Remote working, or telecommuting, isn’t a new trend. According to The Remote Work Report, 60 percent of people work remotely 100 percent of the time, with 42 percent of those having done so for more than five years. From the years 1996 to 2016, the number of companies offering remote work increased threefold—from 20 percent to 60 percent—according to the 20th Anniversary Edition of SHRM’s annual Employee Benefits research report.
If you’re thinking about expanding or enabling your remote working environment, there’s a lot to consider. With concerns from security, file sharing, and collaboration to support and hardware and software availability, IT is key to creating the best workplace for remote employees. Here are five best practices and considerations to play up the advantages of technology in the workplace as you plan for enabling or extending your remote work policies.
Focus on Your Clients
When you’re setting up a remote workplace, one of your first considerations should be this: How will this affect your clients? Ideally, your clients won’t notice whether your employees are working from home or if they’re coming into the office every day. But anything from complications with different time zones to security concerns can leave clients feeling uneasy.
Make sure your customer-facing employees are set up with technology and protocols that help clients feel comfortable. Start by implementing security protocols for remote employees. For example, two-factor authorization may seem inconvenient, but it’s worth the extra step to maintain data security on devices that you don’t own. Be proactive about explaining the reasons for security protocols to all employees, but especially to remote employees, who are more likely to be using their personal smartphone or a laptop with an unknown IP address. When they understand the reasons, they’re more likely to stick to the protocol.
Another step to take is to consolidate the platforms you use to communicate with clients. Employees should have just a couple of options, each with a specific purpose, and it should be easy to search for important client conversations. Clients don’t want to search through emails, phone messages, Google Hangouts, Slack messages, and texts to find something one of your employees told them. Consolidating communication platforms makes communication better for employees and clients.
With any technology, IT personnel should be easily accessible to employees. ServiceNow, for example, has an integration hub connector for Microsoft Teams. Whether employees need to reset a password or fix something more complicated, this integration can supply help articles, support bots, or live agents to solve the problem quickly, before the client notices there’s an issue. If an employee has trouble keeping track of time zones, tools like FindTime can help keep everything straight.
Provide Remote Work Best Practices for Your Employees
Remote employees should follow a set of their own best practices, depending on their specific situation. Some of these might include: not working in pajamas, sticking to a set schedule, and only working in a dedicated office area. As an IT leader, you can put certain best practices in place to help them have a positive experience as a remote worker:
- Prepare for hardware problems: If a remote employee’s laptop battery is failing, they need timely service. It may be a good plan to keep a store of backup computers and parts that you can immediately ship to remote employees.
- Implement security protocols, and make sure employees understand the Why: Two-factor authentication is a great protocol for remote employees. Another important protocol is to set up external email warnings. These can prevent phishing attacks.
Make translation software available: When employees are operating in multiple languages, it’s important to have either an interpreter or translation software in place to allow them to communicate with each other.
Practice Communication within the Team
One common concern about working with remote teams is the element of trust. How can managers make sure employees aren’t taking advantage? The truth is, that’s a challenge even in traditional workplaces. But remote workplaces especially can use time-tracking software. Whether it’s built into a project management platform or stands on its own, time-tracking software keeps employees accountable and also helps them feel proud of all the hours they’ve put in.
Ultimately, consistent communication is the key to success in a remote work environment. It may sound daunting to keep in contact with multiple people who aren’t in the same physical space or time zone, but the right technology makes it possible. Platforms like Teams, Slack, Trello, Asana, and Zoom are good options for remote teams to consider. And it’s also a good idea to host frequent scrum meetings and to occasionally require that employees (or at least team leaders) turn their video on during conferencing calls. These apps and protocols help employees stay on top of their projects, receive timely feedback, and form genuine connections.
“If anything, we try to over-communicate, both internally and externally,” says Wiktor Schmidt, the chief executive of Netguru, which has a remote workforce. “We do this by constantly updating each other and making use of the latest communication technologies such as Slack and Jira.”
Build Teamwork Between Leaders and Employees
One of the biggest challenges with a remote workforce is creating a strong workplace culture among all employees. There’s often an invisible barrier between those who physically go into work and those who work remotely. For example, remote workers may feel as though they’re interrupting other workers when they send a message for help, whereas in-person workers don’t feel that same hesitation about walking over to the IT desk to ask someone for a hand.
Karen Sobel Lojeski, founder and CEO of Virtual Distance International, calls this “virtual distance,” or “a sense of emotional and psychological detachment that builds up over time when people become over-reliant on technology to mediate their relationships.” To help team members feel connected, as though they’re all sitting in the same office, it’s important to use communication apps and other technology as a means for relationship building, not just as a tool for accomplishing tasks. Take special care to involve remote employees by asking questions and reaching out regularly.
“Creating relationships among remote co-workers and their managers is crucially important,” says Arlene S. Hirsch at SHRM. “An open channel for communication in a technology platform gives remote team members a ‘meeting place’ where they can go to socialize. FlexJobs uses Yammer for water-cooler conversations, for big announcements, and to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and promotions.”
A fun way to strengthen the team is to host remote team-building games or start non-work-related chat groups. Games can include anything, like online Pictionary, virtual fitness challenges, and trivia. Creating chat groups that focus on common interests is another idea. On Microsoft Teams, for example, users could start a channel about gaming, in which anyone with that interest can chat and connect over this hobby. These games and chat groups can help build the team and increase work enjoyment for any employee, remote or otherwise.
Find a Partner You Can Trust
There’s a lot to consider when expanding or enabling a remote working environment. One crucial goal is to be intentional about creating a strong workforce culture. IT can make all the difference in creating a supportive, functional workplace for remote employees. The impact of information technology in the workplace is significant, and for remote employees, it is everything.
Finding an IT implementation partner you can trust is crucial to successful deployments. Crossfuze has helped hundreds of companies successfully implement IT services and solutions. Click here to get in contact with us today!