Remote working: Making It Work For Your Business
If we said 2 years ago that working from home would be the new norm, no-one would have believed us! Yet here we are, one global pandemic later, adopting remote working practices across the nation.
As the Corona rates fall and rise, many people are still wary of commuting and sharing the workplace. Many companies are still embracing remote working, some corporations have even stated that it is a feasible long term plan. What has your business decided to do?
Many of us still feel that this is uncharted territory – a lack of supervision (or too much), technological struggles, and a lack of human interaction has been tough on many people. We have compiled a short guide to provide handy framework that appears to be working for us!
What is working remotely?
The term ‘working from home’ is often used to explain working remotely, but this term is inaccurate. While some people do indeed work from their kitchen table or home office, other employees do not have the space or the peace, and so set up office in coffee shops or co-working spaces.
Many customer facing and frontline workers (such as regional salespeople), continually work out in the field. They use a CRM software (for example) to log in no matter where they are. This type of working actually works – as many other employees are now seeing. With a rise in project management and CRM software’s, remote working is being made easier than ever. Many businesses are even saving money…..
We know remote working is a hot topic because of the coronavirus pandemic, but is it now so powerful that we should embrace and adopt it permanently?
Many businesses have promoted flexible working for a good number of years. Remote working could now be one requirement of employees. Businesses need to assess whether or not it is something they could cater for on a long term basis in order to attract and keep new talent.
Remote working requires proactive communication and a super focus on the productivity and welfare of team members, seeing as there is very little or no face time with them.
Employees must create their own suitable working environment, which certainly has it’s benefits. With the right set of tools and a few productivity tips, remote working can be an great way of working.
Does my business model suit remote working?
Remote working does not suit every business. Customer facing roles and geographically-dependent businesses are very limited with technology when it comes to remote options. So, you may be wondering which industries are best suited to remote working.
The sectors appearing to fair the best are information technology, marketing, customer service, administration and data based jobs.
There are of course components of any business that may benefit from remote working or flexible working – some employees may be able to conduct some of their role remotely, and attend the working premises on a part time basis. Meetings can be held remotely and it may not matter where a telephone conversation is being held from.
If you can adapt certain components of your business to a remote work model, you may save resources, money and people’s time. This should lead to a higher level of productivity!
Business owners and managers do need to seriously weigh up the pro’s and con’s of remote working if they are seriously thinking about using it as a long term, viable option.
Turning remote will be harder for established businesses to transition to than start-ups. The existing processes and infrastructure need to be adapted to suit the needs of the business and the employee. This can take time and money to implement, but the long term results could well be worth it.
Employees will have to make adjustments in the way they work independently and together as a team. The processes and technology need to be in place for passing queries from department to department, and getting them resolved in a timely manner. Work place staples such as daily/weekly meetings, deadlines, and team input still need to work smoothly.
Companies must maintain their open communication, thorough documentation, installing the required tools, and keep a healthy work-life balance.
Do You Adopt A Full Remote Working Model Or Do You Keep An Office Open?
Choosing to adopt a remote work model does have it’s benefits.
Existing businesses should allow for a slow transition. This allows employees the opportunity to prepare both their mindset and lifestyle for remote working. Many employees may face fresh challenges, such as a demand for personal accountability and motivation.
To combat some of the teething problems, aim to address the following:
- Start with small tasks and virtual meetings.
- Allow your team to get used to working together virtually – give time for acclimatisation and leeway for mistakes to be made. There will be some mis-interpretations of what is required.
- Make your needs as a business abundantly clear. The team must know exactly what is expected of them, when, and how.
- Be patient. Remember that not all ideas will work first time. Monitor what works quickly, and what needs improving.
- Notice which employees are struggling. Try to assess and help.
- Decide which employees/teams will be remote first, and which may need to stay in-house. Begin the remote working in phases.
Are Companies Going Fully Remote?
Remote working has now become a way of life for many businesses. Figures suggest that many employees work remotely on a part time basis, however there are some who hardly ever go to their employment premises.
Larger UK companies have been reportedly saving money by downsizing their premises to co-working spaces only. This allows the freedom for those who wish to work remotely to do so, and those who prefer a work environment to fulfil their needs. Hot-desking has indeed become hot stuff!
