In today’s technology-driven ecosystem, businesses face new and emerging challenges and opportunities, with many organizations making the move to a “remote workforce”. From decreased overhead to accessing a global talent pool, and mitigating the current risks of COVID, the benefits are many.
Yet, helping employees embrace and leverage this opportunity can be a challenge all of its own. Luckily, we have the technology to make this transition not only smooth but successful.
This guide will dive into how technology can be utilized to help employees, teams, departments, and entire organizations embrace remote working with stride.
But before we dive in, let’s take a look at how we got here.
From the Exception to the Norm, How Remote Work Took Over
A Traditional Role with a Yearning for Flexibility
Fifty years ago, in 1970, my father was hired by a small, outdoor retail company to be its first sales rep east of the Mississippi. Armed with his DayTimer and legal pad sheets of telephone numbers, my father set to work and was a member of a team that helped turn The North Face into a multi-million dollar company in what would become a multi-billion dollar sales industry.
What I could perceive as a child was that his job consisted of being away for weeks at a time, opening huge boxes of samples, and talking endlessly on the phone to his clients and the order-takers and bosses at the office in Berkeley, CA. A decade or so later, after being on the road for week-long stretches, he would receive and submit orders for products to the main office via a fax machine. I remember hearing the hiss and dinging of repeated calls and connections.
I asked my father once why he didn’t go to an office like the fathers of most of my school friends. He told me that he wanted to be able to set his own hours and outside of the semi-annual sales meetings, he could do just that. He also pointed out that he was home more than a 40 hour a week worker was.
A Gradual Transition Evolving with Technology
Over the next several decades, just as styles of outerwear, gear, and clothing would change, so too would the technology needed for doing business. Although my father would never stop using his paper Day-Timer, he had to adapt to using new technology, like the computer, to carry out everything from correspondence, to order entry, to running reports. Fortunately, the company provided its sales reps with adequate training to use the new computers and software.
This new technology also opened up opportunities to work, collaborate, and communicate remotely with ease. From conducting virtual client meetings to attending a digital company conference, the possibilities were endless.
Over time forward-thinking companies began to adopt “work from home” policies and remote positions that have since grown tremendously in popularity. In fact, one Gallup Survey showed that as far back as 2017, 43% of the US workforce already worked from their homes on a part-time or full-time basis.
With the emergence of COVID-19 and the widespread global pandemic, businesses around the world have had to rethink how they operate, taking this time to evaluate a move to an “all remote” workforce.
Today’s remote employee works within an environment of complex, often global connections and uses technologically advanced equipment, software, and apps to carry out a myriad of functions, tasks, and processes.
Helping these remote workers adjust, adapt, and thrive in this new role is critical to the success of the organization and its employees.
Remote Staff: Only as good as the tools and resources provided
We know freedom has a price. To a great extent, the worker is only as good as the support given by the employer. And the support given by the employer is only as good as the infrastructure supplied by the company necessary for it to do business.
Safety, Security, and Productivity
Many employees working remotely have concerns about invasion of privacy, the security of their computer and network, and making a clear and separate distinction from “work and family life”.
There are several things employers can do or implement to help alleviate these concerns, while also protecting their own interests and helping their workforce focus while engaged in business activities.
A VPN is a “virtual private network” that establishes a secure and encrypted connection between the employee (working from home) and business systems. This not only keeps information secure, but it also provides a sense of safety and security for the employee.
When possible, providing a dedicated laptop, Chromebook, or PC for work at home can be a big incentive for employees to adapt to their new at-home role. Having a separate computer means fewer distractions (such as social media, games, personal programs, and more). It also helps your workforce to find a good work/life balance. If really in a tight-budget due to the pandemic, making the best out of an old gadget would really be helpful. You can sell or recycle your iPad, laptop or some other gadget – and buy a better version. Employee’s productivity is also affected by the quality of working equipment that they are using.
Remote Employee Management Software
These programs are akin to “punching in” at work but online. They can help employees adapt to time management, prioritizing daily routines, optimizing workflows, and more. They keep employees and employees honest and accountable, as well as providing data and insights on how to better optimize time spent “at work” when conducting business remotely.
Collaboration and Teambuilding
Teamwork and collaboration are critically important elements of any successful business. Yet, remote work can pose certain challenges not faced in a physical environment where the staff is all in the same office building.
When correctly implemented, technology can help overcome these challenges. Consider facilitating and opening up dialog and communications by establishing dedicated mediums and channels for departmental and interdepartmental communication.
Project Management and Communication Systems
Modern project management tools, for example, provide remote workforces with the power to take charge, embrace collaborative initiatives, assume ownership of performance, and stay productive. They help remote employees feel like part of the bigger picture and connected to how their role impacts the overall objectives.
- Project management systems
- Chat systems
- Video conferencing software
- Company social network
- And more…
Building Trust and Making Connections
Comradery goes a long way in business. Yet working from home can be an isolating experience devoid of human interaction. This “disconnect” from the people behind the other screen can lead to miscommunication, misunderstandings, a lower willingness to take feedback positively, and more.
Consider establishing not just formal but informal communication channels such as:
- Digital coffee breaks
- Regular “networking” or “get to know your team” digital events
- Departmental or interdepartmental activities or game times
- An internal social network
- Non-work chat and messaging channels
- And more…
Invest in Technology to Help Employees Grow and Improve
Remote staff, perhaps even more so than those on-site, need continual engagement and training to remain sharp, hone their skill sets, adapt to evolving challenges, and exceed performance expectations.
Investing in training and development is key to long term success and growth, while also demonstrating to your remote staff that you appreciate them and want to see them grow in their roles to achieve their personal goals as well.
Examples of Technology you Can Leverage:
- Remote employee training programs
- Learning Management Systems
Final Thoughts on Leveraging Technology While Moving to a Remote Workforce
Once an exception to the rule, remote work options have now become the norm, with an increasing number of applicants in the workforce actively seeking out employment from those organizations that offer work from home positions.
The emergence of COVID-19 has further pushed this trend into the mainstream, with many companies having publicly announced they plan on continuing their “work from home” programs post-pandemic.
Embracing a remote workforce has a multitude of benefits and can greatly impact a businesses’ ability to attract talent, reduce overhead, and optimize productivity. But it is not without its challenges.
Leaders within these organizations must ensure remote employees have the support and technology they need to feel engaged and valued, as well as that needed to easily collaborate and work on projects remotely.
Author: Stewart McGrenary, Managing Director of iPad-Recycle.co.uk, specialising in recycling and retail of refurbished iPads, MacBooks, iPhones and other tech devices.