Author: Graham Borley
Now more than ever, the nature of work has changed for many people and increasing numbers are now at least part time home or remote workers.
Not least because of the global pandemic we have and potentially will all continue to experience.
Increasingly growing numbers are having to work remotely with full consent of employers taking advantage of technological advances that are facilitating disparate workforces with more options for home and remote working.
American Time Use Survey 2018
This trend has been building naturally before the pandemic and in the most recent American Time Use Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 57% of workers in 2018 had a flexible schedule.
While working from home sounds great in theory, it provides ultimate flexibility and the commute is great, it’s important to understand that there are some cons to working alone. A fact reflected in the Robert Half survey where 81% of workers admit there are downsides to work-from-home jobs.
One negative point is that it is easy to feel out of the loop. You are likely to miss out on the casual conversations that help people to get an understanding of acceptable and best practices as well as understanding influences within the business. It is often underestimated just how powerful this type informal learning can be.
Another downside for remote workers is that they miss the opportunity to bounce ideas and share experiences with colleagues. Talking through decisions before taking action with like-minded individuals is essential for building confidence and avoiding pitfalls.
Remote workers also often miss the feedback and the chance to critique or socialise projects that they get from managers and colleagues.
Maintaining professional competence issues
Some remote workers become so focussed on work outcomes that they forget to schedule the time for their Continuous Professional Development to happen. When they do complete learning it is frequently an individual activity like online learning which is not always the best medium and provides no opportunity for the learner to ask questions, test theory or discuss application with other learners or a tutor.
Smarter organisations frequently utilise new technologies supporting remote workers with a variety of forums, bulletin boards and chat rooms. These are useful but cannot replace the coffee machine gossip or a chat over a canteen lunch with colleagues, for keeping you in touch and they lack proper development opportunities.
Coaching & Mentoring
For some remote workers coaching and mentoring could be part of the solution. These two words are sometimes mistaken to mean the same thing but they are subtly different. Coaching is about the development of a new skill or knowledge element and is best supported by a coach with insight into the specific topic. Mentoring is more about the application of skills or knowledge in a specific work environment. The mentor should be more experienced at the organisation and would usually be at a more senior level so that they can offer a different perspective.
Good coaches can be found who can support an individual’s development. They do not have to work for the same company or have a detailed understanding about how the organisation does things. The coach’ role is about helping the individual to achieve their learning objective. They might also. following a training session, enhance the learning experience by checking understanding, discuss application and make suggestions for ongoing development.
A well matched mentor can provide the sounding board that the individual is missing. The mentor will provide the opportunity to discuss, review and critique plans/projects. Helping the individual to avoid pitfalls and be more successful.
The issue for businesses is do they have the internal support to provide the mentoring and coaching networks required? Many will employ professional coaches from outside the organisation. However, mentors need the be recruited, trained and managed from within the company and because the best people to act as mentors are frequently the most important/productive it can be difficult to find time for them to complete the mentoring role as well as their day job.
Another problem can be that the organisation’s systems do not easily facilitate a coaching and mentoring relationships. People who don’t have face to face sessions with their coach or mentor using disparate systems can find that information can become fragmented (e.g. spread across meeting, VOI and social media, etc) and may allow key information to slip between the cracks)? It is important that coaches and mentors share information about the individual’s development but this is very difficult with disparate systems and is often overlooked.
Keeping records on individual development over a period of time is important for the individual and organisation but it is not straight forward for remote coaching and mentoring. Another issue for professional workers who need to prove their Continuous Professional Development (CPD) to maintain status is that this type of development is almost impossible to document in an acceptable format.
These areas are largely supported for individuals who work in larger organisations who have dedicated support for remote workers. However, where can individuals whose organisations aren’t as understanding or are too small to provide real support turn for support?
Members of professional institutions may turn to them for support and many do provide this.
For others one possible solutions could well be a strongly matched independents who can complete both roles. They need to have a deep understanding of the subject and a real experience of the same industry. However, the coach would also need to have an understanding of what remote working is about and the flexibility to be able to provide support when needed rather than at scheduled meetings.
The important thing for all parties to remember is that the Lone Rangers do need support. Out of sight should not mean out of mind. Some key pointers include,
Ensure that remote workers have access to social/informal information channels with in your organisation, even if this means creating new ones for this purpose
Promote a mentoring/big brother culture where this role is seen as important
Look at your systems to ensure that you have an easy way for Coaching and Mentoring to thrive.
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