What you need to know about working remotely

In this digital era of email, virtual meetings and collaboration tools, it is easy, convenient and  can often be more productive to work remotely. Employees are more motivated and managers can find their workforce is more likely to come up with innovative ideas as they increasingly have the opportunity to pursue new avenues outside the normal constraints of the office.

The shift towards remote working means physical workplaces are changing to accommodate this. Some companies are downsizing their office space, providing open plan desks with monitors and workstations that can be used by anyone. A “Hot-Desk” policy means those who arrive first can choose where they want to work (a more preferable desk perhaps), while those who arrive late to the party may need to find space in alternative areas.

Using visualisation tools, employees can access their files, folders and networked services such as the intranet either on shared devices, or their own machines they bring from home. Collaborative tools such as Slack and Skype mean workers can communicate with other team members working remotely whenever they need to or remotely connect to a colleagues computer to see what is on their screen.

What are the differences when you change workplace?

Many of the changes currently taking place in the workplace will likely result in a dramatic shift in the future of work, could this be the shift in momentum the paperless office has required? More people will work remotely, giving them a better work/life balance. Collaboration tools will also make companies more productive, with employees able to share knowledge and work together on goals regardless of geographic obstacles.

High-profile companies such as Google and Microsoft are encouraging or mandating staff to adopt a work-from-home policy. For modern tech companies, the infrastructure and policy needed for remote working are unquestionably already in place and the vast majority of staff members are already laptop and portable device users.

Aspects of security will need to be reinforced for those working in areas of a sensitive nature for instance government contractors and companies working with personal data or classified information.

For companies that move at a slower pace, processes and systems can quickly become outdated, and so a futureproof workplace will depend on businesses investing in new technologies, tools and skills as part of an ongoing digital transformation strategy.

The education sector is a good case in point: universities have been delivering distance learning as a feature for some time, while high schools and universities are mainly dependent on staff and pupils being on-site to learn. The school’s operations and administrative teams also need to be considered, as they are unlikely to be mobile workers and may be using desktop devices rather than laptops.

Breaking the organization into groups with differing requirements and dealing with the needs of each to minimally affect the mass exodus may seem a simplistic approach, but is essential given the urgency in some cases. Using education as an example, there are students (the customers), teaching faculty, administration and operations. The school can’t run without significant student engagement, teachers at least need virtual conferencing facilities and the administration teams require network access to their data storage.

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Workers who are trained to work flexibly will do better at it

While offering flexibility can benefit employees and businesses alike, the fact is that many of those flexible workers get zero training on how to manage their new schedules.

A study conducted by Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc. showed that while 97 percent of surveyed respondents said they had some level of workplace flexibility, only 40 percent received training or guidance as to how to utilize said flexibility.

Employees who did receive training on flexibility had a much higher feeling of control over their job and also felt more commitment to the flexibility they were being offered. In organizations with a  lack of flex-centric training, employees felt employers were less committed to the idea.

What things can support your working from home productivity?

  • A laptop
  • A good internet connection
  • Chat and conferencing applications
  • A dedicated workspace (preferred)
  • Optionally, a phone
  • Self-motivation and discipline
  • A strict routine
  • Assistance from the company where the individual does not have access to any of the above

Beyond technology and functional processes, there are other key factors to effective remote working:

  • Communication – Consider having team calls once per day, brief people on the status, and give everyone the opportunity to share experiences and issues.
  • Responsiveness – Remote working is not the same as working in an office environment. Establish clear guidelines of how quickly a remote worker is expected to respond to a request depending on the communication type, email, Slack, calendar invites, etc.
  • Reporting – Line managers need to implement procedures that allow them to ascertain whether the remote workers are getting the job done: mandatory group meetings, team collaboration, daily/weekly/monthly reports.
  • Working schedule – Agree a method of clocking on and off, even if it’s as simple as a team group chat and members saying good morning when they start their day.
  • Health and safety – Do the ergonomic keyboards, chairs and desks in the office need to be taken home to provide the same comfort employees are used to? Working from home does not remove the responsibility to provide a good working environment.
  • Liability – Ensure coverage for the company assets while in the employee’s possession.
  • Security – Locking devices for laptops, encrypted hardware and a secure connection to sensitive data.
  • Tech support – Distribute the contact details: all remote workers need to know how to get help when needed.
  • Socialization – Bring remote workers together, particularly virtually. Social interaction is an important part of motivation and increases productivity. Consider a buddy or mentor scheme so that every employee is paired and can problem solve, vent, share or socialize virtually. Or even a coffee break for a short period in the day where colleagues can talk about non-work related topics.
  • Accessibility – Establish a virtual open-door management policy, just as there is in the office. Make sure people are accessible and can be easily engaged.

Employers should not assume that all employees can switch to remote working effectively especially with little assistance or guidance. A lot of employees would rather keep their work/life time separate and their home is not the office and they may need significant assistance to adapt.