Whether home offices, co-working spaces or work-from-anywhere – the corona pandemic at the latest has shown that decentralized working can be at least as effective an alternative to traditional forms of work. Nicole Kopp, work psychologist and expert for New Work at "Go Beyond" as well as member of the Swiss Society for Work and Organizational Psychology SGAOP creates an overview.
Nicole Kopp, industrial psychologist and expert for New Work at "Go Beyond" as well as member of the Swiss Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology SGAOP
Ms. Nicole Kopp, to what extent has the understanding of work in the modern world changed so that the need for decentralized forms of work arose in the first place??
In the old world of work, "command and control" applied in many places: people were considered dependent, their scope for decision-making was to be limited to the maximum so that they delivered their work correctly. This required clear distribution of tasks and control by superiors. The modern world of work, on the other hand, assumes a self-responsible person who can divide his work, motivate himself, get help if necessary and make decisions. For this, they need self-leadership – self-organization, self-motivation and self-regulation – rather than a supervisor constantly looking over their shoulder. This is exactly what decentralized work allows.
What are the advantages of decentralized work for employers and employees??
The former benefit from a larger catchment area of potential candidates, save on office costs and can improve their carbon footprint. The latter enjoy flexibility of time and place, which studies show increases their satisfaction and productivity. In addition, they benefit from shorter or eliminated commutes, longer, undisturbed focus times and a better work-life balance. This has a motivating effect.
How do you ensure that the social aspect is not neglected in decentralized work??
Employers should consciously promote exchange among employees. For example, with regular team calls, in which non-work-related topics are discussed or team cooperation and communication are reflected upon. Many teams have introduced fixed coffee calls, use apps that simulate chance meetings in the office with a ten-minute phone call, or organize a retreat at least once a year where all employees work together on-site. This strengthens the trust in each other.
Employers should consciously promote exchange among employees.
How much flexibility should employees be given when working remotely?
This depends strongly on the role. If the main activity consists of coordination or cooperation, then synchronization in terms of time and sometimes also location is necessary. If information research or processing are among the most important tasks, they can be arranged very flexibly in terms of time and location. Employees are then responsible for getting their work done. When and where they do this is up to them.
And what about structure?
Many employees like a certain structure in their working day, but this is lacking due to the fact that they no longer have to commute or have lunch together with their colleagues. If this is lacking, it should be created artificially, such as through short walks before work, fixed lunch breaks or sports appointments with other people.
How much should decentralized employees be controlled??
The need for control arises from proximity bias – the false assumption that employees work better when they are visible at work. However, despite being physically present, they might perform non-work-related activities on the PC, cheat on time sheets, or hold extended conversations with colleagues. Supervisors should focus on results with decentralized employees instead of trying to control their behavior.
What are the challenges of decentralized work and how can they be overcome??
These affect different levels. First, the extension of working hours: employees must separate work from private life itself. This often leads to leisure time or rest time being turned into potential working time. According to studies, home office workers are more likely to forego breaks and work longer hours – sometimes on weekends – and even when they are sick. This makes it more difficult to switch off mentally. Employees should therefore set themselves clear limits regarding working time and duration and receive support in doing so if necessary.
Second, the many communication channels and accessibility: many teams introduced a number of technological tools and channels during the pandemic. It is often not defined which of these should be used for which content and whether the reading of messages must be confirmed or not. A large part of communication is asynchronous and in writing. This increases the likelihood of misunderstandings. At the same time, expectations about accessibility are often not set. This can mean additional stress for employees. In this respect, supervisors should clearly communicate expectations regarding accessibility and the use of tools.
Third, knowledge management: With decentralized work, it is more difficult to quickly ask colleagues for help. It is all the more important that employees know who has what knowledge and have no reservations about asking questions – even at a distance.
I advocate putting the needs of employees at the center of this process.
How does decentralized work really work??
I plead for putting the needs of the employees at the center of this development. What they need to work well: More professional home office equipment? An extension of existing childcare? A training in key collaboration tools? Coaching for better time management and self-organization? A weekly exchange with superiors?
In which direction do you think decentralized work will develop in Switzerland in the future??
I assume that decentralized work will become much more important. Many employers have become aware that this is not only possible, but also has advantages. Likewise, the various forms of decentralized work will increase. It will be possible for someone to work in a vacation home or for a few weeks in another country. The glorification of office work is passe.