What's on this page?
- What does "working remotely" mean?
- The challenges of remote working
- Tips for working remotely
- The benefits of remote working
What does "working remotely" mean?
Remote working is when professionals engage in business activities outside of the traditional office space. This can mean they are working from home, from remote locations while traveling, or from a public place, such as a library or coffee shop. Remote workers use technologies like video conferencing, asynchronous chat apps, and project/task managers to collaborate with coworkers and optimize their productivity.
The challenges of remote working
Although working remotely has undeniable appeal, it can come with its own set of challenges. At the top of that list are technological challenges that remote work can create.
These problems have been amplified among professionals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when remote work became more commonplace.
Office spaces tend to be tightly controlled technology environments, whereby IT departments personally vet every laptop, peripheral, and software choice. Once you take the employees and tech out of the office’s carefully-managed tech bubble, difficulties can ensue.
For example, finding reliable access to the internet outside of the office can be challenging. If you use technology to handle sensitive data, connecting to public WiFi or using a poorly-configured private WiFi connection can expose you to data breaches. Internet speed varies wildly, as well. Remote workers can find themselves frustrated with the library’s insecure public network or their home’s slow internet.
Other technological problems include not having the right tools to communicate or share information effectively between coworkers, clients or supply chain third party organizations. The use of video conferencing tools has grown exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as organizations try to facilitate meetings between these parties. People are also sending more emails than normal and using collaboration sites to try to support effective communication. However, this can cause security issues if sensitive data isn't adequately protected, and can also lead to different colleagues and teams using different systems, reducing the overall effectiveness that comes from storing and accessing all information in one location.
A few of the other difficulties professionals encounter as they work remotely are more social than technological. The implicit need for accountability means more and/or longer meetings are required over videoconferencing. It feels ironic to some remote workers that not going into the office means more meetings instead of fewer, which can negatively impact productivity.
A workplace that gives thoughtful consideration to these potential stumbling blocks can vastly improve their remote workers’ off-campus experience.
Tips for working remotely
To create an atmosphere that is conducive to productivity for remote workers, an organization should focus on three areas:
- Put the right technology in place
- Facilitate collaboration
- Keep focus
Put the right technology in place for remote success
First, make sure your employees’ gear is secure and encrypted. Their laptops’ tools and applications should be compliant with data privacy regulations to keep personal and confidential information secure. This includes installing VPN software on remote workers’ laptops, as well as using email encryption software such as Egress Protect. These steps will secure both the data on the machine and the data leaving it.
Facilitate ways to collaborate and connect
Using videoconferencing tools such as Zoom or Jitsi gives your remote workers access to you and to each other. Even if already you’re using these or similar apps for meetings, encourage their use when you’re not formally meeting and encourage people to turn their webcams on so you can see each other. Remote work can become a lonely proposition very quickly. You want to head off feelings of isolation by encouraging employees to check in with each other visually during the day.
That said, check-ins don’t always have to use video. Using asynchronous apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams can give remote workers a way of chatting without putting a damper on productivity.
One key advantage of chat apps is their flexibility in time. A telecommuting worker can schedule their chats and check-ins around their heads-down work. This allows remote workers to create their own productive work flows that optimize their work schedule.
You might see, for example, that some workers do best when they’re checking email and chats at 8:00, noon, and 16:00. The rest of the time, they’re focused on checking items off their to-do list. Another worker might stand to stretch at the top of every hour, and at the same time, may choose to check in over chat with the rest of the team to talk about the tasks completed in the last hour. Everyone has their own best practices for staying productive and finishing strong at 17:00, and using asynchronous communication allows each worker to find their own unique productivity formula.
Beyond productivity purposes, businesses can encourage remote workers to plug into the rest of the team at a more human level. This can be done by hosting fun, team-building weekly meetings. During this meeting, you could run motivating weekly challenges and do more personal check-ins. Privately, managers and directors can touch base with individuals on their teams to see how they are doing. These are examples of how human connection can go a long way in preventing feelings of invisibility and isolation in remote workers.
Keep everyone’s eyes on the prize
When managers continually use goals as a touch point, it helps everyone move in the same direction toward one singular destination. Imagine that every remote worker is on a boat, and you need to keep the whole fleet sailing toward the same island. You do that by keeping a bright light on the lead boat, so all the smaller boats can gauge the right direction and speed.
Talking about goals and objectives, as well as the path to them, is like lighting a lantern to guide your staff. When all employees, remote and on-campus, have their eyes on one singular destination, that coalesces teams and helps them engage with each other, make better decisions, and stay focused.
The benefits of remote working
When remote work scenarios are set up for success, it becomes a popular option for workers. As companies worldwide have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, sometimes remote work is a necessity, not a choice. For jobs that can be done from anywhere, remote work is an eventuality every company should prepare for.
The good news is that companies that proactively prepare their tech and create standard operating procedures for remote work find that the benefits can be extraordinary.
The first and most obvious benefit is the cost savings. As team members shift off-site permanently or on a rotating basis, companies can downsize their facilities, which affords them multiple layers of savings. With fewer employees occupying a smaller space, the company will save on rent and utilities, and some will also alleviate their real estate tax burden.
Even for a company that rents, fewer people in their facility creates small economic shifts that can add up to big savings over time. These changes include smaller cleaning service bills, reduced food/catering expense (for refreshments at meetings, for example), and less spending on office supplies.
Another hidden savings comes with employee satisfaction and retention. Telecommuters may remain at a company longer because they enjoy the autonomy and flexibility. This translates to cost savings, since employee attrition means more recruiting and onboarding, which is notoriously expensive.
Happy employees don’t just save money, they also make more money for their employers. When employees are motivated, their productivity increases. Working from home can give an employee much-needed flexibility when it comes to childrearing, daycare, and accommodation around school schedules. Many employees are willing to put in hours early in the morning, late into the evening, and during the weekend in exchange for work-week flexibility.
As well as parenting-related flexibility, employees can also appreciate skipping the daily commute. The slower pace of the time spent before work (like the additional time to eat breakfast, meditate, or simply just sleep a little longer instead of rushing around to get out the door in the morning) is prized by telecommuters.
What's more, working in a quiet environment at home is so attractive that 36% of respondents in a recent survey said that they would choose remote work privileges over a pay raise. (And there is another potential area for cost savings!)
All in all, It's likely we'll see remote working continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, bringing benefit to workers and their organizations.