Remote Workers - 4 January 2011
Over the past several decades, Afghanistan has almost constantly been ravaged by war. That is, except for one small area known as the Wakhan Corridor. This section of villages is so remote that even the Taliban haven’t been able to enter. Women are free to walk the streets without wearing a burqa, there are no roads, and the place is such a no man’s land that the Afghan currency hasn’t been taken up; people still use a bartering system.
The Wakhan Corridor is a larger example of what life is like for remote workers. The Wakhi villagers are protected from the conflicts of Afghanistan in the same way remote workers are protected from the conflicts and politics of being in a big office. The Wakhi are free to adopt their own norms and ways of life in the same way remote workers can design their own norms and ways of working.
But there are also negative consequences. In interviews with the NY Times, the Wakhi villagers’ biggest complaint was the lack of attention they get from the nation’s capital, Kabul. Food is scarce, running water is intermittent, and electricity is unreliable. They’ve asked the president, Hamid Karzai, for aid but it hasn’t arrived. They feel disconnected.
Negative consequences abound for remote workers, too. They’re usually not as close to their colleagues because they don’t see them as often. They’re sometimes excluded from important pieces of information because they’re not around. And when they need help, it can be harder to get when there’s no one sitting nearby. They similarly feel disconnected.
The mistake many managers make is that they ramp up communication. But more communication doesn’t solve an issue of connection. All it does is add more data. What’s required is for some of the communication that already exists to be replaced by stuff that enhances the connection between remote workers and the organisation.
Some examples of communicating with remote workers include:
- Sharing information via an intranet
- One-on-one meetings between managers and remote workers
Occasionally, substitute those for the following connection activities instead.
- Social networking sites for work purposes
- Videoconferences so that employees can see each other
- Off-sites, perhaps once or twice a year
- A day at head office every quarter so they can interact with stakeholders
There’s little doubt remote working has many benefits. But just like the difficult terrain keeping the Wakhi villagers isolated, likewise, the difficult terrain of over-communication and under-connection is what keeps remote workers isolated.
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