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Remote IT jobs: 4 downsides and how to beat them
Working from home is the number one perk that IT pros want. Let's examine the pros and cons of remote IT jobs – and how employees and employers can beat the challenges
Pro: Work/life balance. Con: Isolation from colleagues
Working from home can offer a lot in terms of work/life balance. When you spend more time at home, you can potentially spend more time with your family or partner. You can separate yourself from many of the stresses that come from being at work, under fluorescent lights, for long hours. The incentives that come with remote work options and flex hours can promote a healthy balance for employees, keep health costs down for companies, while keeping employee productivity and retention up, Latimer points out.
“Today’s workforce is completely stressed, which isn’t good for the individual employee or the company overall,” says Latimer. “In fact, stressed employees are more likely to be unmotivated, quit their jobs, perform poorly, and have low morale and a higher incidence of illness and accidents.”
[ Is your balance out of whack? Read our related article, 8 ways to reclaim sanity at work and home. ]
However, that balance can be tricky to find, because while you gain family time, you could be trading off valuable relationship building with co-workers. “If your job doesn’t have interaction with others on the phone then make sure you are ok having no social interaction with others. Otherwise, you will be very lonely and less productive,” says Kurko.
Employers play an important role in making sure teams feel connected, says Watkins. “It’s vital that employers include remote workers on periodic and project specific meetings, especially company team building and fun events,” he says.
Jo Deal, CHRO of LogMeIn, says simple rules like always using video conferencing can help – especially if leaders set the example from the top. “Technology will make a huge difference in ensuring human connections are made in the absence of the physical watercooler,” she says. “For example, video conferencing tools can make distant employees feel as if they’re in the same room. If a meeting consists of a mix of in-person and remote attendees, everyone should turn their cameras on and those in the room should make sure to specifically address those who aren’t so that all participants are equally included and involved. At LogMeIn, the CEO turns his camera on for every meeting with remote attendees and ensures that he makes eye contact with his camera as much as he does with the people in the room.”
Pro: Hones the best skills. Con: Achievements go unnoticed
Remote work isn’t right for everyone – but the ones who can do it well are often rockstar employees. They have great time management skills, points out Thistle.
Dave Smith, VP of engineering at DigitalOcean, a company that is 60 percent remote, adds, “In my experience, the most successful remote workers are people who feel comfortable communicating effectively and proactively, with strong problem-solving skills. These are desirable traits for any employee, but they are crucial when you’re expected to work more autonomously.”
The longer you work from home, the more opportunity you have to hone these desirable skills. But, unfortunately, your achievements in these areas could go entirely unnoticed by those responsible for promoting you.
“You may not get enough face time with your boss, so you may get passed over for a promotion,” says Kurko. “Depending on the size of the company, the CEO may not even know you exist so it could limit your career advancement.”
Again, employers can do a lot to help in this area – and they have a good reason to do so. “From an employer’s perspective, the benefits of a remote work policy are substantial. By removing geographical limits in your candidate searches, you can expand your talent pool globally and use time zones to your advantage to move projects forward around the clock. Remote work policies also offer a huge asset in the highly competitive tech talent market,” says Smith.
“Technology has made the logistics of remote work much easier to manage, but employers should also ensure they are using good management principles to keep remote teams engaged and motivated," Smith adds. "Connect with your team members in one-on-one video conferences to strengthen the working relationship, and be sure to plan in-person face-to-face time at least a few times per year.”
Watkins came up with a solution at inRsite IT Solutions to showcase remote workers’ productivity and ensure they get the recognition they deserve for their hard work. “We use a PSA [professional services automation software] to track tickets, and any time you spend working on your tickets gets displayed automatically for the whole team to see. This not only serves to show in-house techs that the remote guys are actually working, but it serves as a motivator for remote workers to stay on task,” he says.
The limits of face-time
Bottom line: Despite the potential downsides, remote work is a perk that IT employees want, and one that more employers have to get comfortable with if they want to attract and keep top talent, recruiters say.
Companies need to shift away from the old school mindset of “what can’t be seen can’t be managed,” says LogMeIn’s Deal.
“The person in the cube next to the manager may spend 10 hours a day in the office, but are they catching up on sports, shopping online, or planning their next vacation?” she asks.
“Managers can’t assume that the employees they can see are working or that employees they can’t see aren’t. Therefore, managers need to set goals for each employee and have regular check-ins to compare goals with results. This allows managers to focus on each employee’s results and business impact, regardless of where they’re based. The message for employers is clear: Keeping employees engaged is essential for their productivity and the business’ success.”