Remote working expert Rowena Hennigan discusses the importance of building proper workplace strategies for the future.
Remote working may feel like a very current topic that has forced its way onto the corporate agenda over the past year due to the pandemic. But, in reality, it has been in existence for many people for years.
Rowena Hennigan is a lecturer, author and remote working expert who has herself been working remotely for almost 15 years.
Since 2007, she has lived and worked in many places, starting with south-east Asia where she worked as a consultant in the telecommunications sector.
“It was only more recently that I decided to work remotely to support and have a positive impact on my family’s health. My daughter’s chronic asthma convinced us to move from Ireland to Spain in 2017,” she said.
“Both myself and my husband had already worked remotely, making it easier for us to relocate and for me to turn the experience into a career. I kept lecturing at TU Dublin remotely and, in 2019, I founded RoRemote, my consulting and training business.”
‘Work from home as a response to Covid and remote work as a purposeful strategy are two completely different concepts’
– ROWENA HENNIGAN
Unsurprisingly, Hennigan is one of many remote working advocates who believes the advantages to remote working far outweigh the challenges, giving employees autonomy and extra time for self-care while taking away long commutes and office politics.
“Remote work, when done as a purposeful business strategy, enables you to prioritise downtime, breaks, family, exercise, nature, etc. I relish that,” she said.
“However, having the option of working remotely doesn’t mean there is a clear company policy in place. If your boss doesn’t trust you, if your hardware or software are inadequate and if the organisation you work for does not support your skills development, then you will be likely to struggle.”
Throughout the last 18 months, Hennigan said self-care and downtime became a priority for many of us and this has become a focus for the work she does with her clients. She added that established remote workers tend to have a specific set of self-management skills that will serve employees well in this new era of work.
“Many remote workers know how to self-assess, review and adjust – their way of working is naturally agile. This applies to a way someone carries out a work task, as well as to how one prioritises intentional self-care,” she said.
“I have been taking my knowledge of remote work skills and advising, guiding and showing how to learn and train on wellbeing in one’s remote environment. But I also had to take care of myself with extra detail, intention and effort, by taking regular breaks and using positive self-talk, mantras and voice recordings to ensure I got away from my workstation and recharged fully.”
To this end, Hennigan compiled a series of gentle audio exercises to support the intentional taking of better breaks during the workday.
“We cannot forget that wellbeing is at the forefront of any approach to remote work post-pandemic. Both at an individual and organisational level.”
Adopting remote work
Last March, when the pandemic was beginning to take hold worldwide, our editor Elaine Burke described the workplace shift as “the remote working revolution no one wanted”.
Millions of office workers were suddenly sent home with little warning, virtually no preparation and no idea of what the coming months would look like.
However, now that small slivers of normality begin to return, the question of remote working in world without a pandemic must be addressed.
Hennigan said leaders who don’t shift their mindset will face challenges. “Ivory towers and corner skyline offices in downtown urban centres could become a thing of the past, but leaders must realise the macro and socio-economic benefits of remote work by experiencing it first-hand, getting away from their physical workspaces and embracing working remotely.”
There are a number of ways that leaders can gain this experience and training to help them change their mindset and guide their workforce on a remote working journey.
“Firstly, make sure your team is taken care of in terms of mental health, rest and recovery. The pandemic has taken its toll on many of us,” Hennigan said.
“Make sure you support rest and recovery in all your policies, actions and language. Then, brush up on your skills by learning from an established remote work community, for example, take a look at the GitLab Remote Work Foundation course.”
She also said it’s important to avoid micromanagement and to instead focus on the big picture and enable autonomy and decision-making for employees.
“Harnessing the power and skills of your workforce means you need to know what it takes to be a high-potential remote worker.”
Office-first v remote-first
As mentioned in previous articles, how we have worked during a pandemic is not a true or fair reflection of what remote working really is – a sentiment Hennigan agrees with.
“It is important to highlight that work from home as a response to Covid and remote work as a purposeful strategy are two completely different concepts. The rewards of true remote work are indeed substantial. Employees have reported higher job satisfaction because of the flexibility and have proven they aren’t slacking off just because they’re home.”
She pointed to several companies that were already successfully using remote working strategies, such as Automattic, GitHub and Buffer, while many of those that are only now looking at the possibility of a more permanent remote strategy are opting for hybrid models.
“Hybrid work arises from the mix between remote work and face-to-face work. It is not simply a compromise between old and new but a method that aims to synthesise the best of the two experiences by responding to the changing needs of workers and at the same time creating increasingly competitive organisations,” said Hennigan.
“To date, there is no defined hybrid work model. There are companies that are moving towards a remote-first mode – that is, they plan to adopt remote work as predominant with an occasional presence in the office – and companies that, instead, favour an office-first approach, in which the office remains the main place to carry out the activity.”
She added that leaders should be the first to move towards a remote strategy in order to make it a success for teams or organisations as a whole. “Remote work will not be a successful strategy unless we resist that office-based mentality.”