As the pandemic subsides and the ability to return to the office increases, many teams have decided to adopt digital working permanently. Twenty-five percent of all professional jobs in North America are expected to be remote by the end of 2022. Even as evidence proves that remote work is here to stay, there are new and growing remote work challenges that prevent it from being sustainable and successful. What is not a challenge to understand in 2022 is that there is a clear demand to work remotely or at least with some flexibility over time and place. For example, Airbnb’s career page was visited over 800k times after its announcement that their workers could work and live wherever they want—forever. While this is a step in the right direction, flexibility announcements alone are not an automatic guarantee of success.
After the past two years of experience, some professionals feel confident that they fully understand how to work and lead remotely and don’t need remote working skills training. But remote work challenges will continue to linger, resulting in ineffective teams, burnout, and isolation.
From what we have observed so far, there are five remote work challenges to consider and prepare for as remote work continues to expand.
Remote Work Challenge #1: Remote Work Faces Ultimatums
Probably the most well-known remote work challenge has had serious pushback, with very public headlines and viral outrage. One leader proclaimed that remote work was “not acceptable” or productive, stating that if hours requirements were not met, workers should “pretend to work somewhere else.” This resistance from leadership was followed by threats to job security and work benefits. Seventy-seven percent of American managers surveyed said that severe consequences would occur for those demanding remote work, such as firings, pay cuts, loss of promotion opportunities, loss of benefits, and loss of paid time off.
Obviously, not all bosses support working remotely, but that doesn’t mean employees will accept return-to-office mandates quietly. One thousand Apple employees signed an open letter saying the return to office plan requiring three days a week in the office is “inefficient, inflexible and a waste of time.” This public rift is an opportunity for leaders of other companies to begin setting the example for effective and productive remote work to retain and hire top talent.
Unfortunately, in many instances, remote work seems to be at the whim of leaders—they look at it as a perk that they can take away from employees at a moment’s notice without suffering repercussions.
Remote Work Challenge #2: Return to the Office is Not Working
Despite demands and threats from bosses, returning to the office is neither the preferred nor the most effective option. Having experienced increased productivity and satisfaction while working remotely, employees are demanding flexibility or looking for other opportunities that are all remote. Even those who looked forward to connecting with colleagues again are seeing that the benefits of a quick coffee break are small compared to the flexibility of working remotely, especially when the offices are half-full or their team is not in the office that day. When employees are working within an ineffective hybrid structure, they will, not surprisingly, choose to stay out of the office. “If employees refuse to come in, it means the system isn’t working.”
In Kona’s Remote Manager Report, 16 percent of companies planned to return to the office full-time in 2020, but this number has shrunk to less than 7 percent in 2022. The insights from this report show that there are managers who are open to remote work and are understanding effective ways to offer more flexibility.
It’s up to leadership to provide structure and guidance to their hybrid teams as they navigate this particular remote work challenge, starting with understanding that creativity and connection can thrive in both environments, especially with training and adoption of effective async practices.
Remote Work Challenge #3: Working Anywhere Isn’t Easy Everywhere
For companies not asking employees to return to the office, there’s a new set of challenges bubbling to the surface, some of which arise just from making flexibility an option.
The bureaucracy and legality of working in different countries, as well as states, can be incredibly complex, with taxation becoming one of the most confusing and current remote work challenges.
While remote work is becoming an established working structure, the systems to support it legally are confusing. For example, taxes are based on where employees live and work, and there are “temporary presence” rules that complicate matters further. Businesses have to determine whether their activity is recognized in different states and know if employees are eligible and employers liable for diverse state benefit programs. Then, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation must also be considered for employees working remotely in different states, and these issues become even more complex for those working internationally.
Working in a different location not only creates complexity for employment bureaucracy and taxes, but also for employee compensation. Forty percent of people said their pay was tied to a specific location, 38 percent said their pay was not tied to a specific location, and 22 percent said they were unsure.
“You’re going to have to accept that you need an extra effort to make it happen because every single country has different rules.” “You need a decision matrix. It’s okay to offer flexibility within a framework.”
Remote Work Challenge #4: Career Progression Is a Growing Concern
After more than two years of significant shifts in work location, how to grow your career is changing, especially for younger workers who graduated during the pandemic or have never worked in an office. Not working in the office can mean fewer opportunities for mentorship and informal networking. Forty-five percent in one survey felt remote work makes career progress more difficult, yet upon further investigation, the companies these respondents worked for were not providing opportunities for career growth.
Social capital development is a key challenge for remote workers with or without a company that supports remote working. We found there are seven important keys to remote career development. The obvious challenge is that remote working means you need to show your value, progress, and contributions in new ways that new remote work managers are not accustomed to recognizing.
If you are looking for career development, we designed the program, Growplaceless, specifically to create a personalized career development plan for the remote environment.
Remote Work Challenge #5: Information and Cyber Security Are at Higher Risk
One ongoing remote work challenge is information security—often such concerns are forgotten or put off until something goes wrong. As teams enjoy remote work, so do those who are taking advantage of it.
Eighty-two percent of employers report a cybersecurity skills gap, and 66 percent of security breaches are a result of employee negligence or malicious acts. The more important company information is being sent and received, the more attractive it becomes to breach it. Working digitally has always had its threats, but user education needs to be constant to maintain protection from new threats and to keep up with technologies. More than one-third of organizations have experienced a security incident because of a remote worker’s actions.
This is why we cover foundational security steps that every remote worker should understand in the Infrastructure section of our remote work certification course. Infrastructure training is necessary to prevent expensive and time-heavy recovery after security breaches, whether you are part of a team or working on your own.
“The changes in technology and the remote work environment have come on very fast. We no longer have the day-to-day access to many of our employees and the technology that we used to count on. The policies and processes we drafted before 2020 and the tools we use are not as effective in a distributed environment. That means information security is truly in the hands of our employees and the people using our technology – what can we do to empower them, support them, and educate them on best practices? It’s an exciting challenge, that if handled correctly could mean a newly cyber-aware workforce making smart decisions at work and at home.” – Kilani Paulik, Director of Cybersecurity and Compliance at Unfold.
Kilani recommends these simple cyber-hygiene practices:
- Educate users on manipulation attempts such as phishing, “smishing” (phishing via text message), “spear-fishing” (targeted phishing), and social engineering.
- Regularly update operating systems, workstations, laptops, phones, and user-owned devices.
- Use a password manager, multi-factor authentication, and single sign-on authentication.
- Change passwords annually with 20 characters or longer.
- For IT administrators: ensure systems are hardened, check that user accounts are given only the access they need, and conduct regular account reviews.
- Set policies and secure configurations for cloud platforms and ask new cloud service providers what security standards they adhere to.
Remote work challenges may be difficult, but successfully addressing these challenges will ensure sustainable change. To best navigate remote work for sustainable outcomes and to be ready for any challenges that may arrive, it is best to prepare yourself and your team with efficient and empowering remote certification programs for leaders and individuals.