4 Min ReadBusiness 30 June 2020
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were resistant to implementing remote work for a variety of reasons such as concerns about technology and infrastructure, a lack of trust that employees would get their jobs done, the longstanding (and understandable) bias in favor of face-to-face interactions, or some combination of these factors. However, not only has the COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to switch to remote work despite their reservations, it's clear at this point that it's going to be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Remote work is here to stay, at least partially. By analyzing the pros and cons of remote work we've witnessed over the past few months, we can apply various insights towards maximizing its benefits while minimizing the downsides.
Remote Work Can Be Productive But Also Challenging
Ever since companies implemented remote work en masse, we have witnessed several general tendencies. One is that despite early concerns about remote work leading to less productivity, what many have seen firsthand is that a lot of work can indeed get done via remote work — in many cases even more than before when people were physically going into offices. There is a wide range of possible reasons for this, from having a quieter environment to work in (which is obviously not always the case for everyone, especially parents) to having more time freed up due to less commuting to no obvious start and end time to the work day.
Alas, the results have not been uniformly positive. One problem many of us have experienced is that remote meetings can be more difficult. The actual platforms used to run meetings online like Zoom or Google Meet are in themselves relatively simple and straightforward to use. The challenge is that online meetings come with some intrinsic limitations such as the inability to incorporate the same level of non-verbal communication that we use interacting in-person. Non-verbal communication plays an influential role in conveying meaning, and when it is absent, we lose important nuance. Perhaps the most annoying obstacle is that online people tend to talk over each other, albeit unintentionally. Part of this is because we cannot use those non-verbal signals to signal we want the floor, and part of it is technical issues of buffering, delays, and audio/video synching.
This is the time for employers to be analyzing, strategizing, and planning, to find out what employees need.
Making Up for Lost Planning Time
Companies have had to grapple with the lack of time to plan and prepare for a complete switch to remote work. COVID-19 forced them to go from 0 to 60 mph in what felt like a nanosecond, resulting in many hiccups along the way. Looking ahead, now that much of the initial craziness has ebbed, many companies will have the opportunity to make up for that lost planning time. They should make this a deliberative process and include to identify what worked and what didn't in the remote work process. Good, clear communication will be key. What limitations did employees run up against over the past several months, and what are their ideas for getting around those? What kinds of hardware and software do they need to acquire or upgrade? This is the time for employers to be analyzing, strategizing, and planning, to find out what employees need. They should also prepare thoughtful responses if and when they cannot make the changes employees request.
Avoiding the Pitfalls of Overwork and Burnout
Of course, a flexible workplace culture of this sort requires a great deal of trust, and good communication is the foundation of this trust.
As mentioned, remote work has not led to people being unproductive or doing less work. If anything, people are working more, and therein lies a potential problem. For many, COVID-19 has caused work-life balance and healthy boundaries between the two domains to effectively disintegrate. This is why communication is so important, particularly for companies preparing to offer a permanent remote work environment to staff. Companies need to encourage employees — remote or in the office — to take work-life balance seriously. In a tough employment environment, with so many layoffs and furloughs, many people feel lucky just to have their jobs. They are anxious about keeping them, and so succumb to the temptation to be available 24/7 as a way of demonstrating their value to their companies. This isn't good for the company, and it is definitely not good for the employee.
Overwork, stress, and burnout have detrimental effects on employees' functioning and job engagement as well as their performance and productivity. To help avoid this, companies will need to set clear expectations, clearly communicate what those expectations are, and, if necessary, actively encourage employees to take enough time away from work. They may also benefit by changing their workplace culture to focus more on results and final products and less on strictly defined work schedules. For example, as long as your employees get what you need back to you by the time you need it, perhaps the actual hours or days that they work should not matter so much. Of course, a flexible workplace culture of this sort requires a great deal of trust, and good communication is the foundation of this trust.
The Importance of Informal Communication at Work
One dimension that was largely lost because of the widespread transition to remote work was informal communication in the workplace. This is the casual socializing and interaction that naturally occur among employees in the workplace — the proverbial water cooler talk. It just seems odd to schedule Zoom calls for engaging in small talk or socializing with our work colleagues.
Good, clear, and frequent communication, once again, will be the key to maximizing the benefits of remote work and minimizing its potential pitfalls in the post-COVID era.
However, workplace informal communication is important and serves multiple beneficial functions. Conversations build interpersonal relationships and have positive effects on work whether or not the topic relates specifically to the job at hand. It is likely that going forward, companies will move to a modality that incorporates both remote and in-person work, although some may find staying remote works for them. If the company has all or many or some employees working remote, it will be worth considering how to create space and opportunities for informal communication. This could be through hosting virtual happy hours, recreating morning coffee breaks, or hosting brown bag lunches or whatever else fits companies' needs and situations. No reason these events could not include the employees in the office as well as those working remotely. A company wanting to celebrate could host a luncheon on campus and send takeout to those working from home — a truly virtual brown bag lunch!Despite the numerous logistical challenges that the sudden shift to remote work has presented, the consensus among many employers and employees alike is that remote work can work. Not only can it work, it can be highly efficient and productive and provide employees with the flexibility they want as well as offer numerous advantages to companies. Good, clear, and frequent communication, once again, will be the key to maximizing the benefits of remote work and minimizing its potential pitfalls in the post-COVID era.
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It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.
Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.
Read with a Purpose
Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.
Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.
When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.
Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.
You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.
Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.
Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.
If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.
Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.