The need for flexibility in the workspace is growing – sometimes even as far as to a workspace on the other side of the continent. Working remotely is becoming increasingly popular, both on the employer side and on the employee side. Even though it might not be the right choice for every organisation, many opportunities are wasted here, for smaller companies as well. That is why we’ll describe these opportunities (and the challenges), and what you can do as an employer to make working remotely work.
The difference between flexible and remote
To start off, it’s probably good to know that working flexibly and working remotely are not the same thing. Remote working is a form of flexible working, but flexible does not necessarily mean remote. Confused yet? Working flexibly can mean multiple things, from organizing your own work schedule to the possibility to work from home. Working remotely means that an employee is not present in the office for most or even the entire time, but works from a different location.
Why should you let people work remotely?
This way of working is beneficial to both retaining current employees and attracting new talent. Many people are searching for the possibility to work from home (or another location) – possibly your employees as well. If you won’t give them the possibility to do this at your company, they might start searching for an employer who will. Moreover, research by the Flex Strategy Group shows that employees who are offered this option are, among other things, more loyal.
So, by giving employees the option to work remotely, you attract new talent who were not in the liberty to do so at their former employer. However, there is more potential for attracting new talent: your talent pool suddenly increases immensely. Because if your employee doesn’t have to commute to the office every day, what is stopping you to hire someone from the other side of the country, Europe or the United States?
Not only are employees, as mentioned before, more loyal of they get this option, but also their often happier, more productive and more creative than employees who always work in the office. Speaking of the office: if you have (part of) your team working remotely, you’ll need less desks, chairs and square foot, which saves costs.
According to research by EY (formerly known as Ernst and Young), it’s important for Millennials (people born after 1980) to have a flexible working environment. Since Millennials are (becoming) the biggest part of the workforce, their wishes and needs need to be taken into account if you want to stay relevant as an employer. As reported by EY, in 2020 more than eighty per cent of the workforce will consist of Millennials.
It all sounds very nice, but there must be a reason it doesn’t work out for some companies. Remote working does create a few challenges. Thinking in terms of safety: how safe is it when your employee, who is in possession of sensitive company information, connects with public WiFi? And how well are their devices secured? And what if employees can’t communicate with each other face to face, how does that affect the efficiency and progress?
Sometimes, remote working simply doesn’t suit your company or employees. And that’s ok. It could always be worth a shot, but if your employees start saying beforehand that they feel like they’re going to be distracted and end up in front of the television: just don’t start. Another reason it fails could be that the company just did not handle it the right way.
So how do you handle remote employees?
Start small, with just a few people. You could for instance first implement a “Work at home Wednesday”. This way you can monitor it for a while and keep evaluating how it goes. Do people get the same results? Or maybe even better ones? Do the results recline? Ask your team to contribute ideas, evaluate, modify, and if it doesn’t work after two months? Stop.
Set up a policy for deadlines, tasks, safety, communications, meetings, et cetera. The first phase is a good moment to test out a couple of things and find what works for you. If it’s clear for all those involved what’s expected of them, there will be no misconceptions about it. Make sure that there’s a daily moment where employees can speak to each other and motivate people to video chat.
Use the right tools and make sure that employees always have access from any location to what they need, in an efficient manner. You can think of tools like a digital workspace like Workspace 365, to simplify access to applications, documents and information, or Office 365. Also think of chat tools, which are very important for streamlining communication, like Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business. For collaboration on a grander skill you could look in to enterprise social media like Yammer. Whatever you choose, make sure everyone uses the same digital workspaces and tools to keep people productive. Also think about security: what tools will make sure that your employee can safely handle data from a different location?
A culture of trust
Even if you use the most amazing and efficient tools and you have a clear policy no doubt could arise about, remote working can still fail, simply due to a lack of trust. Burying an employee in messages or checking if they are actually working every thirty minutes does not actually contribute to productivity – for both parties. Working remotely is not something you only do, it also has to be a piece of who you are: it has to fit into the company culture.