Updated: Jan 3
Remote working is on the rise. Statistics from the ONS back in 2014 already suggested that 3.9% of employees worked from home, whilst a 2016 study by Vodafone revealed that three quarters of worldwide companies had adopted at least some flexible working options.
And little wonder. Leaps and bounds in digital technology – both hardware and software – mean that it has never been easier for staff across a wide array of industries to carry out their duties away from the office. A flexible approach to where (as well as when) staff can complete their work can improve morale, employee loyalty and even productivity. It can position organisations as truly flexible and staff-centric employers, thereby enabling them to attract and retain the best talent. And it can enable them to choose from broader talent pools as well, since staff no longer have to live within easy reach of the office.
So what’s not to like?
Out of sight, out of mind?
The challenge for organisations lies in harnessing all these benefits without sacrificing the benefits that come with having staff onsite. Office-based employees, for example, may find it easier to communicate within and between working groups, generating new ideas and innovations. They may be more likely to capture and share information, and to work collaboratively. They may be easier to monitor and appraise.
Additionally, it is easier to develop a shared, communicative working culture when those workers are often in the same place. Remote working is – well – remote. There is always a danger of those workers ending up feeling – or being treated – as remote too.
Engagement through technology
It is vitally important, then, for organisations introducing remote working practices to build and maintain strong lines of engagement with those remote workers.
What does engagement mean? At least two things.
First, engagement means open lines of communication. Ideally, remote workers need to be able to communicate with their managers and peers in the office as easily as if they were at a desk in the next room – and these lines of communication need to be used. It is not enough for line managers to simply check in with an email once in a while; they should be fostering regular conversations and genuinely productive dialogue. And forums need to be available for group brainstorming and discussion, whether through videoconferencing or collaboration software. This is vital for creating a genuine team culture and collaborative culture, no matter how dispersed that team is.
Second, engagement means smooth and streamlined mechanisms for transmitting data from remote locations back to the office, and vice versa. Collaborative work is about so much more than voice conversations; it is about being able to share rich information and work from the same sources of information. This is where tools like WorkMobile can be truly invaluable for organisations with remote workers, by enabling them to capture data seamlessly in the field or at home, and share it with office-based workers in a clear, timely and consistent format. Digital data capture enables remote workers to be more efficient and more productive, by automating processes that would otherwise be cumbersome and manual – and it enables them to be more engaged and collaborative, by sharing that information seamlessly with other workers.
Engagement is an interactive concept. Get it right, and remote working is not merely the driver for more flexible working practices for staff; it is the driver for greater innovation, creativity and competitiveness.