Historically, the idea of working remotely was a rarity. Everyone was expected to be ‘in the office’ and at their desks. But today, a remote workforce is becoming commonplace. Many years ago, our firm had an account manager get married and relocate to Chicago. She was such a great asset and had demonstrated her value and work ethic so completely while in our office, it was a no-brainer to accommodate a remote-worker scenario. Since then, the technology has changed almost as dramatically as the acceptability of this approach.
Marissa Mayer, formerly of Yahoo, famously banned remote work scenarios in 2014. Mayer’s February 2013 memo argued that in order to “become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.” She went on to say, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
When you mention remote worker, there is a tendency to think ‘sit-at-home-in-your-pajamas-and-act-like-you-are-working’ but there are some VERY good business reasons to explore this arrangement.
In fact, one of our customers employs remote workers across the country almost exclusively because of the specialized nature of their work and the skills required of their workforce – this gives them the distinct advantage of tapping into a national workforce. While in other cases, many customers use a remote worker scenario to branch into new geographic territory without the expense and commitment associated with a traditional brick-and-mortar office.
Just look at the recent data collected by the State of Remote Work:
- 52 percent of employees work remotely at least once per week.
- Companies structured to support remote employees – whether that’s part-time, full-time or on an as-needed basis – have a 25 percent lower turnover rate compared to those who don’t.
- Remote employees say remaining informed and in the loop is the biggest challenge of operating remotely.
The popularity of a remote workforce is on the rise, and with the speed of today’s internet and the array of powerful workplace apps being developed, it makes it easy for almost any desk job to be a desk-from-home job. But if you plan to hire remote employees or offer remote flexibility to your current staff, you must think it through carefully. The basic requirements (stable internet connections, firewalls/vpns, access to the company server or cloud infrastructure) are fairly ‘easy’ to check off. But getting those systems in place is only one step in the process.
Three important areas that need to be carefully consider in a work-from-home/remote-worker scenario are;
- Communication – keeping remote workers ‘in the loop’ on important company initiatives.
- Security – allowing remote (anytime) connections needs to be carefully planned.
- Employment Law – employing workers across State lines comes with its own set of headaches.
Let’s tackle the communication issue first; Employers know communication is a vital role in company health (ala Mayer’s Memo), but this critical component can easily be overlooked when employees are no longer walking the company halls. What happens to employee communication when there are no longer break-room chats, in-person meetings or opportunities to drop by the office to say hello? Communication with remote employees must be purposeful, and it can’t just be done through emails and phone calls. Don’t let physical distance be a barrier for strong employee communication.
Here are some apps to get you started:
- Altus: Many of our customers are using Altus and have shared positive feedback on the app itself. This is actually a VOIP phone service with a hosted PBX (no phone ‘system’ to buy) that integrates real desk phones, mobile apps, desktop apps and an awesome communication platform to rival Slack (and superior in many ways). Altus gives a single solution to communication needs – both old school and new – which should accommodate even the most diverse company.
- HipChat (now Stride): This app has easily become our favorite and preferred platform. Whether you need group chats, direct messaging, conference call capabilities or collaboration tools, Stride offers companies everything from one, singular platform. This platforms give you what you’d would expect but at a reasonable price. And they’ve also got features that may surprise you, one being the ability to create and assign tasks directly from your messaging conversations.
- Slack: We’d lose all our credibility if we put our apps list together and forgot to mention Slack. You may think of Slack as a messaging and chat platform but it’s so much more than that; it’s a perfect resource to help employees share information, stay organized and prioritize workload. Oh, and it also cuts down on the volume of emails coming through. That’s something we can all be grateful for. But some training needs to be done to ensure proper channels are being used based on priorities; we don’t want to see Slack become the next “Outlook new email popup,” distracting people into a purely reactionary mode. Also, while Slack gets a lot of attention as THE chat/messaging platform, its free versions lack many business necessities such as, retention policies, groups, adequate file storage and support. Be sure you carefully consider which version meets your needs best.
- Skype: Walk by an employee’s empty office and you automatically know they aren’t available. They’ve either stepped away, are in a meeting or have gone out for lunch. But remote employees are different. There’s no easy visual with remote employees on when they leave, when they are on a call or when they are available. That’s where Skype helps. It’s the most preferred tool to message employees, participate in group chats and know the availability and status of your workforce. Skype for Business can be bundled with Office365 which makes it a fairly natural extension for many businesses.
- Trello: Another project management tool, Trello is great for staying organized and working more collaboratively. Probably the favorite feature of this app is its user-friendly dashboard and prioritization functionality. Another great option for a remote workforce, but as with Slack – be warry of the ‘free’ version as it normally doesn’t offer all the capabilities a business needs.
Find the tools that work best for your team and put them into practice. There’s no time to waste when it comes to maintaining an informed and engaged workforce.