Is Remote Working The Future Of Business?
The sudden shift to remote working has given many businesses a headache. Many had resisted making changes to their working structure and business models, but have had to face the reality of the situation during the Covid pandemic. The leap into these changes has presented problems, such as funds and knowledge available to implement new technology and working practices.
Managers have had to handle the remote meetings, communications, customer problems and productivity.
It may well be that when the pandemic is over, remote working will stay for good! People are saving money by not commuting, the environment is getting a break, and companies are saving on the running costs of their business. What is there not to like?
The benefits of working from home
Understandably, many companies are still wary of remote working. There is the worry that it will lead to a drop in productivity and cause difficulties with communication, delegation, and even hiring and firing.
Measuring output is a challenge with remote working, as is communication and maintaining professionalism. Trust between managers and employees must be relied upon, but there are compelling reasons why remote working is something to encourage rather than fear.
Many employees like remote working, and this is something that employers need to consider when hiring new talent. Would they not hire the perfect fit because remote working was a requirement of the candidate? But if they do hire them, how do they know the work is being out in a timely manner and to an acceptable standard?
There are many ways to monitor work – there are set KPI’s, cheap project management software, and of course setting up weekly meetings (either online or face-to-face). Boundaries do have to be set so that the employees know what is expected.
So, what are the benefits of remote working?
- Increased Productivity: Remote working can boost employee morale and productivity. A Stanford University study shows a 13% performance increase among call centre employees at a travel agency when they worked from home. Research also shows that working remotely has a positive effect on performance for people with complex jobs with low levels of interdependence on others.
- Business Continuity: The coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of adapting to working remotely. If employees can carry out their tasks away from the office, businesses can function well even if something happens to their premises. It also works should something unexpected happen and people are unable to come into work.
- Hiring New Talent: With workforces having the opportunity to work remotely at least one day a week, a business not offering this option is ‘behind the times’. By not offering remote working, businesses may find themselves losing valued employees to a business that caters to their needs more.
- Better Work-life Balance: Remote working is linked to flexible working – even when employees do not have a choice with the hours they work, no commuting immediately hands time back to them. This is very appealing Millennials, who will form around 75% of the global workforce by 2025. This needs to be a priority with companies that want to attract them.
- Hire From Afar: By hiring remote employees who do not have to attend the work place every day (or at all) businesses can hire from almost anywhere! People can be reluctant to relocate, and remote working offers the opportunity to even hire from a foreign country. Geography no longer has to be a barrier to creating a truly diverse workforce.
- Boost Employee Engagement: Employees who work remotely tend have higher levels of engagement than those who don’t. Remote workers also appear to be happier – 28% happier in fact. Those who work remotely state they are more likely to remain in their role for the next five years.
- Reduce Business Overheads: Premises are a huge expense for business. When a larger portion works remotely, premises can possibly be downsized, with bills and utilities dropping massively.
One further benefit for employees is the right to claim back tax relief for job expenses (it must be made clear that employees cannot claim if they choose to work from home). It is possible to claim tax relief on metered water, gas, electricity, and internet plus telephone calls made for business. It is only a portion of the bills that can be claimed for. For more information visit HMRC Website. The amount to be claimed against is very small, however some people may think that something is better than nothing!
Challenges of Remote Working
Whilst many businesses have had to adapt to remote working, not all of it has been plain sailing. There are challenges when choosing this option, not least when it is forced upon a company. These challenges can also be true for the employees themselves.
If a business can understand the challenges remote workers face, then steps can be taken to overcome them. By management and teams working together, both sets of problems can usually be resolved.
There are a number of issues businesses can face:
- Communication: 32% of remote workers cited communication issues as their biggest challenge. Geographical separation means that remote workers can feel left out of the goings on in their company. Technology can help with this – regular video calling and conferencing, instant messaging and group chats can give employees wider avenues of communication. As not all of these are formal, communication can feel natural as if colleagues were just in the next office.
- Loneliness and Isolation: 24% state isolation and loneliness as a problem of remote working. This is a problem that businesses must address as it can lead to a downturn in productivity and engagement. Remote working does not mean disconnection from the business and colleagues. Managers must check up on employees and encourage regular check-ins. Collaboration tools can also be used to create social spaces where employees can chat and come together.
