Remote Workers and Related Management Issues

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Introduction

The global space now operates differently due to the advent of remote work. This trend is showing that the number of people who prefer working from home increases annually across the globe. With employees being able to adjust their schedules flexibly, the benefits of remote work also grow daily, as the majority of potential workers no longer want to go to the office when they can do the same work from home (Fowkes, 2020; Manuti et al., 2015; Wood, Lehdonvirta and Graham, 2018). Even though the option to switch to a remote workplace is not currently available to all organizations worldwide, the integration of work-from-home frameworks slowly takes over multiple businesses (Bouncken and Reuschl, 2018; David, 2015; Eddleston and Mulki, 2017). Given the current situation in the world involving COVID19, remote-friendly skills are just as important as any other aptitudes that are characteristic of physical workspaces. The current process of adaptation to remote work creates both benefits and challenges for employees and this paper aims to review the case of remote work as an important managerial trial.

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Literature Review

As per the information from the literature, one of the biggest benefits synonymous with remote work is increased productivity. The idea here is that a person will be able to complete all the required tasks within the given timeframe while doing everything from the comfort of their home (Berkelaar and Buzzanell, 2015; Boudreau, Jesuthasan and Creelman, 2015; Durward, Blohm and Leimeister, 2016; Rowley, 2016). Even though there are employers who still believe that there are numerous distractions taking employees away from job duties, it is not the case for the reason that the majority of remote workers are responsible enough to complete all the required tasks. Not having to commute also saves both workers and managers time and money.

On the other hand, remote employment may be easily seen as an opportunity to hire the best talents without worrying too much about geolocation, time zones, and other inconsequential factors that could have hindered the company’s performance during the 20th century. When an organization allows for remote work, it discloses itself to an increased talent pool where the only viable variables are skills and experience (Baldassari and Roux, 2017; Buchko, Buscher and Buchko, 2017; Katz and Krueger, 2019; Mas and Pallais, 2017 Messenger and Gschwind, 2016). By not forcing employees to come to a physical office, managers also may generate increased attendance, as it would merely take them to show up on a video conference to communicate the latest updates.

Despite the benefits, the literature on the subject also suggests that there are reasonable challenges that decrease the value of remote work and make it a dangerous practice. First, most organizations exploiting remote employment suffer from poor communication due to the lack of contact among workers and executives. It may be rather hard to coordinate the work progress when the staff does not convey information appropriately (Attaran, Attaran, and Kirkland, 2019; Hodge, 2016; Keeling, Clements-Croome and Roesch, 2015; Kemeny and Osman, 2018; Roth and Mirchandani, 2016). One more issue that is linked to communication is the lack of data security. Employees may be unaware of all the potential digital threats when sending passwords or any other sensitive information via messengers.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with remote work to date is the inability (or rather limited ability) to track employee performance and see how they are dealing with their tasks and challenges. In association with the lack of communication, this might be the worst-case scenario for the company when an employee does not perform on a decent level while also not communicating their progress to managers. The mistake that many organizations make is that they do not communicate specific expectations when they first interview the potential employee (Fink and Anderson, 2015; Klement, 2017; Rao and Selvamani, 2015; Spreitzer, Cameron, and Garrett, 2017). Flexible work arrangements might be the best option for companies willing to adopt a remote workforce.

Problem Statement

The current business environment is rapidly changing under the pressure of technological advancements and cultural transformations. The increasing level of accessibility makes it easier to connect online and review additional communication and performance tracking options (Boudreau, Jesuthasan and Creelman, 2015; Hodge, 2016; Mas and Pallais, 2017; Spreitzer, Cameron, and Garrett, 2017). The advent of COVID19 forced managers to respond to the changes within the workplace environment by moving operations to the online setting. It is not clear whether employees’ needs and aspirations can be addressed accordingly, but the presence of a variety of benefits and challenges associated with remote work is evident. Hence, the management problem that has to be reviewed within the framework of the current paper is a drastic increase in the number of remote workers that is hardly supported by organizations that had their operations solely in the offline environment. The contribution of the remote workforce to the overall organizational success has to be reviewed to outline the strategies that could help employees overcome the fear of online workplaces and perform at a higher level.

Research Question and Objectives

Primary Research Question

RQ: Is it true that remote work decreases productivity and creates additional obstacles for the organization?

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Secondary Research Questions

RQ1: What are the most important implications of remote work for the organizations that currently have to switch from offline to online work environments due to the COVID19 situation?

RQ2: Will it be possible for managers to transform a physical office into its online alternative without sacrificing communication and productivity?

RQ3: Is there a chance to track employee performance and motivate them to accomplish more during the remote work period?

Research Objectives

  • To complete the case study and find the most appropriate ways of managing the workforce remotely based on the example of Microsoft;
  • To validate the hypothesis that remote employment is a positive trend that should be supported on all levels (from social to governmental);
  • To develop a discussion on how interpersonal communication skills could contribute to the successful management of remote teams.

Case Study and Methods

The unit of analysis that has been chosen for the current research is Microsoft Corporation. The researchers are willing to investigate the state of affairs within the company and see how the IT mogul deals with a fully-fledged transition to the online environment. The rationale for choosing Microsoft is that the latter represents one of the most quickly developing sectors in the industry where innovations are persistent. There is no doubt that the company will be able to adjust its operations to the COVID19 situation and smoothly convert its everyday activities to online operations. The researchers are willing to investigate the case of Microsoft to gain more insight into how other companies could adapt their experience and carefully adjust to the situation induced by a worldwide pandemic.

