Remote working has quickly gone from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have’. One of the main threads in my recent CIO Watercooler discussion was that of enabling employees with the technology and flexibility they need in order to do their best work.
We communicate and collaborate remotely every day in our personal lives – why should it be different in our professional lives? To paraphrase Harvey Neve, Head of Digital Transformation for Public Health England, in that discussion, remote working is an opportunity for people to embrace the way life is nowadays. There isn’t work and life; there is life, and outcomes you’re on the hook for at work are part of your life.
However, if you’re planning to introduce remote working to your business, a lifetime of sharing cat memes isn’t enough to qualify your employees as ready to embrace the change. Introducing remote working needs to be a managed process that you’re well prepared for. Follow the steps in this guide to give your business the best chance to make a successful switch.
Benefits of a remote workforce
At a time when remote work is high on every business agenda, some still believe that team leaders should be physically present in an office environment with their team to manage effectively. However, the proof has truly been in the pudding this year, with many businesses that made the change thriving through adversity.
Some of the key benefits for businesses looking to shift to become a remote workforce are as follows:
Cost savings and profitability
Businesses report 21% higher profitability, or an average of $11,000 worth of savings per part-time remote worker.
Employee retention and engagement
A reported 41% decrease in absenteeism is a testament to a significant increase in employee engagement among remote workers. Businesses have also reportedly seen a 12% reduction in turnover as a result of introducing remote work.
Reports suggest that remote employees are more productive than their office-based counterparts by up to 40%.
In Upwork’s 2019 Future Workforce report, 55% of hiring managers said that remote work is likely to grow significantly in the decade ahead. The recent pandemic has allowed business leaders to open their eyes to the benefits of a remote team, now is the time to embrace the momentum and continue to evolve into an increasingly virtual working landscape.
Common Challenges of Remote Work (and how to overcome)
While many love the idea of working from home or working remotely, the reality does have it’s drawbacks. Before your organisation can thrive in a remote environment, it’s best to anticipate some of the key challenges in order to establish how you might overcome them in the longer term.
Here are some of the key roadblocks when it comes to remote working and some top tips on how you might overcome them:
Retaining company culture
Communicating and retaining a company culture in a remote world is a hell of a lot more difficult in a remote working world. Without serendipitous conversation happening in corridors or at the water cooler, there is an ‘essence’ of your organisation which could easily pass your staff by when they work at their kitchen table. With new members of the team being onboarded remotely, they may see your values via their onboarding sessions, but they won’t see those values in action, every day by watching and learning from the other members of the team in the same capacity as before.
Top tip: Introduce team bonding in the form of a ‘values mentor’ whereby a longer-standing member of the team might buddy up with a colleague to discuss company culture and values and how they might adopt these into their workday. Some businesses have internal awards ceremonies or friendly competitive incentives whereby colleagues nominate team members who have shown dedication to company culture and specific values. These simple strategies might just give your company culture more longevity in a remote environment.
Isolation and loneliness
Buffer’s State of Remote Survey found that 20% of remote workers feel that loneliness is the biggest struggle when it comes to remote work. There’s no escaping the fact that remote working proves much more isolating than spending time with colleagues in a physical office environment and for those living alone, it can be particularly challenging. With many citing ‘FOMO’ and loneliness as the downfall of remote working, it is worth implementing a policy of open communication which helps your remote employees to feel more connected.
Top tip: Introduce regular video calls, switching from simple phone catchups to a format that allows remote teams to get some much-needed face time. Utilise video conferencing software for more regular 1-2-1, informal catchups with remote team members, or even implement a regular virtual team building activity via conference call to help your team get more face-to-face interaction and feel more unified.
Managing time and projects
Time management also seems to become a more autonomous challenge while working as part of a remote team. Without a clear policy in place or a lack of effective communication, it can be a little unclear what is expected of your remote workforce. And with the manifold distractions of home life merging with work, it’s important to lay down the workday structure early. Ultimately, you may need to establish your measurable indicators of success, for example, does your organisation value time spent at work, or are your team leaders more focused on output and quality? Input a strategy based on your core goals.
Top tip: It’s more important now than ever to be clear on a structure and the goals and deliverables for your team. Implementing the right communication tools to encourage open and efficient collaborations along with project management software such as Trello might be a good place to start. Make sure your tools integrate, to allow better efficiency between different applications and platforms.
According to a survey conducted by Monster, over two-thirds of employees are experiencing burnout because of home working. While it’s seen as a major perk by many, home working has blurred the line between life and work like never before. Ensuring you advocate a virtual working environment whereby employees know when to switch off is imperative when it comes to the health and wellbeing of your remote employees.
Top tip: Introduce a new policy which advocates switching off at a certain time to ensure employees can feel confident in allowing time to themselves without feeling they are still ‘on the clock’. If your team works across global time zones, it’s even more important to lay down the ground rules when it comes to contact hours.
How to transition to remote work
Making the transition from a bricks and mortar working environment to a fully virtual one takes time and preparation if you want to offer a smooth transition, and have all the tools in place for an effective, efficient remote workforce. In terms of what you may need to consider as part of your transition strategy, we’ve put together the following key points:
1. Internet Connection
This is a must – there’s no way around it. We’re fortunate in the UK to have a reasonable WiFi network, along with access to 4G and soon 5G. If your employees are working from home, encourage them to invest in stable, high bandwidth, secure internet. If they’re on the road, make sure they have sufficient mobile data. An unlimited data package comes in handy here, and the added expense to your business is well worth the continuity it supports. This is the time to put in place a comprehensive internet reimbursement policy.
If your employees sometimes work without a connection, make sure the communications and collaboration tools your business has in place enable offline working and automatically sync when employees do connect to the internet.
