Remote working is becoming the norm for an increasing number of UK employees.
Across the country, thousands of employees are spending more and more of their week out of the office, working instead from home or from other premises. Indeed, a recent survey by Virgin suggested that almost 60 per cent of employees believe that office space will no longer be a necessity within the next decade.
The rise of remote working and distributed teams obviously has some significant benefits – but it also presents some major challenges for employers. Managing out-of-office workers is an altogether different task to managing employees who you can actually see – and, as a result, initially it can be difficult.
So how can you get the best out of remote working arrangements?
1. Use the full range of contact methods
When you can’t simply walk over to an employee’s desk, it is important that you find simple techniques that allow you to make contact in an effective way.
All too often employers rely on either phones or email as their sole means of contact with remote workers – but both of these have drawbacks. One need only think about the horror of ‘email overload’ for evidence of this.
Instead, think about quick contact methods with which your employees are already familiar. For example, could you use an instant messaging service instead? How about Skype? Think about where your employees already ‘live’ online, and consider ways that you can leverage these services.
2. Provide the right equipment
It is vital to remember that remote workers still require equipment. Don’t assume that everyone has a sufficiently fast laptop – or even a broadband connection. Make sure that you check with employees first, to find out what extra kit they might need to be provided with.
You should also understand the security implications of remote working. For example, if a remote worker needs to connect directly to your network, or if they are transmitting or receiving particularly sensitive data, you may need to consider using secure VPN or similar technologies.
3. Use the cloud
The growth of cloud computing has revolutionised remote working. Employees no longer have to carry out time-consuming tasks like saving documents to USB sticks or emailing files to themselves. Instead, they can make use of a vast and growing range of cloud-based tools that can help streamline workflows to a dramatic extent.
There is a host of business-focused cloud solutions already available, such as Basecamp and Podio. But there are also many free, easily implementable tools that can instantly revolutionise the way you collaborate. Google Docs, for example, is a free, fully-functioning, cloud-based office solution that can be accessed from anywhere.
If you want to maximise productivity amongst remote workers, you need to investigate the cloud.
4. Remember it’s not just about the home
Remote working doesn’t necessarily just mean ‘working from home’. Instead, it should mean employees completing tasks from whichever location is most suitable. That might, for example, involve working from a client’s office or out ‘in the field’.
You should remember, though, that this could require extra equipment over and above that which might be required if an employee was simply at home. Make sure that you understand those requirements (and the associated costs) before continuing.
5. Give clearly defined tasks
It is undeniable that some first-time remote workers will suffer from the wandering attention that can come from spending the day at home. This can be a productivity killer. But you can help to mitigate its impact by ensuring that your employees have clearly defined, accomplishable tasks to complete during their time out of the office.
If you are concerned about dips in productivity, try giving remote workers tasks that you can check on regularly, or when they are back in the office. The knowledge that their progress will be assessed when they return will often be enough to keep remote employees focussed.
6. But trust your employees
On the other hand, though, you need to be able to trust your staff. If you can’t, you should really be questioning why you hired them in the first place.
Many employees react best when they are left in control, and allowed to complete tasks in a timely manner, but on their own terms. This is just as true when they are out of the office as when they are in it.