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What is teleworking? It is no longer a trend…

In the comfort of home, in front of the living room window, in search of concentration and the best Internet network point, but under the eyes of the neighbors of the building in front. In a coworking space, in a shared open space, taking advantage of networking opportunities. In a hotel room, converted into a working paradise – with everything you are entitled to – with a sea view and in successive videoconferences… The scenarios are endless, and real, in contrast to others that may be less idyllic, but, in the beginning, its protagonists all asked the same question: after all, what is teleworking?

The question has a short path answer but it also contemplates a longer one, for those who prefer to go through the complex contours and, here and there, still somewhat uncertain that arise from distance work.

Teleworking, remote work or teleworking are synonyms commonly used to designate the same concept and which mean the employment relationship in which the employee develops his activity outside the walls of the institution, usually due to the interposition of technology – with the computer at the head – and all the related apparatus: telephone, e-mail, online messaging programs (chat), collaborative work software, videoconferencing platforms, and so on.

What is teleworking? Prologue to a journey without return …

We have become accustomed to seeing teleworking associated mainly with activities such as sales, customer service, marketing or the publishing market, among others, however, the modality is more and more business-oriented and the impact of the pandemic on socio-economic reality accelerated it. It exposed it, even, throughout the developed world, causing millions to face the question of “what is teleworking” only as a prologue to a journey of no return.

Whether full-time or, alternatively, in a hybrid model (mixed with weekly routine presence in the employer’s offices), remote work has advantages and, of course, disadvantages.

Labor flexibility is one of the biggest benefits. It allows the worker to manage how and where to exercise his profession, and, thus, balance his duties with the contingencies of personal and family life. And because there are fewer trips, that means more time available …

Labor flexibility is one of the biggest benefits. It allows the worker to manage how and where to exercise his profession, and, thus, balance his duties with the contingencies of personal and family life. And because there are fewer trips, that means more time available …

READ ALSO: Remote work productivity: the (high) performance wears casual  

But here, savings also benefit employers. Remote work makes it possible to reduce the fixed costs of companies, namely infrastructural (facilities, equipment, energy, etc.). But not only.

Another advantage that comes to mind in many surveys is job satisfaction / motivation. In general, many studies attest, the professionals in remote work claim to be more satisfied with their condition and motivation than those who work in corporate offices.

In addition, statistics from many countries have shown that distance work provides employers with a higher rate of labor retention, due to the various perks of mobile work.

But not everything is rosy for the world of telecommuting and anyone who wonders what telecommuting is, usually, wants to be aware of the expected disadvantages.

The other side of the coin

Loneliness, which comes mainly when the workplace is at home, is one of them. It is even more likely for those who live alone and / or do not have “anti-bodies” to combat this type of feelings.

Therefore, there is no lack of people who feel the need to make a separation between personal space and work space, and look outside their home for a place to develop their professional activity. In this area, coworking spaces continue to be an option of choice – because being more efficient when working remotely has gone from being a mere option to an urgent need.

In addition to loneliness, however, as a probable handicap of teleworking, there are more distractions, especially if the employee is unable (or does not know) how to meet the conditions necessary to carry out the tasks for which he is being paid.

Children at home, pets, family members or recurring visitors can be a headache for anyone who has to concentrate and deliver results at the end of the day. Hence the very relevant growth in the offer of coworking spaces – of different styles – in countless cities.

One of the tonic accents of recent studies, which focus on what is teleworking, its contingencies and requirements, underline the difficulty of workers in disconnecting.

It seems easy, but, says who knows, at a distance it is more difficult to disconnect from work: phone calls, videoconferences (many times with very relevant time differences between countries), successive emails, answers and decisions you were waiting for … all this is making you work harder … in telecommuting. And this is one of the concerns of the areas that study the methods and organization of current work, for the sake of the physical and mental health of human resources.

The lesser control exercised by organizations with teleworkers, the decrease in creativity in the execution of assigned tasks, as well as the loss of identity and the difficulty of stability in the the career – are usually other of the disadvantages pointed out to remote work.

What is telecommuting: more than a response to a new crisis

In history, moments of crisis have always brought great changes and uncertainties, and, consequently, great advances and not less opportunities. And this is also true with telecommuting.

The term broke out in the 70s of the 20th century, when the globe was facing an oil crisis. Concerns about commuting expenses rose in tone, so, in response, certain professional functions then moved to remote work.

Irony of fate, or not, the pandemic caused by Covid-19, in 2019-20, accelerated the digital transformation in all sectors of activity, with teleworking as the pivot (and protection) of change, for the sake of the economy.

