More and more people are working remotely. There have always been self-employed workers at home, people running businesses out of their homes, and freelance workers such as writers and designers who work remotely.
However, in recent years, more and more businesses are allowing at least some of their employees to work at home as part of their regular jobs.
Of these, most are also at the business location at least once or twice a week. Fewer people work remotely full-time, with little or no physical contact with an office environment.
There are indications that, at least for some businesses, employees who work remotely are more productive and loyal.
These results aren’t consistent across all employers and all industries, however.
Is letting your employees work at home right for your business? Here are four things to consider about remote workers.
Benefits of Remote Employees
A recent two-year study by a Stanford University professor in China showed a profound increase in productivity by remote workers. In that case, during part of the study, remote workers were producing an extra day’s work during a week than their office-bound colleagues.
Because the study was in China, cultural differences may mean these results don’t apply in the west. Another consideration is that these were call center employees, so the skills and job duties might not be transferable to your business needs.
This leads to the first thing you should consider before sending your employees home to work.
Is the Job Suited to Remote Work?
As noted, the workers in this study were call center employees. The nature of their jobs was well-suited to working from home.
For workers that require access to office equipment, special rooms, or who need to meet face-to-face with customers, working from home may not be practical.
Technical workers like IT professionals that need to access physical network equipment or trades craftsmen are other examples, though they possibly could be dispatched from home to the worksite.
Graphics designers, writers, programmers, process auditors, accountants, and the like are all positions that could work well as remote positions, especially in part-time mode. Team meetings and face-to-face meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page might still be necessary.
Issuing or receiving materials, employee evaluation meetings, and other tasks relevant to the job itself apart from the work performed would likely require at least a day or two a week at the business location.
If the job requires significant access to job site assets or requires face time with customers, it’s probably not a good position for remote work.
By and large, most of the job responsibility would fall on the employee, requiring only occasional checks on progress or communicating changes and that type of engagement.
This brings up the second thing you need to consider before allowing your employees to work remotely.
Is the Employee Suited to Remote Work?
Some people aren’t suited to working from home. Some prominent characteristics should be considered, such as the worker’s dependability, self-discipline, organization skills, and level of initiative. Beyond that, however, are some personality traits that you should take into account.
One of the most common problems mentioned by remote workers is a feeling of isolation or loneliness. Without the busy hum of the office and other workers to engage in a quick laugh or chat with at lunch, some people begin to feel isolated or even depressed.
This would be bad for productivity and company loyalty and detrimental to the well-being of your worker.
This challenge doesn’t automatically preclude someone from working at home, because a couple of check-ins at the office per week can give the worker that feeling of community.
It’s good to monitor someone’s attitude and ask them how they’re coping. Part of this is ensuring your workers can effectively communicate, which should be your third consideration.
Communication Makes the Difference
There are a number of the issues covered above that can be addressed online through communication and collaboration. Technology solutions, like video conferencing, email, and instant messaging, help to alleviate many of these challenges.
Some of the biggest obstacles to remote work involve security concerns from exposing the network to outside connections.
Other obstacles are team cooperation, checking off steps in processes, and the exchange of ideas in brainstorming, strategy, or design sessions.
The best way to address these concerns is to use cloud software for business management. This approach lets team members collaborate in real-time, with everyone working together on the same document.
Once a plan is in progress, team members can access the latest version of the project files and update the portfolio with their work. The result of this approach is less delay between updates from individual team members and instant availability to the latest progress.
Also, team members can monitor and chat with each other, interacting in ways that speed progress and let them check each other’s well-being.
The majority of the database, customer relations, accounting, inventory, and office software is made to run on the cloud these days. You can likely use the same applications you’re already using, and your business won’t have to change much to adapt to supporting remote workers.
Another step you can take is to help team members avoid local issues on their hardware and operating systems. Depending on your policy, you may decide to distribute company-owned PCs or have employees work on their own equipment.
In that case, it’s necessary to ensure that their PCs are up to the task, so there are no delays if someone’s computer crashes in the middle of the project.
Make your employees aware of the importance of regular maintenance, such as updating their software, conducting health and antivirus checks, or detecting why it’s slowing down, all of which might affect their productivity.
Also, if your remote employees work in places with poor Internet of phone coverage, address those issues on time to prevent hiccups in communication and operations.
Brave New World
Your fourth consideration, security concerns, are addressed automatically by cloud software, which resides on servers in a dedicated facility operated by highly-trained specialists.
Your company can take care of business and let dedicated professionals handle network support, help desk, and security issues.
With recent concerns over terrorism, infectious diseases like COVID-19, hackers, and environmental or safety concerns about commuting, remote working may hold relevant answers to current societal issues. There are a lot of trends leading towards remote work as a solution.
Is This For You?
Don’t jump in without thinking over the needs of your business and the well-being of your workers.
However, with a little forethought and the use of modern technology solutions like video conferencing and cloud network storage, your company might be financing its future growth by leasing a smaller office instead of more space.
Heather Redding is a part-time assistant manager, solopreneur and writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She is also an avid reader and a tech enthusiast. When Heather is not working or writing, she enjoys her Kindle library and a hot coffee. Reach out to her on Twitter.