Forward-thinking employers are embracing remote working in order to attract and retain the talent they need, reduce the costs of physical office space and provide a more flexible offering to customers – for example by extending opening hours.
Remote working is also increasingly seen as a way to reduce a business’s environmental impact. Research by job site Monster.co.uk predicts that it could drastically cut CO2 emissions and reduce the number of cars congesting city streets.1
The benefits for employees are equally compelling and include; reduced travel time and expenses, the flexibility to work around childcare responsibilities and reduced stress. Supported by the development of technology that enables office workers to do their jobs from anywhere, data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reveals that around 13.4% (4.33 million people) of the UK’s 32.4 million workers currently work from home.2
And the trend is positively upwards with half the UK workforce expected to be working remotely by 2020.3
There are, however, several pitfalls to negotiate especially when employees aren’t originally employed as remote workers but move to work from home over time. As a provider of digital transformation services that enable businesses to offer employees more flexible working arrangements, we’ve seen first-hand the issues that most commonly trip businesses up.
Here are some of them – as well as some ideas about how to avoid and overcome them:
Challenge 1: Managing remote workers
Don’t assume that employees you can see work harder than those you can’t – in fact the remote working environment, free from the distractions of a busy office, can be much more productive.
However, out of sight most definitely shouldn’t mean out of mind. It’s really important to maintain good systems of communication to ensure remote workers remain engaged, productive and work in a way that’s consistent with their office based colleagues.
Tip: agreeing remote working depends on trusting employees with a degree of self-management but make it clear what you expect of them and give freedom within clear boundaries.
Tip: the key to managing remote working hinges on planning human interactions. Aim for a balance between regular one-to-ones at a distance (ideally using video conferencing so you can see each other) as well as appropriately frequent on-site visits.
Tip: a dedicated remote working area on your company intranet can be a great way to build a remote working community and can help identify and address any problems remote workers are experiencing.
Challenge 2: Providing the right the tools for the job
The main frustration remote workers face is that of not being able to do their job because of poor or sluggish technology.
Tip: In terms of their ability to communicate with colleagues and customers, assess how many homeworkers you have (and are likely to have) and what their range of needs are before settling on a unified communication (UC) technology service that provides the appropriate combination of instant messaging, voice, audio and video services.
Tip: invest in secure technology that enables access to all the information the employee needs to do their job to ensure maximum productivity.
Challenge 3: Maintaining a consistent customer experience
There is a risk that employees working remotely may adopt different working practices to those they would follow sat in an office. The lack of centralised control and quality management could in turn impact on the experience customers have with your business.
Document accuracy is an especially important area because it impacts on your brand’s reputation, customer service resources, data security and even cashflow. See our article Counting the cost of inaccurate documents.
Tip: document automation allows organisations to regain control of the quality and accuracy of documents produced by homeworkers, enabling them to process time-critical and highly complex documents automatically at speed.
Challenge 4: Protect the health and safety of employees
Although a remote working employee is not under your direct control, while they are working you remain responsible for their health and safety. Like any employee you must therefore assess the health and safety risks in their working environment. According to IOSH, the main issues to consider are:4
Tip: consider training staff to do their own working environment assessments using online tools to support the process.
Tip: check contracts of employment reflect physical working arrangements and if you don’t already have one, devise a company-wide remote working policy that outlines how to manage the risks it poses, details acceptable working arrangements and outlines what employees should do if a problem arises.
Tip: tell your Employers’ Liability insurers how many of your staff work from home and advise employees to notify their household insurers too.
Remote working is revolutionising how we live and work. Understanding its impact across your business operations will enable you benefit from flexibility, efficiency and productivity. But maximising its potential will require the appropriate technology and automation tools to improve your document production process.