Once upon a time, remote work was something only tech startups considered to be an option for staff members scattered across the globe. Then a pandemic struck, forcing businesses everywhere to reconsider the possibility that allowing employees to work from home might be the only way to keep the company from failing.
According to a TechRepublic survey, 61% of businesses have gone out of their way to make remote work possible for most employees. That's not a blip on the radar. Given that an overwhelming majority of respondents (61%) would rather work from home than in an office, it's safe to say the remote work option is here to stay.
For employees, it's a change in routine and locale, but for businesses, it's much more than that -- every company has far more to consider. Let's dive into five considerations that your company must understand for a smooth and productive work-from-home experience.
Remote office tools
No matter where your employees work, they need the right tools. When those employees are working in the office, you provide them with everything necessary to get the job done: Computers, printers, mobile devices, desks, chairs, network devices, software, white boards, and more. If you believe employees working from home should be on their own for equipment, you're doing remote work wrong. If you're not willing to directly pay for the tools your employees need, you should at least consider allowing them to expense those costs. But all purchases must be approved -- otherwise, you'll wind up with employees buying extravagant chairs and laptops.
According to our survey, 56% of respondents said that their company had done a poor job of supplying the necessary hardware (computers, printers, and so on) and 52% of respondents said their company had done a poor job supplying them with the necessary office equipment (desks, chairs, etc.) to work remotely. Unless this improves, staff will either be incapable of doing their jobs with any level of productivity (at best) or they'll burn out and quit (at worst).
At a bare minimum, your company should supply remote workers with:
- A computer or laptop for work only
- A printer (if needed)
- All software necessary to do their jobs
- A VPN (if security is a concern)
Burnout is a serious issue with employees who are not accustomed to working from home. Why does this happen? The biggest reason is the inability to separate work from home. When this happens, the lines blur so much that employees can begin to feel as though they're working 24/7/365. On top of that, people no longer get a much-needed break from family life. That one-two punch makes burnout happen faster and on a more profound level.
How do you manage this? The most important thing you can do is keep the lines of communication open. You'll need to have someone (or multiple people) on hand to talk to staff in order to help them through these periods.
You'll need to educate your staff to:
- Create a routine such as scheduled work times that clearly define 'work time' and 'home time'.
- Set boundaries like, "When the office door is closed, I'm at work."
- Communicate with family -- make sure your employees are doing a good job of communicating with their loved ones.
- Practice self-care. Your employees will need, on some level, to learn how to take care of themselves to avoid stress.
- Understand priorities so your staff always know what work takes priority and what work can be put off.
According to our survey, 78% of respondents indicated they were working from home five days a week. If those staff members don't work smart, they'll suffer burnout fast. Feeling like you're 'in the office' day in and day out can be exhausting. To that end, you'll need to consider allowing staff to work a flexible schedule.
Managing a flexible schedule
This one is a challenge for most businesses because nearly every company works on the assumption that business hours are universal. There's a reason why Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" resonates so well with a majority of the population around the world.
However, with remote workers, the idea of a set work schedule needs to be thrown out the door. You must remember that people are working at home, which can throw a major wrench in the works. What am I talking about?
- Tending to children who aren't in school
- The possibility of burnout
- Family responsibilities
- Less reliable networks
- Equipment failure
The single most important thing to consider is that your employees do prefer to work from home, and can be even more productive working in that comfortable environment. But that improved productivity might come with a price for your company in the form of allowing for flexible schedules.
Remember: As long as work is getting done in a timely fashion, it shouldn't matter when it's getting done.
Security is key
One thing your business must consider is security, and how to help your remote workers do their jobs without compromising company data. This might mean you'll need to purchase enterprise-class VPN services for those who must transmit sensitive data from their home networks. Those employees who deal with very sensitive data might also need to be trained on how to use encryption.
Another issue that must be addressed is passwords. You probably have password policies in place for office-based staff, but you can't enforce those policies on their home networks, which means you'll need to train your remote workers to change all network passwords (such as those for wireless routers) to be strong and unique. Even if you also have to get those employees up to speed on using a password manager (which they should anyway), this cannot be stressed enough.
SEE: How to manage passwords: Best practices and security tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
KPIs to monitor
You need to know which Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to monitor, and I suggest these KPIs as a good starting point.
- Self-discipline: An employee's ability to work independently.
- Effective communication: An employee's ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with teams and clients.
- Learning skills: An employee's ability to not just follow a known instruction set, but also to learn new things efficiently.
- Remote vs. local tasks: Are there tasks that can or cannot be performed remotely? You must know the difference.
- Accountability: Employees must learn to hold themselves accountable to get their tasks done with less supervision.
- Self-discipline: Employees must be capable of staying on-task with less supervision.
- Collaboration: Employees must be capable of working with other teammates efficiently via video/audio chat and email.
- Availability: Managers must be available to discuss work-related matters during business hours. Although employees might work a flexible schedule, they must also be available during business hours.
Your company's transition from a standard work environment to a full remote or hybrid (remote and in-house) environment doesn't have to be a challenge. Given that nearly every business across the globe has been practically forced into this new world order, the hard part is already taken care of. With just a bit of extra planning and work, you can make this new reality not only seamless but even more productive.
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