Remote working can bring many benefits for the employee and employer alike. Greater flexibility can work wonders for productivity and can help businesses retain talent long-term. For SMEs, the ability to choose their employees without being limited by their geographical location is very valuable, especially if they need a niche skillset to grow their business. It can also reduce overheads by cutting down on the costs of permanent office space.
However, it is still a style of working that’s in its relative infancy, and moving from a more traditional working set-up can be difficult for some organisations. Doing a little preparation and planning exactly what counts as a successful remote working arrangement can avoid problems further along the line. Here are some considerations to get you started:
1. Set clear expectations
When working remotely, employees might be tempted to over-work to prove they’re just as productive as other workers, or feel the need to be available to reply to emails at all times. This can lead to stress and means they’re not enjoying the benefits of their new arrangement to the full. Clearly communicated expectations can avoid this.
2. Protect time away from work
A common problem with new remote workers is the difficulty of striking a work/life balance. Often, they choose a remote role with the aim of eliminating commuting time and building greater flexibility into their schedules, but sometimes it can have the opposite effect.
People need to build a clear distinction between work time and the rest of their lives – especially if they work in a room of their home which they also use for leisure activities.
3. Stay social
Regular communication through email, phone calls, instant messages and video calling can also replicate the camaraderie of a traditional working environment and make everyone happier in their roles. Achieve a balance between keeping in touch and sending too many emails in one go.
4. Personal safety
Employers are responsible for their remote workers’ health and safety, just as they are for their office workers. Everybody should receive the same high standard of health and safety training. Remote working doesn’t always mean just home working. It’s likely workers will be signing in from co-working spaces and cafes, for example. It’s an employer’s legal and moral responsibility to do all they can to protect their staff at work, wherever they may work from.
5. Display screen equipment (DSE)
In an office space, DSE will likely be set up with the correct rules and regulations in mind. The same should be true for home working spaces. Workers need regular breaks away from their screens and desks, even when working from home.
6. Data security
Whether remote workers are using their own devices or ones owned by the company, all business and individual data needs to be protected. Workers can access their usual files and emails via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and there should be remote working policies in place to protect both employee and employer.
Many remote roles include regular travel, within the country and abroad. Make sure all travelling staff are checking in with colleagues regularly and that somebody (preferably their manager) has a copy of their basic itinerary and expected arrival times. This isn’t about keeping tabs on people – it’s simply to make sure they’re safe, and to allow someone to raise the alarm quickly if something goes wrong.
8. Regular team time
Remote working comes in all shapes and sizes, from one member of the department working from home on Fridays through to teams that are permanently based on different continents. Without the daily direct contact and socialising that usually comes with being based in an office together, how can you make sure the team gels and produces its best collaborative work?
If you’re all relatively close by, you could have a monthly or weekly face-to-face meeting to touch base and combat any remote working-related isolation. If this isn’t possible, scheduling regular group video call times can be a great alternative.
Make sure this time isn’t all devoted to work topics. Some time to chat about your lives outside of work is very important to build that team feeling, and to stop people feeling lonely during their working days.
Managers need to ensure they encourage their teams to come to them with problems. If someone is struggling with their workload or a particular task, they need to know that there’s support available. Schedule a regular one-to-one with each member of the team and make it a safe space to discuss difficulties.
Being clear about each team member’s core hours also cements that all-important split between work and home life.
10. The right tools for collaboration
Put some thought into the most effective ways of communicating. Email works well for conveying certain types of information, but may not be the best choice for in-depth project work. It can also become overwhelming and distracting if emails are constantly interrupting the flow of work. Instant messaging services can be great for quick discussions. Try to strike a balance between video or phone calls and written communication.
The best way for managers to make sure their teams have the best tools for the job is to talk to them. Be open to suggestions and be prepared to make changes as circumstances evolve. The best options for a remote team of two or three might need to be reviewed when that team grows larger.
Like any change in working practices, remote working can be tough to adjust to. The benefits can be huge, and the challenges are not unbeatable if there is trust, collaboration and a willingness to communicate.
About the Author
Darren Hockley is the Managing Director of eLearning provider DeltaNet International. The company specializes in the development of engaging compliance and health and safety eLearning courses designed to mitigate risks and improve employee performance. Their in-house developers use a mixture of interactive video and 2D/3D animation to bring important legislation and best working practices to life.