Given the fact that Microsoft is a company that masterfully operates different technologies and recurrently comes up with innovative IT solutions, it may be safe to say that a thorough review of Microsoft operations within the last five years would be a lucrative method of analysis. The researchers investigated books and journal articles to gain more insight into the potential solutions to remote work challenges listed in the literature review section. The idea was to develop an all-inclusive solution that could be implemented by any organization looking to overcome the hardships of the pandemic and continue producing high-quality services and goods (Rowley, 2016). The experience of Microsoft is rather likely to be effectively translated into other industries that are just getting acquainted with the concept of remote work.

Research Findings, Validation, and Interpretation

From the case study, it was found that to maintain successful online operations, businesses should establish an effective communication channel for the team. Recurrent information exchange regarding deadlines and completed tasks shall be seen as an attempt to foster open communication. Managers should not overlook the importance of a place dedicated to information exchange, as it would create a better working atmosphere and keep workers closer to each other even if they are not from the same department and do not currently stay in the office (Attaran, Attaran, and Kirkland, 2019; Mas and Pallais, 2017). It may also be required to develop a column with answers to the most frequently asked questions to help new employees just in case.

Another idea that could be implemented to overcome the most common challenges of remote work is the introduction of additional KPIs. The latter would serve as a tracking device for workers’ accomplishments and challenges that yet have to be addressed. For the manager, this would become the answer to how to utilize existing resources most efficiently and set up a system of renewed metrics that would appeal to employees (Boudreau, Jesuthasan, and Creelman, 2015). The presence of daily achievements would make it more motivating for workers to complete required tasks. The manager should carefully ensure that employee expectations are in line with the company’s objectives because otherwise, the team would not have an opportunity to restore its performance numbers from an offline office.

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There is another condition that has to be respected is the maintenance of corporate culture. Careful cultivation and development of employee attitudes would make it possible for the managers to foster vigorous communication among departments and individual workers. It may be a rather resource-intensive task, but the effects of promoting company culture online would also pay off within a short time frame (Spreitzer, Cameron, and Garrett, 2017). There should be a definite plan where all the business values and initiatives would be listed for the employees to see. In a sense, company culture starts with the manager, so the latter should interact with the staff in the most efficient way possible. The “doors” of the virtual office should always be open for honest feedback and constant innovations intended to make everyone’s job life better.

Ultimately, the team should adopt the experience of Microsoft and build trust continually. This may be complicated for remote managers where employees have not completed any task even during the offline office days. Nevertheless, a transparent approach to how much employees would have to work and what kind of pay rates they are going to receive during the remote work period might be the best option for any manager (Hodge, 2016). In addition to communicating honest expectations, the manager would also have to limit the workload for every team and explain the prospects to all employees who are not sure about their capabilities of remote workers. The overall amount of work is not going to increase exponentially, forcing employees to work overtime.

Conclusion and Future Research

Based on the evidence collected within the framework of the current paper, it can be concluded what aspects should be prioritized to survive through the pandemic and maintain the pre-pandemic level of performance. Even though it was found that remote work negatively affects productivity, there are multiple strategies aimed at restoring teamwork. As for the additional obstacles that the company might encounter when switching to a remote workplace, the most important implication of working from home for any organization is the process of introducing corporate communication tools and helping employees and managers remain as responsive as possible irrespective of their roles within the company.

Despite the potential sacrifices that may be made to adjust to the changes required to restore proper communication, managers should not ignore the benefits of a full transformation. An online workplace has the same potential in terms of productivity and effective communication as its offline counterpart. As for the process of tracking employee performance and motivating them to keep persevering (even if it is hard to work from home), the easiest way would be to implement additional KPIs to clarify objectives and milestones for every separate employee and department. A sophisticated approach to employee expectations is vital to organization managers because this is one of the few ways to clear all the potential pitfalls. Future research might ultimately focus on the process of how managers could restore employee motivation and performance when there would be a need to come back to physical offices.

Reference List

  1. Attaran, M., Attaran, S. and Kirkland, D. (2019) ‘The need for digital workplace: increasing workforce productivity in the information age’, International Journal of Enterprise Information Systems (IJEIS), 15(1), pp. 1-23.
  2. Baldassari, P. and Roux, J. D. (2017) ‘Industry 4.0: preparing for the future of work’, People & Strategy, 40(3), pp. 20-24.
  3. Berkelaar, B. L. and Buzzanell, P. M. (2015) ‘Online employment screening and digital career capital: exploring employers’ use of online information for personnel selection’, Management Communication Quarterly, 29(1), pp. 84-113.
  4. Boudreau, J. W., Jesuthasan, R. and Creelman, D. (2015) Lead the work: navigating a world beyond employment. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.
  5. Bouncken, R. B. and Reuschl, A. J. (2018) ‘Coworking-spaces: how a phenomenon of the sharing economy builds a novel trend for the workplace and for entrepreneurship’, Review of Managerial Science, 12(1), pp. 317-334.
  6. Buchko, A. A., Buscher, C. and Buchko, K. J. (2017) ‘Why do good employees stay in bad organizations?’, Business Horizons, 60(5), pp. 729-739.
  7. David, H. (2015) ‘Why are there still so many jobs? The history and future of workplace automation’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 29(3), pp. 3-30.
  8. Durward, D., Blohm, I. and Leimeister, J. M. (2016) ‘Crowd work’, Business & Information Systems Engineering, 58(4), pp. 281-286.
  9. Eddleston, K. A. and Mulki, J. (2017) ‘Toward understanding remote workers’ management of work–family boundaries: the complexity of workplace embeddedness’, Group & Organization Management, 42(3), pp. 346-387.
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  22. Rowley, A. (2016) Leadership therapy: inside the mind of Microsoft. New York: Springer.
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  24. Wood, A. J., Lehdonvirta, V. and Graham, M. (2018) ‘Workers of the Internet unite? Online freelancer organisation among remote gig economy workers in six Asian and African countries’, New Technology, Work and Employment, 33(2), pp. 95-112.

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