Remote working has been around since communications have been available to the roaming and remote worker, in general terms. It’s been pushed and pulled by small, medium and large sized enterprises. It’s been claimed as the future of working and also criticised as the destroyer of efficiency and culture. So, what does a firm have to consider before saying yes or no to remote working?
Some people work best in a team or around other people, some work better alone, and some work best in a mix. Those who work best in a mix are typically those who have a mix of work, i.e. when planning or managing projects they are better thinking alone. However when working on delivery, actually working in the team (which many do) they are best being in the office as this supports their planning, management and their delivery. These characters will often need some flexibility and giving them the option of flexible and remote working could certainly deliver positive results for your business.
Most employees exist on this spectrum or as an outliner requiring either space to think or a strong social environment to nurture and drive them on. Ensure that all these personality types in whatever environment you choose is vitally important. This will save you both money and HR headaches.
The general communications from an IT systems perspective should not be an issue, nor should the general communication systems, i.e. telephone, instant messaging, etc. The issue comes more on the personal level, i.e. meetings, team chat, etc. There are a plethora of solutions to enhance these areas, but they take consideration and planning. If you don’t have face to face communication within a team then you can miss out due to missing visual clues, which lead to unnecessary issues.
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You will find on a simple level, take a key employee into a different room in a key meeting and let them communicate via email and telephone platforms without the face-to-face things fall apart, or at least they are not as effective as if they were in the room. You need to really think about how these issues will impact productivity and team-working. Again, it varies person to person, role to role, business to business. Getting the environment right is critical.
Face to face video conferencing is the next best medium for communications. Now it’s pretty straight forward to chat face-to-face (virtually) and to collaborate via screen and application sharing through systems such as Microsoft Lync. You do obviously miss some of the dynamics, but there are some virtual presence (telepresence) systems at the top end of the market provided by companies such as Polycom and Tandberg which are impressive. Obviously the price points vary hugely, so mapping technologies to their correct applications is crucial.
Managing and operating in a remote working environment can be like herding cats at times. You can just feel disconnected and frustrated, you can’t just grab everyone needed and stroll into a meeting room, grab a working lunch, etc. Calendars become king and can also become full of noise if you are not careful. You can get people disconnecting, rather than connecting as you don’t get some of the natural corrections that occur between a team located in the same office.
Many firms bring their people together regularly or at least once a year to ensure that bonds are built and teams aligned. With the best will in the world you can’t get the best teams without them ever touching-the-flesh. Sure, you can build trust from a capability perspective without meeting physically, but the bonding and softer side of relationships, the part that will give a team an edge needs that investment.
>Related: Developing a culture to survive and grow
Outside of the get-together it’s possible to enhance the culture by creating virtual collaboration and social environments. Many businesses are using Yammer to fulfil this requirement, along with much more. In essence it’s a social network for businesses, a private one. You can also get SharePoint to do a lot around this area but it takes a little more work. You can have employees post in forums, chat, upload photos, just as they do with their friends on systems like Facebook, except it’s all focused around the working environment and teams. These tools really do enhance and develop a culture, not just for the remote working teams.
Striking a balance
If you really think and plan your remote working strategy and operations it can work just as well, or arguably better than an ‘everyone in the office’ scenario. However, it really does need the thought, beyond simply implementing technology for remote access. As you can see there are so many factors to consider, not giving them due time will give you little or no gain, perhaps even causing your firm damage. If you do it right you will certainly grow a better business with happier employees, whilst increasing productivity and reducing costs. The potentials are too big to ignore, and we are operating in a new age. Technologies and people have advanced beyond recognition from the days of dialling in to pick up email, or even using the trusty (slow) VPN.
You probably already have remote working in some sense. Is it really delivering to its full potential? Could it be more effective? Could it improve your culture?