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In less than two years since the COVID pandemic began, remote work has gone from something exotic to normal reality. As a result, many companies have found that their employees are reluctant to return to their offices. A recent study by FlexJobs reveals that only 2% of workers want to return to their daily office work. The majority of respondents (65%) said they would like to continue working remotely after the pandemic, while 58% of survey participants are ready to look for a new job if they could not continue to work remotely in their current position.
The main arguments for working remotely seem to be obvious. Firstly, there is the ongoing fear of the pandemic: 49% of FlexJobs survey participants admitted to being concerned about the risk of infection while working in the office. Secondly, remote work has allowed many employees to improve their work-life balance significantly. There is no longer the need to waste time on getting to the office, with some people now having up to two hours of free time daily they can devote to themselves and their loved ones. Unsurprisingly, 84% of survey participants said that the lack of need to travel to work is the main advantage of working remotely.
Economic factors also play an important role: three out of four respondents said that working from home saves them a significant amount on transportation and food expenses. 38% of people surveyed by FlexJobs said they save at least $5,000 a year by working remotely, while one in five respondents said they saved more than $200 a week, or more than $10,000 a year. Employers have also noted that teleworking brings a lot of benefits to their businesses, ranging from reduced office rental costs to the ability to hire employees from other cities and regions with lower salary expectations. Since many companies are forced to cut budgets during the crisis, additional saving opportunities come in handy.
The downside to remote work
Yet, the transition to remote work has led to several new problems. For workers, this is overwork and burnout. Working in the office allows for clear divisions in the day between “work” and “home” hours. But what happens when you work from home? The boundaries of the working day are blurred and employees get the feeling that they are at work all the time. Sadly, the most enthusiastic workers are especially prone to fatigue. For them, the work rhythm is most disturbing when working at home — their working day gets longer, while rest and lunch breaks are reduced to a minimum. The consequences of such a work schedule are dramatic: sooner or later, depending on age, energy, and state of health — fatigue takes its toll while productivity drops sharply. Carrying out a task that normally took a couple of hours will now take a whole day leading to apathy and turning favored work into hated work. It is no coincidence that more than half (56%) of FlexJobs survey participants said they experienced burnout during the pandemic, and 39% believe that today their mental health is worse than in January 2020. Not to mention the disruption in usual daily routine, caused by the transition to remote work, often causes direct harm to health due to a less active lifestyle.
Remote work raises concerns for employers too. Primarily, the inability to manage employees to the same extent as when working in the office. As a result, the company’s owners have started setting more requirements for employee’s performance, engagement, and psychological well-being. Managers are trying to compensate for these changes by tightening administration — introducing daily video conferencing, monitoring the presence of employees in work chats, increasing the number of work reports, and so on. Still, more often than not, the result turns out to be the opposite of expectations — the employer turns into an “overseer”, which negatively affects employee morale and motivation.
In particular, as shown in the FlexJobs survey, the majority of workers believe that they do not need to communicate with their manager daily. Almost a third (31%) said they only need to communicate with the company’s management several times a week, 27% report that once a week is enough, and 22% would like their boss to meet with them as little as possible.
Meanwhile, the desire of senior managers to hold video conferences on any occasion has given rise to so-called “zoom fatigue”. 18% of survey respondents said they have too many video conferences, while 24% complained about video fatigue.
Some companies are increasing control over remote workers using special software that signals possible violations of labor discipline. However, the result is the same — employees’ irritation and a decrease in motivation and efficiency. Even worse, one of the main advantages of working remotely — the ability of an employee to organize their working day in the most convenient way, which guarantees the most efficient performance of tasks — disappears.
Management and workflow might need revision
The conclusion is simple: remote work requires strict self-discipline from both employers and employees, which might not be that easy. To find a compromise, the typical organization of workflow must be significantly restructured and modernized. First of all, it is necessary to change the approach to setting and assessing the performance of work tasks: you need to focus not on the process, but on the result.
In other words, you need to turn to management by objectives. The essence of this concept lies in managers and ordinary employees jointly determining the goals of their work, choosing the direction of action and making decisions. An important part of management by objectives is measuring and comparing the current performance of employees against each other and a set of established standards. First formulated in 1954 in the book “The Practice of Management” by Peter Drucker, the concept of management by objectives implies that when employees are involved in the process of setting goals and determining the direction of actions necessary to achieve them, they become more motivated to perform their responsibilities. As a reminder, maintaining high motivation is one of the main problems that arises from remote work.
Management by objectives implies that the work process should be divided into solving sequential tasks. As such, the clearer and simpler the task looks, the higher the chance that it will be performed properly. It should come as no surprise that the motivation system of rewards also changes — the employee should receive rewards for solving each task, and not once a month or quarter, as traditional schemes imply. Well, it sounds like it’s easier to find a new job. Or at least, to develop a new labor contract — flexible, adaptive, smart, which will ensure the effective motivation and productivity of employees while protecting them from overwork and burnout.
Smart contracts can improve employee management
Employee management can be organized and improved by using blockchain technology, or rather smart contracts. Nick Szabo, who invented the concept of smart contracts, described them as a digital representation of a set of obligations between parties, including a protocol for fulfilling those obligations. Simply put, this is an agreement on rights and obligations, in which part or all of the conditions are automatically recorded, executed and controlled by a computer algorithm. The key value of smart contracts is that the program controls its execution by all parties at all stages of work. Szabo is confident that the use of smart contracts will give an impetus to the emergence of new business models.
The key problem of management by objectives is that previously no manager could set and track the many small tasks for each person in the company, and accounting systems were not able to assign rewards at the individual level. It is for this reason that Peter Drucker’s idea has largely remained just a theory.
However, one company is already using smart contracts to make management by objectives a reality, opening up the possibility of setting small, achievable daily goals, monitoring their implementation and immediately rewarding employees for achieving them. And fortunately for workers, the tasks may relate not only to work but also, for example, to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The solution involves using a mobile application that collects data from fitness trackers and steps counters on smartphones and transfers it to employers. As a result, employees who support an active lifestyle at a distance receive additional rewards, while employers get the opportunity to save on insurance premiums and sick pays.
blockWRK — the team behind this app — claims that the use of a system of rewards based on smart contracts can reduce on the job injuries by more than 50% year over year, and can reduce insurance premiums by at least 10%.
Employees receive a reward in cryptocurrency, which they can keep on their balances to earn additional bonuses or spend using branded Visa debit cards. The blockWRK app also allows employees to earn regular wages in cryptocurrency and provides a range of additional employment benefits, such as telehealth for physical and mental health and financial tools, like interest-free crypto advances.
Overall, systems offering rewards for healthy activities have great potential, given that companies must adapt to a new reality where the health of each employee plays a key role in businesses staying afloat and considering the spread of teleworking in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the long term, more widespread telework has the potential to improve business productivity and other economic and social indicators including worker well-being and satisfaction. According to a recent survey by Statista, 35% of companies said they invested in well-being technologies specifically to support remote workforce during the pandemic.