Judging by some of the recent posts I have seen on LinkedIn, there seems to be a range of feelings about whether remote working can yield effective results for a business. Some feel that remote workers cannot be trusted to work at full capacity. The counter-argument is that you can save money on property and create additional desk-space by having remote workers.
The technology to support remote working is available. Modern UC systems will allow colleagues to see each others’ availability and message each other. Workers can answer their “desk-phone” whilst on the move, and video applications allow everyone to meet face-to-face when they need to.
However, this is a major undertaking and can carry a large price tag. The question that must first be answered is “can remote working generate greater productivity?”
To attempt to answer this question, let’s first look at this from the perspective of the employee.
It’s hard to say whether remote working is, or should be seen as, a benefit by employees. Recent studies suggest that millennials regard it as a priority when choosing their place of work. The idea of being able to work from home, or the local independent coffee shop over a wheatgrass smoothie, whilst listening to music on their wireless earbuds, certainly beats slogging your way into the office on a crowded train or sitting on the motorway wishing you had left earlier. However, having spent time talking to remote workers and having been one myself, it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.
I like people (this doesn’t mean they always like me) and tend not to be at my happiest when on my own. When in the office I was often busy, and didn’t have a lot of time to chat, but being surrounded by colleagues made me feel more comfortable. It also meant I felt a bit more ‘plugged-in’ to what was going on in the business. Similarly, some home workers say that they don’t like the feeling of always being at their place of work – even at weekends and during holidays.
Once I had come to terms with not enjoying these aspects of remote working, I was delighted to learn that there were other benefits.
Anywhere, any time
Firstly, being able to join meetings from anywhere was awesome. I could work at a fast pace and get things agreed much more quickly plus when travelling on business – there can be a lot of dead time spent in airports and hotels. Secondly, I didn’t have to wait for the office to be open to get on with my work. I tend to be an early riser and like to get on with my work before the rest of the country has fought their way through their commute. Finally, although I was prone to eating a bit more frequently and making more cups of tea, I was able to concentrate without getting distracted by colleagues who wanted to enquire about my health or my weekend or mock my failing football team.
By far the most important aspect of all of this is that we tend to think of remote working as being away from the office. This was far-from true for me. My role was to look after three different locations in my my company’s Norther European region. This meant I didn’t need to be part of just one office; I needed to be part of all three. I couldn’t have done this without the tools to help me see my team members face-to-face at the drop of a hat, or be contacted easily whilst in the car, in the airport or in a hotel.
The business perspective
Businesses often have misgivings around remote working, especially when it comes to home-working. Perhaps it’s a trust issue; will people working from home actually work as hard as those working in an office under the nose of their managers?
However, others feel that you can’t control your teams’ activity just by being able to see them. If people don’t want to work hard they will find ways to shirk. Some can achieve this even whilst appearing to work hard. Perhaps workers slacking-off is a failure of management, not the employee? If a business has ‘lazy” workers, perhaps this can be attributed to bad hiring processes, or failure to set challenging assignments for employees.
Studies into motivation suggest that when good-quality people have plenty of difficult and complicated work to get on with, and ways of honestly evaluating it, they will work hard whether they are being watched or not. Perhaps our issue is not our concern that people are inherently lazy, but that we haven’t taken the time to manage and develop them properly.
If our true concern is productivity, then, wherever possible, we should try to get our employees to work from home. A 2014 study by Stanford University established that remote workers are 13% more productive than their office-bound counterparts and they take fewer sick days.
If we accept that remote workers can be more productive, then perhaps it’s the cost of the technology that causes a business to be apprehensive. The costs of implementing a flexible UC system suitable for your mobile workers can be high, so you have to be certain that they will use it. The likelihood of using them will strongly depend on understanding the needs of your remote workers and those that need to communicate with them.
Looking carefully at the market, or working with vendors or UC dealers, you will be able to find something that works for you. Some businesses like to use something that delivers voice, video, data collaboration and storage and messaging all on the same platform. However, just because all of these are on one platform, it doesn’t necessarily mean the user interface is any better than using a variety of platforms that integrate with each other. The bottom line is that it has to work for you and your remote team.
The good news is that once you have the right solution it should pay for itself as your team becomes more productive. Of course, you should also be able to save money on property. Some have found they’ve able to attract the better talent to their business, as prospective employees’ remote-working aspirations are met and their location becomes less critical.