When managed properly, a remote workforce can be less expensive, without sacrificing on work quality, providing greater flexibility to customers and more stable day-to-day operations. Remote workers have also been found to be happier, better motivated, and generally more productive.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the key features necessary to support a successful remote workforce, including infrastructure, security, and training.
Reinforced Communication, Both Professional and Social
While many people have shown a preference for working from home, it’s not without its challenges. Chief among these is maintaining communications, both professional and social.
Professional communication can be bolstered in a number of important ways. First, research and invest in a good communications platform. Slack, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams are all robust platforms that allow employees and team leaders to effectively communicate.
The best communications platforms enable team members to share links and files, form groups and break-away teams, and will integrate easily with other third-party software you may use, like Google Suite, Office 365, and DropBox. The goal here is to minimize the digital distance between employees. The fewer steps required to share a file, discuss it, and make decisions, the better.
Professional and social communications both greatly benefit from face-to-face interactions. Video conferencing is more effective than audio conferencing and instant messaging for presentations, brainstorming and decision-making. Applications like Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Skype for Business provide secure, encrypted, smooth video conferencing solutions at rates to fit any business budget, including free.
Finally, your workforce will benefit from reinforced social communications. One survey found that “the majority of all remote workers miss casual ... and spontaneous work-related conversations.” These kinds of conversations inspire unconventional thinking and new solutions. Social media-like features, like the check-ins, status updates, and live feeds found in Zoho Cliq, help replace so-called watercooler chat and foster a sense of community.
Security Infrastructure and Training
Businesses often fall short of the mark when it comes to providing the right technology and training for remote workers. This is not only frustrating for employees, but exposes companies to cyberattacks. Providing a secure remote working environment is all about balancing risks and benefits.
There are a number of precautions IT teams and managers can take to this end. First, the manner in which remote users access company servers and information needs to be tightly controlled. Remote workers should only connect using a secure VPN. This will ensure no hackers or other observers can intercept company data.
Next, invest in remote access software with strong user management tools and good security, like Splashtop or LogMeIn Central, and ensure that all employees are using the same remote access software. This will help your IT team manage remote sessions more effectively.
Finally, encourage or require employees to use a password manager. This will ensure sufficiently complex passwords are being used at all levels of access. Centralized password managers with user management, such as Dashlane, Keeper and LastPass Teams, remove the need to share plain text passwords with employees.
Businesses that can afford to shouldn’t hesitate to supply devices to employees. While costly, this is ultimately a safer and simpler solution. Your IT team will have a much easier time ensuring secure protocols are in place if they can set up and directly manage employee devices.
Smaller businesses will no doubt opt for a bring your own device (BYOD) approach, but should nonetheless ensure streamlined software choices and secure practices among employees. In this case, additional security training on passwords and remote access best practices will be invaluable.
Active Support for Remote Workers
Especially if your team is divided into on-site and remote workers, it’s not unusual for the latter to feel out-of-the-loop, less appreciated, or less engaged. It’s important to take steps to foster a sense of community among remote workers and help them actively participate in discussions and decisions.
Feelings of isolation are not uncommon among remote workers, so managers should regularly check-in with employees, both in terms of work-related progress and general well-being. This not only ensures regular communication between team members and leaders, but promotes feelings of inclusion.
Many remote workers also have a hard time maintaining an appropriate work-life balance. While this is ultimately the responsibility of the employee, there are a number of steps that can be taken to help support healthy behavior and avoid burn-out.
If possible, allow for flexible hours rather than enforcing a traditional “9 to 5” workday. When appropriate, remind employees to turn off notifications after-hours. Provide training on time-management skills, so employees understand the importance of setting time aside for family, leisure, and work. Finally, solicit remote workers for regular feedback: they are an excellent primary resource for assessing your success in this regard, and an endless source of useful suggestions.
Tools to Maintain Engagement and Follow-Up
Another common complaint among remote workers stems from a lack of direction and supervision. In this regard, the importance of robust project management software cannot be overstated. If you’re still using a spreadsheet to manage business operations, projects, and collaborative tasks, it’s time to upgrade.
Project management can be complex, and there are a number of different ways to organize, display, and assign tasks. Monday and Jira both excel in this regard, allowing for Kanban, timeline, calendar, chart and graph displays.
You’ll also want to balance features with budget: how much storage space do you need? What kind of integrations and collaborative tools? For example, ProjectManager is one of the more expensive options, but offers unlimited file storage, plus live chat, group discussions and file sharing. Make sure the features of the software you choose reinforce, rather than hinder your workflow, and that both team leaders and members find it intuitive and straight-forward.
Used properly, project management software is a powerful tool for maintaining engagement and following up with remote workers, providing them with structure and clear instructions that can otherwise be lost when working off-site.
Using the key features listed in this article as a guide, think carefully through each aspect of the remote work experience, both for your company and its employees, and invest in the technology and training necessary to facilitate remote work and ensure remote employees are being fully supported.
Remote working can help your business be more responsive and agile, cost-effective and efficient, and ultimately lead to a happier and more productive workforce.