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Don’t ignore the side effects of remote work. Take action.


LAST UPDATED: April 7, 2023

Near the end of this summer, while everyone was interested in finding the “New Normal,” our Chicago InsideOut Design Leader Community had the brilliant idea of exploring the dark side of remote work. Much has happened since then – and the New Normal remains a mystery – but their insights are too good not to share.

At this point, design teams are getting used to a virtual world, and most are interested in a future that includes a remote component and flexible work arrangements. No one seems to agree on exactly what that looks like, but as long as asynchronous schedules are around, the unintended consequences of remote work are here to stay. So let’s take a look at some of the challenges of leading a virtual team and some possible solutions to overcome them.

CHALLENGE #1: Loss of chance interactions and informal exchanges that build trust, relationships, and engagement

In today’s environment, senior design leaders fear losing a sense of culture and connection, something on which productive creative teams generally depend. Without a reason to connect, employees drift apart, and collaboration suffers. Though it’s not easy to replicate a water cooler experience, there are ways to improve the odds of casual interactions.

CHALLENGE #2: Asynchronous schedules make collaboration difficult, and work hours seem nonstop

Working parents and caretakers experience constant disruption. Staff living alone crave purpose and distraction. Unique personal situations have led to flexible work arrangements that have extended standard business hours and brought employees to exhaustion. But there’s hope! By creating standards and guarding time, leaders set the stage for balance.

CHALLENGE #3: It’s hard to know when/if people are actually working when they are remote

Being able to see staff at work in an office environment is certainly easier than wondering what they’re doing at home. Add in constantly changing priorities and tight deadlines, and it’s no wonder leaders are concerned about their employees putting in the time needed to hit deadlines. Leading with trust and creating visibility goes a long way to creating highly productive remote teams.

CHALLENGE #4: Burnout. Zoom/video meeting fatigue, missing the “5-minute room change” breaks, and lack of time to get work done

Another issue created by not being in person has been an increased volume of meetings. While the intent may have been to stay connected, the hours spent on screen decrease engagement and create unnecessary stress. A responsible approach to both video and meetings in general provides boundaries and maximises focus time.

There’s no doubt that remote work has created opportunity; however, every upside has a downside that could outweigh its advantages. With an intentional approach to keeping the best of the old and embracing the new, design leaders can craft processes, systems, and workflows that foster collaboration, increase engagement, and yield even more productive, happy teams.

This article was originally published on the Aquent “Off Hours” Medium page here.