Why does an employee want or need to work remotely?

As in 2021, remote working will certainly be one of the main concerns in 2022. Not only because the pandemic is still going on, but also because it will have created new expectations that will have to be addressed.

As we have seen, if everyone agrees on the fact that the question is not so much whether there will be remote working as how much.

But the subject is often taken in the wrong direction. The business sees its problems, its fears (justified or not), its constraints and tries to deduce a framework for its employees.

The misunderstanding of remote working

But there is a problem: if both sides see advantages and limits to remote working, they do not seek it for the same reasons and we know that when we agree on a system without agreeing on the objectives sought, we will end up with a flawed system.

In fact there are three issues.

The first is that the business, no matter what we say, sees the subject as a problem it has to deal with and therefore looks at the subject from its point of view without putting itself in the employee’s shoes.

The second is that when the business says it listens to its employees, it listens to their desires, not their needs, which are not always expressed, or even unconscious. However, understanding the employee’s needs allows the business to benefit from them when we talk about this later. It can even realize that it may be in the company’s interest to have an employee work remotely.

The third one, but which is the result of what precedes, is that the business wants to create a generic framework valid for all, whereas for a given employee the need for remote working varies over time. But when we imagine a system which is valid for the “average” employee, we will have a system which at some point will not be suitable for any employee: it will always be under-dimensioned for some and over-dimensioned for others.

In this article we will try to understand in a rational way why an employee may want or need to work remotely in order to have a more individualized approach to remote working.

What are the triggers for remote working?

The factors that make an employee want or need to work remotely or, on the contrary, to avoid remote working are of several kinds.

  • Personality of the employee: is he more or less in demand of “physical” social contacts.
  • Age of the employee: younger employees often have more desire and need to create links by meeting their colleagues.
  • Family factors: Can the employee work at home in a quiet environment or will he be disturbed by his family? Or, on the contrary, must he stay at home to keep an eye on a child.
  • Real estate and setup: does the employee have a real workspace at home or does he/she work in an uncomfortable or unproductive environment? Does he or she live in a large house or a small apartment with little light?

2°) Workplace factors

  • Distance from the workplace: needless to say, the further the employee lives from his workplace or the more complicated the journey is, the more he will want to stay at home.
  • Efficiency of the workplace: the office is not used to store employees in chickens in a henhouse, but to enable them to work. If it is not designed for the new forms of work, it will not be seen as a tool for the employees who will not find any interest in it.
  • Quality of the workplace: needless to say, everyone prefers a pleasant, bright office with living spaces than a dark, old-fashioned rabbit cage?
  • Remote work experience: does the employee have experience with remote working that allows him/her to practice it without apprehension?
  • Seniority in the business: is the employee new to the business, in which case he or she will want and need to create links, to immerse themselves in the business culture and office life, or, on the contrary, does his or her seniority mean that he or she has assimilated all the codes and has an important internal network?
  • Seniority in the position: is the employee discovering a new position, a new team or is he/she in a familiar environment?
  • Leadership and management: it is not so much a question of leadership as of the ability to express it remotely through digital tools. Someone, and especially a manager, who is not comfortable with this will prefer to stay in the office and especially make his teams come back to it. In the same way, a control freak who cannot operate in the same way through tools as in person will prefer to be in the office.
  • Collaborative practices: going remote is not just about using tools to do what you do in the office but remotely, but about rethinking your practices and mastering a certain number of use cases. Otherwise, the employee will not feel confident and efficient at a distance and will avoid this situation.
  • Depending on the life cycle of the projects on which the employee is involved: there are phases in which it is important to create a feeling of belonging within a team that is being formed, key moments when we work better when we are in the same places, and on the contrary, moments when everyone is better off in their own place.
  • According to the task to be done at a given time: this is similar to the previous point but there are tasks for which we are better at home and others (creativity…) for which we are better together.
  • Weight and strength of the business culture: A strong business culture can make employees want to spend time together. A culture that is too strong, or even invasive, can make some people want to get away from it to breathe.
  • Toxicity and weight of management: an employee does not leave a business but a manager, they say. Well, it’s the same for remote working. I would even go so far as to say that by moving away from their managers thanks to remote working, some avoid leaving the business.

No “one size fits all” but levers to pull

There is no need to start from this list to create a “radar graph” to understand each employee: some items are variable over time, sometimes over the long term, sometimes overnight, and understanding this is the whole point of the approach.

There is therefore no system that will satisfy everyone, unless one understands that the system must be as flexible as possible and that, conversely, the less choice it gives to the employee, the more it restricts, the less it will satisfy the greatest number.

But these items also provide some guidelines for action:

  • Learn to assess certain dimensions such as digital and remote leadership forgotten by all management and personality tests today.
  • Communicate: making employees aware of all these dimensions will help them make the right choices for their remote working periods.
  • Training and support: once we know what determines the needs of employees, we can act at the level of the employee or the business to make some more suitable for remote working and the other more welcoming to give the desire to go to the office other than under constraint.

Respond to a problem, not a request

It is necessary to go beyond the demands expressed by employees who are not always aware of their needs or unable to verbalize them so that the remote working policy is seen as an answer to their real problems.

Image : Remote Work by Creative Lab via Shutterstock

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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