Working abroad: Are you ready to join a virtual workforce?
If you have a traditionally office-based job, the pandemic created a line in the sand beyond which your working life changed forever. It’s easy to list some of the key advantages of the shift towards remote work.
You get to skip the commute (hooray!), enjoy more autonomy in managing your time (awesome!), and more flexibility in when to do chores at home (small wins still add up).
Your employer gets a one-off chance to cut overhead costs, the chance to recruit from further afield (or even from abroad), and the option to develop a hybrid model balancing remote working with some office days.
But as these benefits become the norm, how can you ensure you succeed in this new world? Or perhaps land a remote job in a distant international company without even moving?
The Local, in partnership with telecommunications provider Zadarma, explores what experts in teamwork and organisational behaviour say on the topic and offers four tips to help you thrive.
What are the potential costs of remote working?
Given the benefits, the rush to embrace remote working is no surprise. But such a fundamental change also has potential drawbacks that can easily be overlooked.
While a few companies, such as Buffer and Shopify, have declared themselves fully remote or “digital by default”, it’s more likely that you still make some appearances at a shared office.
In an article in Harvard Business Review, two international experts in this field explored how hybrid working arrangements could prove unfair to many workers without effective and fair management.
Firstly, they argue that workers spending more time in the office get better access to information, giving them an edge in a fast-paced environment. This includes learning the latest news through “informal water-cooler conversations” that remote workers miss.
Secondly, being in the office more often makes it easier to get emotional and task-based support from colleagues. And thirdly, anyone frequently in the office at the same time as senior managers may get more recognition than people working from home for collective output.
If that’s not bad enough, there’s more. The two experts, from INSEAD business school in France and the University of Pennsylvania, go on to say that operating within a hybrid environment is a skill in itself and those who are less adept at it may suffer.
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Four tips to help you thrive
In 2022, three in 10 workers in the EU regularly worked from home. The figure differed sharply between countries: the Netherlands (65 percent) led the way; in Sweden, just over half (51.8 percent) enjoyed some remote working; the number was lower in France (40.9 percent) and Germany (32 percent), though still above the EU average.
The data, published by Remote, a global HR solutions company for remote teams, shows far fewer hybrid-remote workers in the US and the UK (both around 15 percent) than in the EU.
But apart from moving to the Netherlands, where the law now requires companies to consider requests for remote work, how can you set yourself up to succeed in a virtual workforce? Here are four key factors to think about:
Make time for microlearning – It’s been years since you researched some courses to take your skillset to the next level. But the right time never arrived and if someone tells you the right time is now, you’re going to scream. But wait! What if the right time is now, and the secret is to break a major upskilling challenge into one or two five-minute sessions per day? As a remote worker, you can try microlearning by utilising a few minutes here and there that might previously have been spent feigning interest in a colleague’s photos of their beloved pet. As outlined in James Clear’s hit book Atomic Habits, getting one percent better at something every day has a huge impact over time.
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Re-focus on relationship building – Creating strong relationships with colleagues can offset some of the challenges posed by switching between different working locations. Informal connections can also help make up for the potential information deficit arising from not being in an office, says the Harvard Business Review article. Whether you’re on a video call, using a messenger service or writing an email, looking to develop shared understanding and mutual trust can reduce the potential trap of feeling isolated and unsupported as part of a remote-first team.
Be visible (but not ubiquitous!) – Highly engaged people are known to be more productive. You want to be valued, which means you want to show your engagement. But how do you get the balance right as part of a virtual workforce? Nobody wants to listen to someone talking in a video meeting just for the sake of appearing to have made a contribution that day. To make your voice heard when it really matters, ask your manager for clear goals and then have regular check-ins to track your progress. By doing so, you’ll ensure you’re most visible when tangible results start coming in and can leave the waffle to others (while you put yourself on mute and press play on Spotify).
Show some digital love – yes, yes, yes: you know you need to be digitally literate to avoid going from remote to redundant. You know you need a host of varied tech tools at your disposal. But what you and your colleagues really need now is digital leadership. It’s 16 years since American entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss revealed his idea of the four-hour working week, but the concept of automating most of your work remains distant for most people. You don’t have to be a CEO or CTO, however, to start a conversation about which tools your team most value – and which eat up more time than they’re worth. Could you be a digital leader by introducing faster tools to colleagues or improving how your digital product suite is used?
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This content was paid for by an advertiser and produced by The Local's Creative Studio.
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