Struggling with remote work? Your employer may be to blame

No one is born knowing how to work remotely. We all learn by trial and error, read on tips for working from homeand experience the best way to maintain work-life balance. Throughout this discussion, however, there is so much emphasis on you, the individual worker and what you should do. We need to recognize and draw more attention to the role of the employer. What employers do or don’t do can make or break your ability to succeed in remote work.

I’ve been writing about remote work for years, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and wrote an in-depth book on the subject called The Complete Guide to Remote Work(Opens in a new window). Much of the bad advice I’ve seen on remote work ignores or minimizes the role of the employer. It’s much easier to blame employees and make them feel personally responsible for their productivity and happiness, which is incredibly myopic. Employers play a crucial role and employees need to be made aware of what to expect or demand from their organizations.

So here are five things employers need to provide employees to make their remote work happy, healthy, and productive.

1. A remote culture first

The most important thing an employer can do to make remote work successful is to have a distance-first culture. Remote prioritization here means that regardless of the number of employees working remotely, the entire organization puts in place practices and attitudes that fully embrace and support remote working. Sometimes that means the needs of remote workers outweigh the preferences of in-person employees. An example is holding a remote meeting where everyone is at their own computers instead of allowing in-person employees to congregate in a conference room for the call. This change can frustrate executives and management, especially if they are firmly entrenched in old ways of working. What can I say ? Change is often uncomfortable.

Culture is a broad term that includes everything related to how people work together, how they communicate, the mood and level of formality of workers, and more. Here are some specific things you should be looking for (or requiring) from your workplace remote culture:

  • Overcommunication, which means everyone lives by believing that it is better to repeat themselves and make information explicit and sometimes intentionally redundant than to leave people with questions or not being sure they heard a message.

  • Encourage everyone to fully and completely get away from work during their free time.

  • Standards for giving and receiving feedback.

  • Best practices for holding meetings remotely and collaborate remotelysuch as make meetings accessible for everyone.

  • Support for asynchronous work, i.e. as long as it matches the work you do and within reason, you and your co-workers should be able to work different hours.

((Credit: Getty/South_agency))

2. All the equipment you need to do your job

If you are a full-time or part-time employee of an organization, it is your employer’s responsibility to provide you with the equipment you need to do your job efficiently, comfortably, and safely. Equipment doesn’t just mean a computer. It also includes peripherals, such as a monitor, mouse, and keyboard, as well as the software you need to do your job, and some furniture.

You can request a new router if you need one, but check your contract first. It’s common for remote organizations to specify that Internet connectivity is the responsibility of the employee, in which case a router would not be covered…although it never hurts to ask.

Depending on the nature of your work, you may need to request even more, such as a phone and a dedicated phone number, webcam, microphone, listeners, a lamp or ring light, notebooks, pens, a printer and printer paper. What would you expect from your employer if you worked on site? you should get everything the same supplies.

Furniture can be a tricky subject if your organization has only gone remote during the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore doesn’t have many formal policies in place for what’s covered and what’s not covered. A suitable chair really should be covered for seated work, and maybe a desk too. Otherwise, ask for a back cushion, a footrest, a keyboard tray to attach to your existing desk or table, and any other accessories that would make your setup more comfortable.

For software, beyond the applications you need to do your day-to-day work, your employer must provide you with a vpn to connect securely to its remote servers, as well as more generally secure your connection when you are away from home. Ideally, an organization should also deploy professional password managers, anti-virus softwareand adequate training and support for their use.

3. Expert ergonomic advice

In all likelihood, you are not an ergonomics expert. The best remote organizations give employees access to advice and guidance for setting up a ergonomic home office. Ideally, this is a session with an ergonomics professional who comes to your home or remote workspace and adjusts your setup with you. This person could make additional recommendations for the equipment you need, and they should definitely advise you on your posture, frequency of breaksand other matters related to your health and safety at work.

If an in-person ergonomic adjustment is not expected, your employer should provide you with other resources to help you do this yourself. Ask for a remote session with an expert or at the very least some documentation, like a video made by an ergonomics professional who guides you towards a safe and efficient configuration.

4. Training for your job and career development

Your employer should give you the proper training you need not only to do your job, but also for your career development. This is true for both in-person and remote work, but in remote work, where people literally see each other less often, training can be overlooked or forgotten more easily.

When it comes to getting training, employees may need to stand up for themselves more than they do for other resources. Your boss will make sure you have a laptop, but he may never think to offer you training. Be prepared to ask for exactly what you want, state the cost, and explain why you need it.

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Training can be formal, like your organization’s management course, or self-paced. What would help you do your job better or set you up for future success? What will help you develop your career? Do you need to learn photoshop or gain insight into people management? Would you like to take a course in business writing or public speaking? You can find all kinds of online training, from live classes to recorded video lectures from online learning sites. Find what you want, decide when you will do the training (during work hours) and ask your employer to pay for it.

5. Technical, logistical and social support

If your work computer were to break down, you would expect your employer to fix it or replace it, right? With in-person work, your co-workers and boss will hear you complaining about anything that’s wrong, and in a large enough organization, it’s usually pretty easy to find someone who can fix your problem. In remote work, it can be difficult to know who to ask for help. It’s really your employer’s responsibility to publicize the names of people you can ask for help (ie not a generic email address).

Employees may feel like they have to limp with broken equipment or even problematic policies. Resist. You can’t work if you don’t have the support you need.

Social support may seem unrelated, but it really isn’t. Being able to connect with colleagues is important to your success. We learn a lot just by talking with people, asking them how the job is going, getting insight into something as basic as the different benefit plans an organization offers. That’s why employers need to give remote employees ways to connect. It could be the water cooler Slack channel or a monthly virtual happy hour, a book club, in-person group volunteer opportunities, or something else entirely. It’s up to you whether or how much you choose to participate. But the option to do so must be readily available, created and supported by your employer.

Demand what you need

Certainly, employees have a role to play as individuals in the success of remote work. But we must never minimize what is incumbent on the employer. If your organization isn’t fulfilling its end of the bargain, there’s no way your efforts can overcome that.

I want remote employees to feel confident that they can make demands of their employers, politely but firmly, and with the mindset that everyone has good intentions, even when they fail. Many organizations have embarked on remote work without knowing anything about it or how to do it properly. Help them by telling them what you need to do your job well. If, after discussion, your employer is unwilling to meet your needs, it may be time to consider other remote employment options.

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