Over the past decade, communications have evolved rapidly; at times this has happened at such a rate that businesses have been unable to keep up! An explosion of intuitive technology has meant that flexible working and a 24/7 working culture is now commonplace. For many, myself included, taking into account rising travel and childcare costs, commuting every day makes little sense if your work could be done just as well remotely. Added to this, employees are now more actively seeking to maintain a good quality of life, flexible working hours and a generous holiday allowance.
The lack of distinction between office and home life became even more deliberate on 30th June 2014, when the UK government gave the right of flexible working to every employee across the country with more than six months’ service. The implications of this are still being felt by businesses of all sizes. Theoretically, more than 20 million full-time employees from companies of all sizes can now request flexible working arrangements, be that job sharing, working from home or tailored hours.
Luckily, today’s sophisticated technology allows home workers to do just that. They can now email, have web meetings and collaborate online just as they would do in the office, offering both businesses and individuals the best of both worlds.
These dramatic changes mean it is even more important for companies to embrace mobile working, and give their teams the right tools to do this properly, to stay ahead of their competitors. Studies show that allowing employees to work from home or remotely elsewhere boosts both productivity and staff loyalty. Despite this, many senior decision makers are still reticent to take the leap into flexible working. So what’s the secret, how can companies of all sizes manage and engage their remote workforce?
Trust is paramount
Engaging staff is key to making sure that they use their time efficiently; tackling onerous tasks at home, and coming into the office to brainstorm strategy and new approaches with other team members. Staff must be able to trust that management will communicate properly with them despite them not being physically present. There is no quicker route to staff disengagement than if employees feel they are being kept in the dark on important issues.
A blanket approach isn’t the answer
Shackling staff to their desks from nine to five could lead to a culture of ‘presenteeism’, but similarly, if staff never see each other or their managers, it is likely that they will contribute less to the company. It is important to find a middle ground and make people feel a part of the office culture even if physically they aren’t there.
Use technology wisely
It is vital to invest in reliable systems so that employees can think of their home as an extension of their office, ensuring discipline, contentment and efficiency. Cloud-based systems ensure that documents and emails can be accessed remotely. I have found that a good wifi system ensures that employees feel well connected, whatever technology they are using. I also use a one number service, meaning that employees and customers can always reach me via one telephone number. It’s incredibly useful and I like being safe in the knowledge that I am always contactable.
Lead by example
To avoid negative perceptions of homeworking, this culture must be embraced from the top down. All members must be easily contactable and transparent, including top brass. Flexible working is vital for me personally; I commute 225 miles from home to the TeleWare Group head office, and that is just one of our three locations! I make it work by using technology as best I can, and by using my travelling time wisely. The type of device I use depends on the situation; my BlackBerry is my primary device, I use an iPad mini for emailing on the go, and my Dell Ultrabook battery means it’s perfect for working when I am travelling.
Silence the cynics by measuring productivity so you have hard stats to back up a remote working policy. Numbers speak for themselves, rather than relying on staff feedback.
Make time in the office count
Think about which activities will add value to time spent in the office, whether that is a dedicated group brainstorm sessions or diarised catch-ups with management. If employees feel positive after a day in the office, they are more likely to remain engaged while working from home. Travelling so much on a daily basis, I really try to make my time in the office as worthwhile as possible, both for myself and for my team.
Have difficult conversations in person
Sometimes a face to face conversation is the best option. Make sure that all managers in your organisation understand the importance of managing their team members in person as well as remotely.
Steve Haworth is CEO of TeleWare.
Further reading on flexible working
Ollie Chivers, head of business marketing at T-Mobile, runs through the basics of appropriate technology to equip your workforce to work remotely.
The right technology
Assessing the needs of the remote user will help you to decide which devices they require. If their off-site duties are mainly email related they may be best suited to a PDA or smartphone. Those working with Word, PowerPoint or Excel would benefit from using a USB Modem, which they can attach to their laptop.
Also, network speeds can differ across the country so consider the geographical location of your staff and the network coverage in the areas they visit most regularly. A ‘try before you buy’ trial can ensure that you invest in the right technology for your location.
Keep in touch
You will need to stay in regular contact with your remote workers. This can be achieved by using multiple communication channels – such as mobile, landline, email, videoconferencing and instant messaging – so staff always have a point of access that suits their work practices, a sense of inclusion and team cohesion.
To avoid ‘bill shock’, find a network operator offering a business tariff which combines voice, texts, data and international calls. This will lead to greater savings, increased transparency with bills and more control over spending.
Establishing a mobile workforce is not without its challenges. Moving sensitive company information into public environments could put your company at risk. To mitigate this concern it is essential to secure your networks.