The current crisis of COVID-19 has probably made you aware of the advantages and disadvantages of daily telecommuting. Being a company that has been entirely telecommuting for several years, WILL had the opportunity to initiate a reflection on the subject during the revision of the employee handbook in 2019 to better prepare for the arrival of new employees and collaborators. As a result of our discussions on the telecommuting experience, several points emerged.
First of all, telecommuting minimizes the need for transportation and travel, which then contributes to reducing traffic congestion and GHG emissions. This is one of the main reasons why WILL favours this work arrangement since it is in line with our commitment to fight climate change by reducing our carbon footprint
On the employee side, telecommuting greatly facilitates work-life balance through more scheduling flexibility and less travel. This makes it much less complicated to pick up a sick child from school, accompany an elderly parent to a medical appointment, or simply get up later on a grey morning. Telecommuting provides more opportunities for people with reduced mobility by enabling them to work in an environment that, by default, is physically accessible to them. Additionally, as employment is not dependent on a specific geographic location, there are fewer constraints for employees’ choice of residence. This means one less headache for people who have to relocate, or who are interested in digital nomadism.
For the company, telecommuting provides the opportunity to find more candidates for a position by widening its recruitment pool, to save on rent, or to keep a reduced space, for instance, within a co-working space.
Finally, as you would have probably guessed, given the current measures imposed around the world, telecommuting facilitates social distancing and helps avoid contagion during epidemics. The COVID-19 crisis is an extreme example, but we can think of the gastroenteritis and influenza seasons during normal times.
Despite its growing popularity in recent years and its relevance during a crisis such as the one we are experiencing, telecommuting also involves different challenges for employees and employers.
The feeling of isolation, which in normal times can be difficult for sociable and extroverted personalities, is an important issue in the context of the COVID-19 crisis since socializing in person with family and friends after the workday is no longer possible.
Also, the lack of face-to-face contact can cause difficulties in developing team spirit and cordial relationships with colleagues. It is challenging to replace spontaneous conversations around the coffee machine in virtual mode. Moreover, communication is an important issue in conventional work and becomes even more so in teleworking. Sometimes, what would be 5 minutes of spontaneous verbal exchange in a conventional office turns into 15 e-mails and 5 calls.
Self-discipline from team members is also an important issue. Although telecommuting is relevant for the employer to evaluate employees based on their performance, managing time and work hours can be challenging for some. On the one side, it may be easy to be distracted by non-work related tasks and procrastinate (e.g. cleaning) or, in contrast, work constantly since there is no longer the notion of “going home” or the possibility of seeing co-workers leave the office. For those workers choosing atypical schedules, the important thing to remember is that co-workers are not required to respond to requests outside of regular working hours. This last point becomes particularly crucial in confinement, when it may be easy to work more than usual, as staying at home limits our leisure time.
Finally, despite the great flexibility provided by today’s technological tools, issues regarding technical glitches are always present, whether due to the use of non-standardized equipment/software or the reliability of telecommunication networks. Also, confinement has suddenly forced many of us to telecommute, in addition to closing schools and daycare centres. We are faced with the challenge of homes that are not always well suited for daily telework, such as non-ergonomic temporary offices and young children or roommates in underwear who appear suddenly during videoconferences.
Telecommuting at WILL Solutions
WILL’s team members agreed on a variety of suggestions to overcome the limitations of telework. We hope they will be useful to other organizations interested in integrating longer-term telecommuting into their activities:
- Plan regular in-person meetings on occasion, establish a list of suitable meeting places (obviously, this should be avoided in the current situation).
- Adopt different communication tools to prioritize and facilitate exchanges. For example, using an internal” chat” rather than e-mail for brief questions and the use of online task management software such as Asana.
- Ensure that all employees and collaborators are well trained in the various tools at their disposal since not all have the same ease with computer tools or the same level of knowledge of the different platforms used by the company.
- As a manager or in charge of HR, ask questions and be available to listen to employees about the difficulties they might have with telecommuting, their needs and suggestions.
- And finally, accepting that some communications need to be “trivial.” For example, discussing various topics such as current events that affect us in an e-mail or detailing plans for a trip to the cottage at the end of a conference call is essential to get to know and appreciate your colleagues!
The last point is especially relevant in this time of health crisis, where hospitalizations, confinement and numerous job losses generate stress in several people. Discussing it with colleagues provides an opportunity to sympathize and “ventilate” with people possibly experiencing similar situations.
Hopefully, this exceptional situation will enable us to think collectively about our ways of doing, both in our work practices and in what we consider essential or inevitable (e.g. air travel for holidays). Let’s integrate when possible, after the current crisis, some of the practices applied during containment, such as teleworking.
The Solutions Will team wishes you peaceful confinement!