The politics of remote working and how to make it better

Long-term remote and hybrid workers could help employers make new ways of working work better, if they were actually asked about their experiences.

Business woman having a video call with coworker

 

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I’d be really interested in doing a research project on the experiences of long-time remote or hybrid workers. I think there is so much that could be learned because many employers and employees still struggle with getting that right. I’m speaking from personal experience. I’ve been working in a hybrid way for over a decade, nearly two.

In the 2000s any form of flexibility was seen as a bit of a favour to the employee. Never mind that, as an employee, you could be doing Olympic-style gymnastics to make it all work, it was generally viewed that even the odd bit of flexi hours was a tremendous effort on the part of the employer and you should be grateful for that and do all that you could to make it work. As with any problems that arose from parenting – lack of sleep, childcare problems, etc – the best policy was to keep silent and not let anyone at work know that the image of calm that you hoped you were giving off was in fact a total mirage and your life was absolute chaos and exhaustion.

Gradually, the dial has shifted and flexible working has become more common. This has occurred alongside the financial crash, falling wages, rising pension ages and all sorts, which has meant more women are now in the workforce. Still, before Covid remote and hybrid working was not the norm and the people who did it generally got on with it quietly and made it work.

Since Covid, there are more of us working ‘non-typical’ patterns. The problem is that the support available has not changed as much as it should have done, at least not in some quarters.  The idea persists that working in the office is the gold standard. Each to his own, but the problem is that that attitude can perpetuate a lack of proper management of remote and hybrid workers.  Remote and hybrid workers may still not want to raise this issue because they fear their remote or hybrid arrangement being taken away from them or being blamed for why it may not be working optimally. It’s worse if you are part time because you may feel that you are not truly part of the team as you are not around to help with projects that are not the ones you are specifically assigned to. You continuously feel that you are somehow lesser, even if you are putting in more than your hours.

The only way that employers can tease this kind of thing out is through good line management. That means training line managers to ask the right questions in the right way and checking in regularly, not just to see that people are ok and address any logistical obstacles or misunderstandings or assumptions, but to ask them how they feel about their workload, what they want to do next, whether they are happy in what they are doing, etc etc. What can happen, though, is that remote and hybrid workers slip through the cracks. If there is no problem, there is no need to check in. Office-based staff take precedence. Out of sight, out of mind. At least that’s what it can feel like. Perhaps it’s also a question of time. Everyone is so rushed and it’s easier for employees not to rock the boat if they are just about getting through the week.

It surely takes two to tango and maybe remote workers need to ask for more, but employers also need to recognise why they might not. The only way this is possible is if there are honest conversations going on. In fact, employers might learn quite a lot about doing hybrid working better if they talked to those who have been doing it for many years. And instead of harking back to the old ways of doing things they might be able to improve the more modern ways of working that, for so many reasons, are here to stay.



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