Remote work has been a slowly growing trend over the last decade. But it is now the default method of working for thousands of people thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown. With no end in sight to the global quarantine restrictions, managers are wondering if remote work will become the norm rather than remain a trend.
For some people, working from home is the norm even if they only do so for a few days every week. Others are still getting used to not being able to see colleagues and teammates every day at the office. Quite a few businesses have seized the opportunity to experiment with working from home and see if it is a viable model for the future.
Before we dive into that, let’s take a quick look at how working from home – or anywhere else for that matter – got started.
The first step towards moving away from the office was kickstarted by powerful smartphones and laptops. New technologies made it possible for employees to continue working from a hotel room or even during the morning commute on public transit. Although happy to email and text staff outside of office hours, managers were still reluctant to adopt flexible work schedules or remote work.
The next set of innovative communications systems pushed the remote working model forward quite a bit. With the introduction of VoIP systems, organizations found that employees could work from home just as well as they could from the office.
Thanks to video calls, presence information, unified communications, and mobile phones, employees need not step into the office at all. Businesses could now hire talented employees from anywhere in the world. Furthermore, many workers were happier with remote work and more productive as a result.
But the road to remote work is not always smooth. For one thing, remote working isn’t exactly suitable for every job role. Additionally, it takes work for an organization to shift away from the typical 9 to 5 office setup. Many companies make the wrong moves and set up their employees to fail – unintentionally – by not providing them with the right set of tools or even guidance.
Not every job role is conducive to a remote working environment. Workers in service jobs that require human intervention likely cannot work from home. There will be some parts of a job that will require people to come into the office, at least occasionally.
While innovative technologies are making it possible for certain parts to be remote (telemedicine for doctor appointments is a prime example), it is just as likely that there will be many jobs that cannot be performed remotely. This fact will remain unchanged even after the current COVID-19 crisis.
If a business tries to force remote working for those roles or even start with them as an experiment, it is bound to fail.
Lack of communication & coordination
It takes a lot of work from managers and executives to make remote working possible and allow employees to thrive. Out of sight, out of mind is a very real risk for remote workers. Managers may be more likely to give negative feedback and forget to encourage and praise good work when the employees aren’t seen around the office every day.
On top of that, remote workers often need more guidance and check-ins to be heard by their bosses. Many of the earliest forays into remote working failed because managers didn’t talk to workers about expectations, goals, and staying on track. When employees are cut off from the rest of their team or the company, it can be hard to stay motivated.
Lack of tools
Finally, employees working remotely need the right set of tools to flourish. It’s not enough to purchase computers and VoIP phones for remote workers. Every job role might require a different set of tools for the employee to work away from the office. This might be anything from hardware & software to mobile apps, or even something as simple as a webcam or high-speed internet.
Unfortunately, not every employee knows what they need when they transition to a remote working environment. If the business is reluctant to invest in the right communications systems and other technologies, remote working will never get off the ground.
Remote working offers immense benefits for companies from minimizing costs and hiring the best talent regardless of location, to having happier and motivated employees. People who work remotely usually want to continue doing so for the rest of their careers and would recommend it to their friends and family as well.
Investing in a modern communications system always pays off and it is even more true when it comes to remote working. The first step is to ensure employees can access the tools they need to work. The basics are often a computer, a phone for work calls, webcam, and of course, a high-speed internet connection to tie everything together.
Some employees may be happy with a laptop but they will usually need a proper desktop and multiple monitors just as they do in the office. You will also need a robust VPN to ensure security. Good quality webcams and headsets are a necessity for meetings, conference calls, and interviews as well.
The second step is to make sure all the software and equipment work well together. A unified communication system with VoIP will work for any business. Employees will be able to communicate on multiple channels without losing focus or wasting time.
Freedom & connections
One thing most employees love about working from home is the freedom from scheduling. Everyone works at their own pace but in a typical office, they are forced to work from 9 to 5. Remote working allows employees to schedule meetings or training when they’re most alert. They don’t have to take as many sick days since they’re not coming into the office and affect colleagues around them. Staff can also keep a doctor or other appointments without taking time off.
But you need to set expectations and goals early on. Some employees need more direction than others and managers need to be upfront about their work requirements. Do you need daily or weekly updates? Will you require employees to log their hours or work projects? How do you keep them on track for meeting deadlines and project dates?
You should also encourage workers to socialize with each other, even if it is mostly virtual. Most remote workers miss the camaraderie of the office and hosting a weekly happy hour or daily coffee break will boost morale. If employees live in the same city, they could also meet occasionally for in-person interaction.
Privacy & security
It’s always difficult to walk the line between security and privacy in the workplace. Businesses need to keep tabs on their staff but when does it cross the line and become an invasion of privacy?
The lines become blurrier with remote work. It’s not uncommon for pets or small children to interrupt meetings when people work from their homes. That’s often not a problem at team meetings but can spell disaster if it happens during a client call. Businesses need to set clear boundaries and expectations with remote workers from the start.
Data and network security are paramount if you want the remote work model to succeed. You have to be careful about who can access what and how. VPNs, firewalls, and security tools are an important part of keeping your data secure. Integrating the VoIP communications system with common enterprise tools can also help minimize security risk. This integration enables workers to sue official channels to move data.
Another common issue that comes up is employee tracking. Businesses need to know where employees are, especially if teams are scattered across the globe. The organization must do so for tax and other HR purposes. But it can also be too intrusive from the perspective of employees. Companies should ensure they collect only as much data as needed to comply with local and international legislation.
Needless to say, remote working (even if only part-time) is here to stay. The current pandemic has accelerated the prevailing trend of more flexible work schedules for companies everywhere. Most companies are happy for employees to work while traveling. So, there is no reason to deny workers the chance to work from the comfort of their homes.
However, businesses that prepare and plan for remote working are more likely to be successful than others. The first step towards success is making sure you have a robust and comprehensive communications system. Make it simple for your employees to work from home – or anywhere else for that matter – and give VoIPstudio a try. Sign up for a free 30-day trial and see the value for your business!
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