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Soft Skills

Remote Working and Increased Productivity: Personal Reflections for YPs

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I recently read a blog while scrolling through LinkedIn that resonated with me. It was by Brian de Haaf, CEO of a software company called Aha! Its title “Remote Workers Are Outperforming Office Workers” didn’t come to me as a surprise. This was aligned with my experience: If your role allows, having the option to work remotely with the flexibility and autonomy to make this happen can improve personal performance, productivity, and motivation.

The Office for National Statistics recorded 14% of people working in the UK between January and March of 2014 as “home workers,” having worked at least 1 day a week from their home location. This was the highest rate of home working since comparable records began in 1998. With reported benefits including increased productivity, cost savings, and improved employee morale, many industry-leading companies mostly working in technology are promoting remote/flexible working conditions to attract and retain the best talent. The oil and gas industry is yet to get on board on this trend, although there are many companies that have already embraced a 1-day a week work from home policy. Adoption is likely to increase, considering the rise of millennials, their affinity with the digital world, and expectations for even greater flexible working conditions.  

As someone that works from home regularly, my experiences are consistent with studies that show the power of remote working when it comes to productivity. Search for “increased productivity when home working” and over 4,000,000 links agree that “most” remote workers are more productive than office workers. One of the most interesting studies is by Nicholas Bloom of Chinese travel website Ctrip. He allowed half of the Call-Centre employees to work from home for 9 months, while the other half carried on with their routine. As expected, financial savings on furniture and space were achieved, but interestingly, away from the discipline of the office environment, the remote workers made an additional 13.5% more calls. Almost an extra workday a week. They also left the company at half the rate and job satisfaction was higher than their office working peers.

Now, of course there are flaws with comparing this type of robotic Call-Centre work with the highly technical nature of the work in the oil and gas sector. Our outputs are not as easily measured or as easily performed remotely, and remote working isn’t for everyone. Many people enjoy the office environment. I do too; the social interaction, the intermingling with coworkers, the chance meetings that spur interesting and thought-provoking conversation, sometimes a solution to a problem that has had you perplexed for days. However, like so many others, open-plan offices are a constant source of distraction that interrupt thought process. It can take from 8 to 20 minutes to get back into that thought process. Not so bad when responding to a simple email, but when the analytical linear thinking process is in top gear working through complex calculations or running sophisticated software models, the subsequent back tracking and checking of inputs results in loss of time, which, when working on a project can be limited. All this distraction and frequent task switching has its effect on productivity. See how many unclosed windows, folders, or draft emails you have at the end of a day because of interruptions. It’s surprising. And for me, there are significantly more when working in the office as opposed to at home.

Not everyone is made for remote working, and the reality is that some roles are better suited to it than others—not all meetings can be held virtually, and some roles require more face-to-face interaction than others. As an employee, you should be committed to your company, enough to be trusted with managing the work away from a more open and public forum such as the office.  For the individual, finding the right balance is key to getting the benefit of remote working.

As reported by the Harvard Business Review in 2014, “too much remote working can create its own set out problems such as diminished knowledge transfer, decreased engagement, cultural disconnect, and a slew of new distractions. And… it makes collaboration more difficult.”   However, this shouldn’t put you off remote working.

In a company where a remote working policy or culture is yet to be formalized, show your manager the evidence supporting the benefits of this way of working and trial it for one day a week to prove the effectiveness.

Below are my top tips for to help young professionals get the best out of remote working:

  • Whatever software you use at work, you must be able to use remotely. There is nothing more frustrating for yourself, for a client or colleague when a simple task becomes unachievable because of technical issues. I know people who have had to commute to the office to perform a task that takes 10 minutes because of this very reason. Most software packages can be accessed via a secure VPN connection or a reliable cloud-based platform such as Citrix.
  • Set up a proper work space that is comfortable, practical, and quiet. Working from your bed or sofa is not a long-term solution. Invest in a good quality ergonomic chair that has been designed to sit on all day. Remember to take breaks, and get out for fresh air at lunchtime. Without the daily commute or walk in to town, it is surprising how home-bound you can become during a busy day.
  • For collaboration to flow, you must be able to access and work on the same files as your office-based colleagues. Get into the habit of working on files that are stored on a central server that you and your team can access anywhere. Keeping important documents on your personal drive is not good practice. For a small focused team, delivering a shared work scope, an Office 365 team site designed for sharing and collaborating is ideal for shared ownership.
  • With the likes of Skype and Blue Jeans linked to emails, meetings can be organized quickly and conveniently. Other participants can log in and join the conversation too. If you can use the camera while making these calls, do so. Put the video conference link in the invite so that there is no wasted time scrambling around, and have a structured meeting so that everyone can follow and provide input to the debate.
  • Do not become invisible. While this sounds easy, when working with multiple team members it can be challenging to ensure visibility to everyone, especially with those who are unresponsive to emails. Pick up the phone, use instant messenger to say hello, and keep people posted with progress so that they know that work is constantly progressing. This gives them the confidence that it shall be delivered on time, and make sure that it is. You would make time for these people in the office by having a quick chat so ensure that this still happens and that your team relationships are developed and maintained.
  • Social networking platforms such as Yammer, Slack, among others,  allow you to stay connected with team members and fellow colleagues. We use a private group to share technology updates, sensitive data, and have votes on dates for the team meeting. There are also companywide groups, one of the most popular in my company is a photography group that has stunning photographs taken and shared by colleagues from around the globe.

References

De Haaff, B. 2017. Remote Workers are outperforming office workers - Here's why. Harvard Business Review. Available from: https://www.inc.com/brian-de-haaff/3-ways-remote-workers-outperform-office-workers.html (last accessed 27-Jan-2018).

UK Office for National Statistics, 2017. Telecommuters/Remote workers in the UK. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/aboutus/transparencyandgovernance/freedomofinformationfoi/telecommutersremoteworkersintheuk.

Bloom, N. 2014. To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work from Home. Inc.com. Available from: https://hbr.org/2014/01/to-raise-productivity-let-more-employees-work-from-home (last accessed 27-Jan-2018).

Congdon, C., Flynn, D., Redman, M. 2014. Balancing “We” and “Me”: The Best Collaborative Spaces Also Support Solitude. Harvard Business Review. Available from: https://hbr.org/2014/10/balancing-we-and-me-the-best-collaborative-spaces-also-support-solitude (last accessed 27-Jan-2018).


Stephen Hird is young professional performance drilling engineer with Lloyds Register. He is in charge of planning and supporting North Sea and international projects. Before joining his current company over 5 years ago, Hird spent 7 years at Halliburton Sperry Drilling Services as an optimization engineer working offshore, in client’s offices, and in real-time operations centers. He specializes in torque/drag modeling and optimizing bit, drive, bottomhole assembly, and hydraulic setups for a wide range of deepwater, high-pressure/high-temperature (HPHT), hard rock drilling, and wildcat HPHT applications. He helps his clients optimize drilling performance and operational performance by identifying efficiencies and cost saving opportunities through flat time and invisible lost time analysis. Hird holds a BSc Hon in geology from Liverpool John Moores University in UK.


The article was sourced from the author by TWA Editors Matthew French, Renata Rios, Radmila Mandzhieva, and Augusta Igweze.


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