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Remote work has surged in popularity over the past several years. With younger generations seeking greater work/life balance, corporate budgets becoming leaner and attitudes evolving about the importance of traditional 9-to-5 working hours, more businesses are embracing the telecommuting trend. In fact, a recent study found that 70 percent of professionals across the globe work remotely at least one day a week, and 53 percent work remotely for at least half of the week.
Thanks to Cloud-based services, mobile technology and the rise of shared co-working spaces, remote work can be relatively easy to implement. However, the very same factors that make working remotely so appealing (i.e. greater freedom and flexibility) can also lead to problems, like a decline in employee engagement and empowerment. Furthermore, remote work and the inevitable, accompanying instances of bring your own device (BYOD) policies and Shadow IT can introduce serious cybersecurity risks.
To embrace remote work in your organization without causing harm to your employees or your critical business data, consider the following three best practices:
- Communicate Regularly
With remote employees and/or teams, establishing structured forms of communication is crucial, especially if employees are working in different time zones. For instance, Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), a global organization with employees located in 16 different countries, uses Slack, Skype and GoToMeeting across its team. It leverages video for group meetings, as the company finds allowing employees to use and view body language is particularly helpful when working with a diverse team with so many cultural differences.
Implementing daily standups or weekly check-in sessions can also work well to prevent misunderstandings and conflicting priorities, however to avoid overwhelming employees, make sure you always have an agenda ready and that a follow-up note is sent that includes a summary of decisions, actions items and open to-dos. Also, keep in mind that while there are many applications and tactics for communicating with remote employees, in-person meetings are still important for establishing trust across teams. Invest in the necessary travel costs to ensure all employees can participate in a face-to-face events, both team planning and company-wide events. At the very least, establish a yearly cadence, but strive for quarterly or bi-monthly.
- Empower – Don’t Micromanage
Close proximity to a manager or colleague doesn’t necessarily guarantee productivity. Remote work, however, has the potential to actually boost productivity by eliminating in-office distractions like water cooler gossip and providing employees the ability to get more sleep, spend more time with their loved ones or exercise any time of day. In fact, according to a survey by Dell, 52 percent of employees who work remotely believe they are more productive than when they’re in an office.
That said, it can be difficult for managers to cope with the loss of daily, in-person communications. As a result, some react by micromanaging their remote employees and insisting on constant check-ins, which decreases productivity and breeds frustration on both sides. If a company has hired trustworthy, hardworking employees, managers need to focus on the results of their remote workers, rather than on the frequency of their updates. Establishing consistent, structured 1:1 meetings with employees is a great way to review the results of their work, listen to any concerns or needs they have, and provide situational feedback.
- Invest in Back-end Technologies
Cloud-based applications are essential for ensuring a seamless work stream for remote employees, so consider migrating some or all of your on-premises applications to Cloud services to optimize the flexibility of your business. You can also take advantage of services like G Suite or Microsoft Office 365 so that team members can create, edit, organize, and share documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more, no matter their location or device. After migrating to these services, don’t forget about data protection to secure all data being generated outside of your office’s (physical) walls. With increased flexibility and collaboration, the risk of data loss increases, so prepare to recover in the likely event that a data loss occurs.
For instance, G Suite is home to all of ATTA’s files, as it makes it easy for both field and operations employees to access whatever they need whenever they need it. Training, encouragement and examples of G Suite’s values helped escalate adoption across the organization, and today it has nearly 110,000 files stored on Google Drive, with about 85 percent of new files created using Google Docs, Sheets or Presentations. Being able to edit a document in real-time during a conference call — with multiple employees editing different parts of the document during the call – is just one example of how streamlining its back-end technology has enabled ATTA to effectively grow a truly global team.
The number of remote employees in the U.S. has grown 115 percent since 2005, a growth rate nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce. To participate in the undeniable trend of telecommuting and reap its efficiency benefits, establish clear channels and processes for communication. Instill trust in your remote employees and aid their productivity by empowering them. Lastly, carefully evaluate your back-end infrastructure to ensure it can support a distributed workforce. Look to the cloud for accessibility and scalability, and take advantage of backup services to guarantee the security of your critical business data.