Time will tell how the coronavirus pandemic will change the way we work in the long run. Four-day work weeks? No more hot-desking?
Maybe, but one thing seems certain: Working remotely, at least part time, is here to stay for many people. There are pros and cons, of course, and also obstacles as workers adjust to a new style.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for workers is figuring out how to remain visible to their managers — and how to increase their employability.
Rhymer Rigby, a UK-based career expert, journalist, and author of The Careerist: 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work, talked about working remotely in a recent FM magazine podcast episode. Here are some of his tips for succeeding in a digital workplace.
Avoid work in your free time
Remote work can be a blessing to employees who have long commutes to the office.
Workers in the UK and the US spend on average about one hour per day commuting. That newfound free time could be spent on family, hobbies, or exercise.
“Do whatever you want to do,” Rigby said. “But don’t — perhaps don’t fill it with work, or certainly not needless work.”
But some people say they are working more at home than they did in the office, potentially cancelling out the benefits of no commute times.
“People feel slightly guilty about working from home, and this creates a kind of a bizarre overcompensation for not being present,” Rigby said. “And then the other thing I think you’ve got going is that, because of the pandemic, there are a lot of people who are very nervous about their jobs. So they are perhaps giving more than they need to.”
Don’t plan yet for four-day workweeks
The pandemic “has accelerated awareness of flexible working in all its forms”, Rigby said.
There’s been plenty of talk about businesses shifting to shorter weeks in which employees work four days and are off three. But it’s probably too soon to say if that will become a widespread reality.
“It’s really difficult to see how this is going to play out,” Rigby said.
Regardless, companies might change their office spaces in the coming years. At first, Rigby said, they might increase their space to accommodate social distancing to help impede the spread of the coronavirus.
But if much of the workforce decides to work from home, he said, offices could shrink.
As for the hot-desking trend in which multiple people utilise the same workspace at different times? It could become a thing of the past, he said, “which I think might make a lot of people very happy”.
A mix of working in the office and from home is ideal, Rigby said. “If you’ve got a long report to write, you absolutely want to be by yourself, and you don’t want those irritating kind of interruptions. But if you have a normal working day, they’re actually pretty good, and they make you feel like part of something.”
It’s OK to miss office gossip
Rigby makes it clear he’s talking about “positive” gossip.
“There’s sort of serendipitous meetings in the corridor, and — the way you sort of bump into people and you exchange information and intelligence — I think that’s incredibly valuable,” he said.
Rigby said it’s important to maintain that kind of contact with co-workers through phone calls, WhatsApp, or other messaging services.
It might seem like working remotely would eliminate office politics, but Rigby said that’s not the case.
“I’ve seen people doing Zoom calls where they’re also WhatsApping people in the background, and so not everyone on the call is in the WhatsApp group. So you have back channels. And I think it’s all very interesting.”
Make yourself visible
Employees might feel as though their managers are less aware of the work they are doing remotely. In that case, Rigby said, it’s important to reach out via a phone call or Zoom instead of sending an email.
“It’s [a] much richer experience,” he said. “And if I pick up the phone and talk to you, I’m probably going to have a 15-minute conversation with you that is going to go off in tangents it wouldn’t on an email, because an email is quite a sort of closed piece of communication.”
Workers should also “flag up” their work, according to Rigby, but “not in a ‘look at me’ way”. They could send daily or weekly reports outlining their work and also participate in conversations via Slack or other messaging services used by the company.
“I think, yeah, you have to blow your own trumpet a little bit. And really embrace the full spectrum of kind of digital tools to ensure people know that you’re there and you’re working.”
‘Present yourself well digitally’
Digital presence is key in determining someone’s employability, Rigby said. That includes how you present yourself and your skills on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
“If I Google you, what do I find out?” he said.
— Sarah Nagem is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.