Three tips for improving the remote work experience for corporate employees.
The number of companies with partial or entire workforces working remotely is increasing steadily, with some predicting that, by 2020, 50 percent of employees will work from a location other than their organization’s office. This growth in remote work can be tied to a variety of factors ranging from rapidly evolving technology to shifting managerial mindset.
This flexibility is an incentive for both employers and employees. It decreases real estate cost and increases employee productivity, health, and well-being. Organizations who offer remote work options are able to attract workers outside of their primary market and retain employees who must move to support a spouse’s career, care for aging parents, or any other number of reasons. They also appeal to a large population of employees simply seeking a good work/life balance and greater flexibility and autonomy. For many employees, work/life balance is a chief concern — more so even than money.
While the adoption of a remote work proves beneficial for many organizations, experience has shown us that not all telework, telecommuting, or remote work policies are created equal. Through helping dozens of clients create, refine, or implement such programs, we have honed best practices and established guidelines to help organizations create and maintain policies that benefit both the employer and employees.
The workplace is in the midst of a cultural shift. While telework has historically been seen as a perk typically reserved for an organization’s most senior positions or highest performers, companies are expanding this trend and the pool of potential participants by basing eligibility on the nature of a person’s work rather than their seniority. Organizations are allowing, encouraging and, in some cases, mandating telework, particularly in industries such as sales or management consulting, where the nature of business necessitates employee absence from the office.
While job function has slowly become the primary (and logical) driver in determining telework eligibility, management style also carries significant weight in deciding whether certain groups may or may not work outside the office. When analyzing our clients’ employee surveys, we regularly find a significant number of respondents who report being ineligible for telework, but feel that their productivity would increase if given the opportunity to work outside the office at least one day per week. In these cases, we help our clients dig deeper into the data to understand the reason for this conflict, consider whether those roles might be candidates for offsite work and, if necessary, update their eligibility requirements accordingly.
Provisioning of tools and technology
Technology is the primary enabler of remote work. Therefore, adequate technology provisioning has the ability to make or break the success of a telework program. A teleworker must have access to a certain set of essential tools in order to support continued productivity outside the office. These tools typically include a computer, telephone, reliable high-speed internet, reliable access to the organization’s network and business tools, and an ergonomic work setting. Some organizations go as far as drafting detailed requirements for at-home work environment setups, in some cases stipulating that an alternative setting meet nearly identical criteria as the commercial office to ensure adequate health and wellness. Such guidelines might include requirements surrounding workspace size, air temperature, and accessibility of first aid materials.
With the exception of a company-owned computer and, in some cases, a company-owned mobile phone, the costs associated with creation of a high-quality offsite work environment often fall to the employee. These provisions are often based on telework schedule, where full-time remote and home-based employees may receive funds to equip their workspace with required technology and ergonomic furniture. Where financially feasible, we encourage our clients to consider reimbursement for approved purchases of additional technology or tools such as monitors, docking stations, or high-speed internet, all of which have the potential to increase employee productivity and satisfaction.
Developing a schedule and making the most of face time
When planning for remote work, we partner with our clients’ leadership and HR teams to identify the type of remote work model most appropriate for their business needs. Will eligible employees work remotely full-time or part-time? Will remote work be regularly scheduled or ad hoc? How many days per week or per month must an employee be in the office? What metrics will management use to ensure performance goals are being met?
While the answers to these questions depend on the organization, a critical component of any telework policy is a set of agreed-upon communication procedures to ensure regular contact between employees, teams, and managers. Consistent communication is central to the success of a remote work program, regardless of whether this communication takes the form of formal, scheduled meetings, or casual impromptu correspondence.
We advise our clients to institute check-ins with their remote workforce regularly via phone, via video chat, or in person. Some organizations identify one day per week on which employees may not schedule telework, ensuring a period during which entire teams will be in the office at the same time. In addition to creating opportunities for formal meetings, our clients recognize the importance of informal communication through their use of messaging programs such as Skype for Business, Slack, Gchat and, of course, email. Not only are these communication tools important for relaying information quickly and efficiently, but they also help maintain a sense of community and camaraderie among colleagues in different locations.
Regardless of the specific policies or provisions that an organization includes in their telework program, the most important factor is that the terms are formalized, agreed upon, and periodically revisited. By instituting these steps, employees and managers will clearly understand each other’s expectations and ensure consistent performance and productivity whether in or out of the office.