Managers need to realise workers get the work done without being seen, says Portershed co-working advocate

 Dr Katerina Bohle Carbonel

Dr Katerina Bohle Carbonel

While remote working is by no means a new concept, it has become the new norm for many over the past year and a half. From the moment the first lockdown turned kitchen tables into office desks and shortened commutes to mere steps, we have been donning waist-up fashion and Zooming into work mode from across the county, country and world.

In order to gain a greater insight into the future of working from home (WFH ), we spoke to Dr Katerina Bohle Carbonell, who not only has a great deal of experience in remote working, but is a principal investigator of Ireland’s National Survey on Remote Working. Currently self-employed as Co-founder & Behavioral Scientist at Human-Matter, Katerina regularly frequents co-working spaces across Ireland and Spain, including the very well-regarded PorterShed.

Working on hybrid teams that blend on-site and remote working since 2011, the improvement of human systems through workplace learning and social network analysis has been Dr Katerina Bohle Carbonell’s passion. A postdoctoral fellow at the Whitaker Institute with previous experience in research and teaching at Maastricht University and Northwestern University, Katerina has taught online and in person and strives to maintain strong connections through digital means.

When taking the plunge into full time self-employment, Spain’s lower living costs were among the many factors that led her to relocate. “Self-employment allowed me to uproot and go, but when you’re working for a company there needs to be an open conversation regarding taxes and so on,” Katerina tells us. “The freedom you have is limited, but it requires a conversation.”

According to the Second Annual National Remote Working Survey, “24% of respondents said they would consider relocating based on their experience of remote working since COVID-19. A further 9% said they had already moved and the West (Galway, Mayo, Roscommon ), the South-west (Cork and Kerry ) and the Border (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo ) were the top regions respondents have relocated to. 14% said they may consider moving, while just over half (53% ) said they would not consider relocating.”

Freedom and flexibility

Self-employment has given Katerina the freedom and flexibility to choose between working from home and working from shared hot-desking facilities. As a single mother of four, Dr Bohle Carbonell was able to conduct her work while holding down the fort as her children were at home for summer holidays. Speaking on the comparison between on-site, well paying roles that would advance her career and remote self-employment, Katerina says “there is no draw for me to spend so much time on a commute, paying for childcare and not seeing my kids. Why should I be doing that? It doesn’t make sense.”

“I need the flexibility. I like working from home, but a combination of different places appeals to me more because I enjoy being surrounded by other professionals. For me the main advantage of [a shared space] is the community. When I’m looking for a co-working space, a table, printer and coffee is not enough. I have that at home. What I really want is to be able to interact with other people.”

Having frequented the PorterShed regularly when living in Galway, we knew we had to pick Katerina’s brain on her experience of working in this popular collaborative space. Setting the scene of a chaotic day in the midst of the pandemic as she tried her best to concentrate as nearby construction sent vibrations through her home, Katerina sought refuge at the PorterShed.

“I was only there two days a week, but that change in environment and seeing other people helped me mentally to appreciate working and having energy for work and for life.”

Pre-pandemic, Katerina pinpoints the network of fellow academics, entrepreneurs and workers as the PorterShed’s main draw. “I loved going to PorterShed on a Thursday because they would have a lunch together. That’s a great initiative to get people together and I think that’s so important for a co-working space. Events and workshops would also be a draw to these places.”

The Report found that the advantages of greater flexibility, increased productivity and a more general easier life lead a vast majority of 95% of respondents to wish to continue working remotely for some time. With a government strategy currently underway to ensure that remote working remains a permanent feature in the Irish workplace, Katerina believes that co-working spaces can be the answers to any and all concerns.

All the right equipment in your own village

“I think it will make it easier for employees to ask why they need to go to the office when they have all the right equipment in their own village. It’s easier for a company to be located somewhere else other than Dublin. They could set up offices in three or four hubs and have their employees come in and this way remote work can be an opportunity for everyone. What’s needed in addition to this is for managers and leaders to realise that people are able to get work done without seeing them. We need the infrastructure, but we also need the mindset.”

In terms of work-life balance, the Report found that “51% of respondents said that they work more hours when they work remotely compared to working onsite while, 45% say they work the same hours.” When asked whether WFH makes communication with colleagues more difficult, Katerina says “it is more difficult in that you have to be more intentional, and that goes for every type of remote work. You can’t rely on the work environment to motivate you to get work done or to remind you to email someone. You have to take more initiative. On the positive side of things, you take more interest in and control over what is happening in your work life and not just waiting on chance encounters.”

To paraphrase the government’s National Remote Working Strategy, we do not want to turn our homes into our workplaces but instead spread them more evenly throughout Ireland. With the mapping of and investment in remote working hubs on the agenda, a cultural shift in the way we work is imminent. Where do your preferences lie? In the office, at home or within the walls of a collaborative co-working space?


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