- Distractions/Lack of Boundaries: Some employees choose to work remotely to enable them to spend time with their family or hobbies. Should this be the case, solid boundaries need to be set to stop distractions and interruptions. Whilst having people around can cause distractions, it needs to be remembered that there are just as many distractions in the workplace…. One Covid study showed disturbances at home impact productivity between 15% and 27% of the time, however office distractions impact productivity between 20% and 35% of the time. Not all interruptions and disturbances can be stopped completely. Businesses must support their employees with best practices for setting up their workspaces, scheduling, and time management.
- Working The Correct Hours: Remote employees have said they have difficulties in switching off from their work when not in the office. In one study, 42% of workers reported working longer hours than they were supposed to be doing. Constant working can harm mental health and productivity. Managers monitor the working hours and be flexible about when they can be worked. Time-tracking software will show hours worked, and should be analysed to make sure employees aren’t pushing themselves too much.
- Creativity Blocks: Remote working can have a positive impact on creative tasks, but can also have a negative affect. Businesses must work to build a creative culture, where employees openly share ideas, regardless of where they work. Any downturn in performance or creativity should be addressed with the employee immediately.
- Performance management: Managers sometimes fear and feel that they do not know exactly ‘what their team is up to’. Performance management software and regular check-in’s can alleviate this worry and strike a balance. Managers should not leave employees feeling like they are constantly being questioned or spied on. They also need to feel trusted to do their work without constant justification of what they are doing. Regular check-ins, schedules of work, and KPIs/targets should help everybody to relax and work on the same page.
Remote Working: Top Tips!
Working remotely can be a huge challenge with big adjustments. Experienced remote workers know just how important it is to have the right place and environment to work in.
Here are a few tips to make working remotely work:
- Correct Working Environment: No matter where an employee chooses to work from, they must ensure that the temperature, distractions, lighting, noise levels, and equipment are right. They must be comfortable, have plenty of space for working, and have the correct equipment in place. Areas of natural light helps us to feel relaxed and is less likely to cause any headaches.
- Scheduling: Although there may be flexibility around the completion of tasks, boundaries must still be set. This helps people work to a reasonable timeframe, and minimised any impact by interfering with other areas of life. Managers should set schedules for employees, and employees must make an effort to adhere to them.
- Get Dressed: Working in our sleep wear may sound appealing, but in reality it won’t make you feel like you are at work. Clothes influence mood and emotions – even when working from home, an effort should be made to look nice. Doing this creates motivation, professionalism and confidence. It also makes the distinction between work and home – if you change out of your work clothes when you finish your jobs, you are more likely to switch off from work quicker.
- Plan Breaks: With no set lunch and coffee breaks, remote workers can find their day passing by in front of a screen. Screen breaks are a must – both in the office and away from it. 5 minutes every hour must be scheduled away from a screen – whether this is nipping to make a drink or taking a phone call, screen time must be regulated as much as actual lunch breaks. A break away from the desk or screen can improve productivity and will improve wellbeing. There are also legal requirements for breaks to be taken depending on the amount of hours in a shift. This must also not be forgotten.
- Communication: As mentioned, remote working requires a higher level of communication. The use of instant messaging and group chats, video calling, and regular check-in’s can make a big difference to a remote team. It also helps to stop feelings of isolation and gets queries resolved a lot faster. When working remotely, communication must be clear and concise, as we do not have body language to read. People read body language more than they think. All forms of communication must be clear!
- Offering Support: Remote workers can find themselves struggling with tasks, not wanting to reach out for help. Employees and managers should all understand that asking for help and support is normal. Any help asked for must be given. Employees should not feel awkward or like they are interrupting.
- Connectivity: All the required equipment and resources need to be provided to remote workers. It cannot be expected that they purchase their own equipment. Nor can it be expected that they foot the utilities associated with working from home. All hardware and software must be provided, as well as a provision for increased electricity costs, phone usage etc. All equipment provided must be signed for by the employee, with a written contract that all equipment is returned should the employee leave the business. It may also be that the employee has to install a stronger or faster wi-fi – again, this is something that the business needs to look at paying for.
