Robert Half’s senior executive director, John Reed, said in a statement. “Even senior executives in a technology-forward department like IT can feel disconnected from remote teams because of limited face time with staff and lack of visibility into how work is being accomplished.”

The company offered IT department heads who manage remote employees several tips, including outlining expectations, using the right technology tools (think file-sharing and online meeting software), building in face-time opportunities, and—most important—regularly checking in with telecommuters to ensure they have the right work-life balance.

“Remote work arrangements afford flexibility, but they can blur the lines between work and personal life,” Robert Half noted in the statement. “Some employees who work from home have trouble ‘unplugging.’ Encourage them to create balance, which, ultimately, aids productivity in the long term.”

Pressure’s On

The study comes at a time when younger workers in particular are looking for the flexibility that telecommuting offers.

Recent research by PricewaterhouseCoopers noted that many of its millennial employees, who are tending to stick with the firm, are choosing flexibility—including the ability to work remotely as well as more varied hours—over salaries or career advancement.

The study noted that 64 percent of millennials would like to work from home occasionally, and 66 percent would prefer to shift their hours as needed.

“To address these needs, companies may elect to adopt policies that promote greater work/life balance, such as providing employees greater flexibility in their work location or schedule without having to execute a more formal flexible work arrangement,” the report, “PwC’s NextGen: A Global Generational Study” [PDF], states.

How have you balanced the conflicting needs of employees who wish to work remotely and the company’s desire for clear, regular communication in your office? Give us your take in the comments.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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