Remote working as a concept has been around a long time now. I’m old enough to remember the days of the brick-sized mobile phones in the 1990’s that kicked off the ability to work remotely – albeit it in a very rudimentary manner. However, today’s technology has got to a stage where we can truly work remotely, and do it effectively.
But just because the tech is there doesn’t necessarily mean that working from home or the airport is a walk in the park. There are a few things that need to happen from the corporate side to make sure that you don’t end up with a load of expensive, and ultimately useless, remote working tech.
Enable the IT
Now this might sound obvious, but putting in a VPN does not remote enable a business. Think about how people work in the office, the systems that they need access to and the documents and content that the use. Can they access all of that remotely? If the answer is no, then you’re not really ready for those people to work remotely.
Research by AIIM has shown that 80% of people feel that paper and paper-based processes within the workplace are a huge impediment to remote working. Basically if you still have paper floating around in your daily work routine then working remotely is going to be a big challenge – unless you want to carry the paperwork around with you, which leads to a whole other conversation about security!
To fully enable remote working, you need to digitise content AND processes wherever possible for the remote role.
Trust the staff
Of course you trust your staff – don’t you?
Remote working places demands not only on the remote worker to be disciplined in doing the work (and not watching the TV) but also on the manager. Many managers still work in the “I want my staff in the office from 9-5.30” mode so that they can see what their staff are doing. If you have a manager like that you can pretty much kiss goodbye to remote working – I know, I’ve had one!
But beyond that remote working needs both manager and employee to work together, to keep regular communication, and use remote collaboration tools like Skype and Messenger to do that. Email is great for some things but not good for quick, interactive conversations, so should be avoided as the primary remote working comms method.
Buy and enable the right kit
This is an interesting one because there was a point at which all remote working was done on business-purchased equipment. So IT would give you a laptop and mobile, pay for your home internet connection and possibly even provide a desk. That is changing and in fact in 2013 Gartner predicted that by 2017 half of employers will require employees to supply their own equipment for work. I’m not sure we’re going to hit that stage but 2016 research has shown that almost half of organisations do have a formal bring your own device (BYOD) policy –allowing staff to make use of their own equipment for work purposes.
The low uptake of this approach does however point to how challenging it can be for organisations to enable BYOD properly but honestly it is something that has to be done to truly enable remote working moving forward.
Often employers feel that by allowing remote working they are being flexible – the employee doesn’t have to commute and so sees benefit there. But remote working can enable much greater flexibility if done properly. Parents, for example, who are able to do school runs, will find it hugely beneficial in the age where two working parents are common.
There is a danger though that the hours-based mentality of work combines with guilt to turn the remote worker’s life into 100% work. Many feel that they simply need to put in the hours – so missing an hour to pick the kids up, means they need to catch up later, which in turn means they check their emails all through dinner, and so on. It turns into work, work, work, which defeats the purpose of being flexible.
A better approach is to encourage the employee to work with a project-based (not an hours-based) mentality. This means (with the guidance and approval of their manager) that they have a set number of projects or tasks for the week and as long as they get done it doesn’t matter how long it takes, or when it gets done. This can be challenging if it is not the corporate way or if the workload is too high – but is greatly liberating if done properly.
Train the staff
I’m going to end with a simple one – train the staff.
How many times do organisations put in place new software or systems to help with things like remote working, and not show the staff how to use them properly?
Collaboration, messaging and video conferencing tools are all typically very easy to use – in their most simple mode. However, the real benefit often comes from using some of the more advanced features – features that users won’t know about unless they are trained.
Shared whiteboards in collaboration tools, group chats and linked documents with messaging and video conferencing; the list is long. These additional tools and features can make the difference between someone just using the tool to work remotely, and being able to thrive whilst working remotely, so take the time and train your staff.
With research by Stanford University finding that remote workers are 13% more productive, take fewer sick days and enjoy a quieter working environment than their commuting colleagues – the arguments for remote working are strong.
But much like anything in business, making sure that the environment, both cultural and technical, is right for remote working is key. Jumping too soon into an unprepared environment will cause frustration and often lead to failure – but by doing the groundwork, getting the environment right and following the tips above your organisation and employees can start to see the benefits of remote working, sooner rather than later.