- File sharing: A lot of technology is available to allow for file-sharing and collaborations on remote projects. These should all be integrated with the communication tools. Should remote workers need access to the business network, a VPN can ensure security, speed and reliability. Security must never be overlooked. This can pose a threat in remote teams, especially if they are using their own devices to work from. All devices must have antivirus software and firewalls installed. Remote workers should only ever use secure Wi-fi connections, and businesses must have procedures and protocols around passwords and authentication.
Managing remote workers
Managing a remote team for the first time can be challenging. The challenges faced are the use of new technology, managing people who are struggling with remote working, adapting to new routines and procedures, or even building up the nerve to carry out conference calls. All managers have their own worries when managing remotely.
The key to this new style of management is trust and working relationships. Managers must be able to trust their team to work. Statistics have shown the rise in productivity amongst remote workers – the management must trust these figures and work with them. It cannot be assumed that remote workers aren’t engaging in their role. If this is a worry, then motivational tools must be put into place to ease the mind of the management.
Motivational tactics can include group celebrations for goals met, monthly award or bonus schemes (an engraved trophy can cost a few pounds yet go a long way to keeping a team on track), a monthly get together, team outings or simple team claps for KPI’s being met.
The mental health of the workers needs to be monitored – if any team members appear to be struggling then this needs addressing in a calm and friendly fashion.
Setting Remote Working expectations
The old style of managing teams is changing rapidly. Processes that work for both sides must be created and all employees trained to work by them – if processes are ignored then cracks begin to appear. Any employees not following procedure should be brought to task immediately as it impacts the whole team.
Core factors should be decided upon- when are the teams to check in? Can staff work on a flexi basis? What are the core hours that need filling? What goals need to be achieved? How are the team to keep in touch? How will feedback be given?
Everything must be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely). All metrics must be tracked and analysed. Management may need to focus more on the outcomes of the work over when employees are working.
Remote Working Policy
To get the whole team working together from a new policy, the following factors should be addressed:
- Remote working schedules – Who can work remotely? When they can do it? What core working hours are they expected to keep?
- Premises – Where will employees work remotely from?
- Environment – Do employees have a suitable environment to work from?
- Equipment – What is needed? What will the company provide? Who is responsible for equipment? How it will be maintained, stored and insured? How do employees obtain new equipment? Can employees safely use their own devices? What measures are in place to stop any spread of sensitive information?
- Security – What are the security measurements in place for hardware and software? Are there any existing security policies remote employees must abide by? Are employees physically secure?
- Health and safety – How are risk assessments carried out and health & safety measures adhered to? What are the procedures in place for reporting a breach?
- Performance management – How is productivity measured and analysed? How are track hours, KPIs, objective setting, appraisals, and feedback mechanisms managed?
- Allowances – Are any remote working expenses payable? What is payable, how and when will it be paid? Are any insurances required and if so, are these paid by the company?
- Expectations – What should the employees know in terms of contact and communication, taking holidays, taking breaks and lunches, working from a suitable space, communication with other team members?
If the company can put these measurements in place before remote working begins on a permanent basis (or immediately after forced remote working starts), then many perceived issues can be resolved before they begin. A smooth transition should hopefully be the way forward.
Remote Working Culture
Teamwork and creativity can be challenging with remote working, and it is easy for employees to disappear into their remote working abyss. Company culture does not have to take a nose-dive simply because of a lack of office space or office environment.
It is possible to keep people working together as a team. Webinars, group video calling and training events are all a good place to bring teams back together. These enable people to form working bonds and increase their skillsets.
Company intranets can also keep teams working together – monthly newsletters and inter-departmental fun challenges can keep people close. These are all great ways for remote teams to work well together and on their own.
Managing remote teams needn’t be a worry or a chore. There are many benefits to this, and for a lot of businesses this is now the way forwards. Utilising tools available and refining communication techniques are vital, as is having a management team who can delegate and keep their ego in check when employees aren’t physically there to be checked up on….. The opportunities for business leaders and companies are endless! Virtual teams are on the rise and remote companies may just be the thing of the future!
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