It doesn’t matter what you call it, but the ability to ‘remote’ work is as much about the attitude of the individual as the attitude and culture of the organisation. I have been lucky with my roles and employers to be able to have the flexibility to work remotely at times.
Note: remote working doesn’t have to mean working from home, it means there is an ability to work in another location that is not your normal/assigned space. Hell, you could call the small empty office down the corridor ‘remote’ working in this case. Or the library, Or the Cafe. Or yes, your sofa, dining room, spare room or shed! The emphasis here, for me, is the trust that is placed in me to still do what is required and according to the same rules/regulations as if I was actually sat at my desk.
I find myself more productive when I’m remote working. I have my work space, as I would in the office. I have my distractions/music if I want it (even better, I can have silence if I want it, which I can’t get in the office. I can decide to answer the door to collect the post or leave it ’til later. The important thing here is that I have control of what distractions I allow in to my space. There is less opportunity for this level of control when at work and constantly available.
I have power, wifi, teabags and milk, and an empty house (when the kids are at school). That’s pretty much all I need to work for a day or two remotely. I have access to a multitude of mechanisms to be contactable and collaborative, and in fact sometimes it’s easier to manage office interactions remotely as there is a greater emphasis placed on making the interaction and engagement meaningful, and both/all parties make the effort to maximise the time we have.
Indeed, for a 7 month period (Nov 2017-May 18) I was working at home full-time, and loved it. What made it work was that my colleagues and co-workers were all in the same situation, so the culture of the organisation meant it had to work. We had email, phones, Skype (or Zoom), the knowledge that we had to make our communication work and matter. Despite being, in some case, thousands of miles and many time zones away from colleagues, each of us had the responsibility of using our time efficiently, and the time of those we needed to work with. Here, and when I was self-employed in the early 00’s, I had the opportunity to decide if I’d get up and work right away, take some time out early afternoon (a good idea when living a 10 minute walk from Bournemouth’s amazing beaches!!) and catch-up later in the day/evening.
Remote working is also good, for me, in managing distractions. In an office you still have opportunities to manage distractions and interactions with co-workers, but you are still ‘available’ and therefore will be interrupted and/or bothered. At home or another location you have more control over distractions – yes, the cat can be annoying at home, or the library gets noisy/busy, or the cafe wifi drops too often. Headphones are the usual go-to management technique in an office to indicate ‘leave me alone’, but when you look around and see an office full of nodding heads, it’s a but discouraging. Productive, yes, but discouraging, and it’s not always welcome.
We are living and working during incredible times where technology means we can still access our files remotely, contact colleagues in realtime, attend meetings. It doesn’t always work, sometimes technology will fail, but that’s not a reason for remote working to have failed. The only time I’ve seen remote working fail is when the organisational culture wouldn’t support it or one or two individuals abused it to take time off instead of actually doing some work. Again, it wasn’t remote working, location-independent working, failing, it was people.
Side note 1: Some distractions you can’t avoid, at work or at home. Small children don’t understand, nor should they really, what Mummy or Daddy are doing, and why they need a bit of quiet. Thankfully mine are older now and do understand it, but I don’t want to impose an environment on them, in their home, which suits me and my work and not them. That’s fine, they have things to do and games to play and take themselves off and just carry on like I’m not here. I close the door and I’ve got my own little office, so I could quite easily be on-site, just not easily and physically available.
Side note 2: I have friends who live near me and also work near me, some 20 miles away in Coventry. They both work for the council. They hot desk at the council because there isn’t enough space for all their team, so they work remotely two or three days a week. It works for the organisation because of spaces and costs, and for them as they can, between them, be around to take kids to school and be there when they come home.
When thinking about our students, especially online and those studying at a distance, this is exactly the situation they are in. We are in one (?) location/campus and have worked collaboratively to design and deliver the learning materials. And then we stop and pass it over to them. They are remote working, they never come to campus or a classroom/office with us, so we have to devise similar opportunities for them to engage and interact, the same way we have to do this with our work colleagues. If we expect them to be able to do it, surely we should have experience of it and understand the complexity’s involved? What better way to learn about this ourselves than to do it?
After all this, we still have to be aware that working or studying at home can be an all encompassing and intense experience. Each of us needs to take control of our environment and work/study requirements/expectations and make sure it doesn’t take us and our home envirionment over.