2. Critical Tools: Hardware
Make sure your employees are equipped with some basic tools to keep them connected and productive:
- A laptop or tablet: With a good quality webcam for effective video conferencing
- A smartphone: For on-the-go calls and messaging
- A headset with a microphone: For group calls in public or noisy areas
- Some form of data backup: An external hard drive or access to cloud storage
3. Critical Tools: Software
Many businesses now use communications and collaboration tools that are based in the cloud, allowing employees to be agile and responsive in the way they work together. If your business relies on its on-site hardware to manage communications, consider a cloud provider to take this expense and work off your hands.
Businesses making the transition from an office environment to a virtual workspace might want to consider investing in some of or all of the below tools:
- Communications tools that offer phone capabilities or a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) solution offers the simplest way for you to enable your team to connect via telephone. Solutions such as RingCentral also offer team messaging and internet fax, which can keep your team communicating over multiple channels so even though they’re dispersed they’re still connected and ‘present’.
- Video Conferencing solutions give your remote teams the chance to get much-needed face time while they work remotely. With a number of solutions on the market RingCentral’s video conferencing solutions allow colleagues to connect quickly and easily via video meetings with capabilities including screen sharing, file sharing, and storage and instant messaging all in one single easy-to-use platform.
- Team Collaboration tools that include file sharing, real-time document editing, integration with other business apps such as CRM or project management tools, and calendar sharing can help your workforce to significantly shave down wasted time jumping between different platforms. Applications such as the RingCentral desktop app or teams have proven popular in allowing teams to stay productive from wherever they are.
- Project Management tools that allow your team members to gain clarity on their daily, or weekly workload can help significantly with productivity levels. Tools such as Trello and Basecamp have proven popular in allowing managers to get a clear view of workflows, progress, and output.
- Unified communications (UC) solutions include all this functionality on one platform, making communicating and collaborating much simpler for employees. Paying a single provider instead of juggling multiple vendor contracts makes it much easier and cheaper to manage.
- A Virtual Private Network (VPN) providing your employees with secure access to files, so they can share and collaborate on your private data and intellectual property safely.
Employees need to adapt their working methods to operate effectively when remote. Managers need to set expectations early, providing structure and etiquette for people to follow to make the transition to remote collaboration as smooth as possible. For some remote workers, self-management is the hardest part of the job. Time management, prioritisation, and focus play different roles in different environments, and public or home spaces can be more distracting than an office environment.
Employees must take a more proactive approach to communicate, be more active in sharing information and plans, and being present to provide feedback or field queries. Scheduling regular catch-ups and establishing norms early can set the pattern to help make remote working…work. This might be a good time to develop a company-wide ‘remote working policy’.
5. Monitor Performance
One of the major concerns for many people thinking of starting a remote working policy is the level of control they will have over their staff and how productive they will work outside of an office environment.
However, sources have shown that remote working actually increases staff productivity by as much as 40%, with one of the main benefits of providing flexibility enabling home workers to work unusual hours to fit around personal circumstances but still get the job done. Features such as Task Manager and integrations into other cloud services like Trello on RingCentral Glip allow you to set targets, put deadlines in place for each of your employees, and track progress and updates, thus keeping them on track and allowing you to easily monitor their performance.
Tracking performance and seeing weak spots allows you to identify training needs early and plan in time and action to correct problems before they turn into disasters. Keep an eye on your team’s performance and be prepared to support them through the transition to remote working, whether that’s by direct mentoring, virtual training, or a peer-to-peer buddy system. Supporting people to adjust will save you headaches further down the line and will make a world-class remote team.
For more information to help you transition your business to remote working while ensuring business continuity, visit our remote working resource library here on the blog.
Tips for managing a remote team effectively
Encourage tech adoption
Once you’ve made the investment in the right technologies to transition to a virtual work environment, don’t just leave it there. Communicate with your team members about the benefits of your new cloud-based environment and how it can help them to become a better, more productive, and collaborative unit.
Don’t forget, to communicate and invite constant communication back. Loneliness and dissatisfaction can easily linger in a remote environment and if you aren’t clear you’re your goals, or don’t communicate ‘bigger picture’ context and expectations as a manager, your team members will be less likely to volunteer important information or ask questions when they need your support.
Lead with trust
Likewise, trust is key when it comes to leading a successful remote team. Trusting your workforce to manage their own workloads efficiently alongside a more flexible work-life balance is the only way to solicit an honest working relationship in return.
Adopt goal-oriented management
Be clear when it comes to setting boundaries and clear goals for your team as a whole and individual remote employees. Remote work lends itself to a more output-focused attitude, so where possible, it’s important to focus more on deliverables rather than time and ‘presenteeism’.
Knowledge sharing and transparency
Without the watercooler element of a physical workplace, businesses need to find ways to share important information with a remote team. Whether it’s managers holding regular video calls and team meetings, daily check-ins or all-hands meetings, video conferences, or webinars, have a think about how you might deliver company or team updates as part of an open and transparent remote work policy.
Foster a community environment
Whether you encourage your teams to catch-up and connect by hosting real-time video conferencing sessions or casual conversations on a regular basis, adopting a comprehensive team bonding strategy is important in creating a community-focused culture and injecting your core values into your virtual work environment.
Remote teams are now taking over the modern working landscape and UK chief executives predict that the shift towards remote working will endure.
While transitioning to a remote working environment may seem daunting, the benefits seem to outweigh the positives for businesses across the globe with benefits including improved productivity, lower overheads, access to a broader talent pool, and a riper environment for digital transformation.
As long as managers remember to support their teams now more than ever, ensuring that being out of sight doesn’t equate to being out of mind, businesses with the right tools at their fingertips and a strategically planned remote working policy in place can expect to survive and thrive in a virtual working landscape.
Originally published Mar 13, 2020, updated Jan 17, 2023