After almost 7 years, I left the BPO industry in 2012 to try my luck in remote work. Working from home at that time was starting to gain ground.
Who wouldn’t love to work from home? With the kind of traffic in Metro Manila, the long commute under the tropical weather is already a challenge. My commute from our house in Fairview to Cainta and back took 3 hours from my day. My commute to and from Makati took 4 hours. That was around 2006 to 2012. Imagine if I’m still working in Metro Manila today.
Other perks of working from home are having no specific dress code and having flexible working hours. As long as I have a working computer, a PayPal or bank account, and a good Internet connection, I’m fine.
If Those are the Pros, What are the Cons?
One of the main downside of working from home is the interruption from family members, relatives, and friends. Because they know that I’m at home, they can call on me any time. The flexible schedule and the comfortable dress code are also partially to blame. People around me know that I’m working, but they can’t help to call me to eat, or to ask something, or any other trivial interruptions. But it’s fine with me because it gives a random change from the routine.
Having a specific work schedule and a home office space couldn’t solve the problem especially if the remote worker himself allows it.
Another disadvantage that I could think of is the way remote work is getting the bad reputation it doesn’t deserve. There are myths and misconceptions from people who had bad experiences with remote workers and from people who are wary to try.
Debunking the Myths & Misconceptions
“How do you know people aren’t slacking off?”
People got used to seeing people at their desk working. So for managers who don’t see much of the remote workers, they start to wonder. Trust issues start to set in. But if managers and remote workers know what they are responsible for and when the deadline is, and how to work accordingly, then slacking shouldn’t be an issue.
Installing a monitoring tool may solve the problem of slacking
When I started working from home in 2012, I was required to install in my computer a monitoring tool. Aside from recording how many hours I’ve worked in a day, it also takes a screenshot of my computer every 10 minutes.
But there are monitoring tools that I’ve used that only detects keyboard and mouse activities. So when I work offline, like writing on a pad paper instead of typing, my “productivity rate” is reduced. It sounds unfair, right?
Also, other remote workers I’ve encountered think these monitoring tools are stressful. Aside from proving their presence online while working on creative tasks, it also breeds mistrust. That’s the reason why other remote workers prefer to choose work that doesn’t include monitoring tools.
Working in the comfort of my home doesn’t mean I’m available 24/7
There are online jobs that require me to follow the client’s time zone. So if my client is from the U.S., I have to work at night following his office hours. But there were times that even I already logged off, I would be receiving emails or call while I’m asleep.
Also, other people don’t realize that not all emails or questions on chat are urgent. There is a big difference between what is critical, important, interruption, and trivial.
Remote work counters the work culture
Managers think that because remote workers are away from the office, they don’t know what’s happening in the office or can’t personally attend meetings. But technology made it possible for remote work as it is today. Video conferencing bridges that gap and there are also collaborating tools that could be utilized yet still nurture a work culture.
I’ve experienced attending a Town Hall meeting where all of us, including the boss, were on Skype. I could see their faces, their work spaces, their kids, and other things about them. It was a happy virtual hanging-out.
Also, you can create a chat group for “watercooler discussions” where you can joke around and be yourself with other members of the remote team.
How to Make It Work
Remote work is a game-changer in labor and management. Although not all companies are open to idea of having their employees work from home, this set-up could work on some industries.
It should start from the top
Upper management should start the initiative to set-up their own remote work program. They should be the first to set the objectives on why they should offer remote work to their employees before rolling it out to their middle management teams.
Establish ground rules
Setting up a program like remote work requires having its own implementing rules and regulations. How things are done from recruitment to resignation. It’s much different from the traditional office work. I should know, I’ve written an employee’s handbook for a remote team once. It should include clear guidelines on communication — when and when not to use email, chat, or any other digital tools.
Use the right digital tools
There are many collaboration and communication tools available for remote work. Every company prefer one tool from the other. That’s why I’ve encountered and used many of them — Basecamp, Highrise, Trello, Asana, Google Drive, Slack, HipChat, Skype, Zoom, etc.
With so many applications, one should realize the impact of time. If the issue is time-sensitive, then use chat or call. If it could wait for a day or two, use email or a collaborative tool. Again, not everything online is urgent and important.
Since we don’t see each other face-to-face while sending emails or chatting, we express ourselves in emoticons or emojis. There were instances in my remote work life when chat conversations were misinterpreted. What seemed to be a constructive criticism was perceived by someone as an argument.
If ever this happens to you, it is better to do a one-on-call call via Skype and settle the differences before anything goes wrong. Remember that on the other end of the line is another human being with feelings.
Being employed in the BPO industry taught me to practice transparency. Remote work requires transparency — lots of it. Unlike in the office where everything needs to be on black and white, remote work is paperless and digital. But with the right tools, remote work can be transparent and beneficial to both manager and remote worker.
Simply Embrace Remote Work
With the challenges of long commute and work-related stress, labor is now slowly shifting to remote work. It is shaping the future of employment. Companies might want to look into the possibility of offering remote work to its employees.
Let me know your thoughts on remote work.