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The positives and negatives of remote working

6th April 2022

Everybody has an opinion on remote working nowadays. Since Covid lockdowns began, every agency has had to wrestle with it. What’s been learnt, for and against?  

One thing’s for sure: this topic has developed nuances far beyond the initial kneejerk reactions of whether remote working is simply good or bad. Here are some hot factors to now bear in mind. 

Personality types 

You can’t come up with an effective policy affecting people without an attempt at understanding how those people think. One key indicator that’s very relevant is the matter of whether an individual is an extrovert or an introvert. Here’s a quick summary of these two personality types: 

     Extroverts recharge by socialising. They make quick decisions, talk more, and are outgoing. They seek external stimulation and are action-oriented.
     Introverts, on the other hand, recharge by being alone. They listen more, are more observant, prefer conversations to be one-on-one, and are more self-aware and reflective.  

The topic is relevant, not least because these two types are affected by workplace noise differently. Noise distractions in the workplace are more of a problem for introverts than for extraverts. Open plan offices and constant loud interactions are therefore a problem for them. Of course, the battle for office open plan layouts versus individual offices was settled long ago: open plan won hands down, partly because of the enormous space savings. But the problem for introverts hasn’t gone away. So, imagine their amazement when lockdown was announced and they were told to stop coming to the office and work from home. It was a positive game changer for them. For extroverts, sadly, it was the opposite. 

But note that remote working only benefits introverts if their home has a quiet space in which to work. As a general rule, the higher the salary the larger the home and the more likelihood of access to a quiet space.  

Are there more extroverts than introverts in the world? Research by Myers-Briggs showed introverts make up 51% of the population and extroverts 49%. Another study suggested introverts are 57% of the world population. But it’s not as simple as that. Few people, perhaps around 10%, are at the extremities — like most things, it’s all a spectrum. Many people come somewhere in the middle but with a leaning to one side or the other. 

Uninterrupted productive work 

A lot of agency roles need deep focus time. People in creative roles working against tight deadlines need time to think and concentrate. So do people having to make difficult decisions or steer complex projects. In a global 2021 survey, 25% of remote workers said their opportunity for deep focus time increased hugely when working from home. They typically achieved 6 hours without interruption, whereas only 9% of in-office workers were able to achieve that. Big difference. 

Interestingly, remote workers reported that they worked more hours from home than when in the office. Even so, they felt less burnt out. 

In another study, 65% of remote workers said that they are more productive working remotely.  

Autonomy 

Flexible working arrangements have autonomy at their core, which needs a culture of mutual trust to work properly. The opposite to that is what is now known as ‘presenteeism’, which is the belief that people work harder when they are continuously seen by management. It can be argued that part of the reason for remote working’s increased productivity is the sense that individuals feel they are being trusted more.  

Larger recruitment pool 

Agencies are used to recruiting a network of freelancers, so it’s not the biggest leap in the world for them to recruit remote employees too. The advantages are considerable. From the agency side, remote working substantially widens the pool of talent overnight, a very welcome development in a sector that is often short of the right talent. And from the applicant’s perspective, they’re suddenly eligible to work in a role that might be their dream job – perhaps something impossible before due to their geographical location.  

Negatives of home working 

Nevertheless, there are real issues with increased remote working. In addition to the frustrations that extroverts feel, it is harder for new employees to create a bond and grasp the culture of the business. Brief exchanges in the physical workplace bring genuine positive value: a one-minute chat at the coffee dispenser with someone you don’t directly work with adds colour, fresh insights and richness to the work experience.  

Another issue is that having a hugely expanded talent pool to draw from has an unexpected downside – a potentially overwhelming number of applications to evaluate. You might say that as problems go, this is one of life’s good ones. Nevertheless, you need to plan for it. If it results in you having to become more crystal-clear in writing the job description, and candidates having to try harder to make their applications more impressive and less generic, that’s no bad thing. 

But surely the biggest downside is lack of control and visibility if you don’t have a good system to lean on. Even when all teams work in the same office, it’s very easy to get nasty surprises. It’s difficult enough to drive something as complex as a busy agency, ensure everybody’s working on the highest-priority tasks, monitor that nothing is falling off the rails, be sure that nobody’s wasting time chasing information or using stale data, and drive all projects so a profitable end. Hard. But try attempting all that when people are working remotely. Without a good system, what chance?    

Hybrid, or remote-first? 

Hybrid arrangements, where people work some days at home and some days at the office, seem the obvious compromise for many. But some think it’s the wrong approach, because companies are typically implementing hybrid as office-first. Office-first implies an attitude of “We’re going to allow people to work from home for some days of the week”. But this makes little sense if productivity at home is clearly superior to office-based work. The starting point should perhaps be the other way round. Remote-first gives employees the choice, with no underlying implications as to which the company prefers. 

Ultimately whether you operate your agency remotely or not is down to you and your agency’s needs. But when it comes to getting set up to enable remote working, Synergist can help. Synergist is a complete agency management system, bringing together people, projects and financials in one singular view. If you want to find out more about all the features that enable smooth home working, click here 

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About Synergist

Synergist agency management software helps agencies to grow safely and smoothly by reducing the ‘busy chaos’ and enabling teams to work more efficiently and profitably. By streamlining project workflows, with features such as Kanban Boards, Ga...

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