In the follow-up, some ask about what is teleworking if not a renewed response (with another format, it is true) to a new crisis, of different caliber? But it is way more than that.

In any case, and despite the historical speed of this change, which was already a trend, the moment has unlocked new opportunities and it is making the business fabric analyze very carefully, step by step, the best way to get around, as they say.

The great consultants specialized in human capital are, at the same time thinking about new precepts for new times and demands -, creating formulas to face the new contours of telework.

READ ALSO: What is coworking?   

The human resources multinational Mercer, for example, is looking at the new labor environment and underlining the need to divide the new (tele) work time into four fundamental moments.

Namely: a more corporate occasion, when top management communicates so that everyone knows the current situation of the company; a more operational moment, when priorities are defined for the five or six hours of daily work, since it is impossible for people to be working eight hours when they have, for example, children at home; a height of character, let’s say, pedagogical, since not all corporate employees were used to working like this, hence the need to help people with workshops or coaching, to set an agenda; and, lastly, a time of socialization, with the operational teams taking coffee breaks, decompressing and talking about what is beyond work. And that also connects and tunes them.

A positive experience and optimism for the future

2020 was a difficult year for companies and human resources professionals. Not because they had to elaborate on many answers to the question about what teleworking is, but because they had to create new remote work policies, improve platforms and implement tools to maintain communication with workers, and, as a result, monitor the corresponding performance, at a distance.

The transition years ahead will be no less easy. But the indicators that exist make it possible to face the future with optimism.

In many ways, the results of surveys carried out by experts in the sector showed that there was very little dissatisfaction with the condition of teleworking, and in many cases, the universe on which the studies focused was composed of a mix of people who met the situation of teleworking for the first time and others for whom the modality was already used.

In Portugal, for example, several surveys indicate that more than three quarters of teleworkers want to maintain this condition in the future. The most preferred modality, however, is the one which allows you to have a mixed work week, divided by teleworking (on most days) and by the presence in the company.

Despite the great satisfaction with the experience in remote work (in percentages that exceed 70 percent), the concerns regarding internal visibility of the work performed by employees, doubts about career progression, management of stress and anxiety, overwork (in effective hours), losses in the feeling of togetherness, belonging and communication, and difficulties in teamwork still exist.

The future challenges are transversal to many sectors of activities and take through the concepts of reskilling and upskilling. In other words, as the pandemic accelerated the digitization of processes, it is imperative to accompany automation through investments in the digital literacy of professionals, in the training and technological upgrade of professionals – meeting the opportunities evidenced by the change, which even foresee the creation of new job functions (derived from innovation and cybersecurity requirements, for example).

New work styles in perspectiveNew work styles in perspective

Symptoms of all this, and the answer to doubts about what teleworking is, are the so-called new styles of work that, through the configurations of ongoing experiences, professionals express that they intend to see maintained in the future. Among them are not only remote work, but also flexible working hours and measures to promote well-being within companies.

Hence, as a result of the new work practices exercised all over the planet, several surveys carried out attest, the collaborators express, in a generalized way, that they want to see the maintenance of telework (in different configurations), the flexible schedule, the optimized use of technology, computer applications and tools for remote work and productivity, professional well-being practices, greater interdepartmental collaboration and the establishment of more realistic deadlines for completing tasks.

The companies, in turn, also extracted from this transition phase some practices that they would like to see maintained for the times to come. And among them are a greater investment in technology, an increase in professional training adapted to telework, the reduction and / or reconfiguration of the physical space of the facilities and the adoption of initiatives that promote mental health in the workplace.

According to what has been possible to observe, companies that will not carry out any type of change are residual. And, surely, they will not have any doubts about what teleworking is …

What is teleworking: the importance of communication

At a time when teleworking becomes a new normal, communication between all employees has gained particular importance and, for its effectiveness and efficiency, the use of productivity software, of which Teams, Slack or Trello constitute mere examples, may be crucial.

Similarly, human resources departments had (and have, if they have not yet done so) to equip themselves with tools capable of remotely monitoring the work cycle of employees, so that it is possible to access, in real time, to the data that will allow you to make an informed decision about the respective professional paths and productivity.

But the change in (tele) working conditions may even have beneficial consequences at other levels.

According to the study “Getting a balance in the life satisfaction determinants of full-time and part-time European workers”, published in the Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, which assessed the well-being of European full-time and part-time workers (with low fertility rate, motivated also due to working conditions and prospects), one of the consequences will be, for example, an increase in the number of children that each family decides to have.

According to the authors of the work, we will thus be facing a paradigm shift caused by the… massification of teleworking.

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