The Benefits and Challenges of a Remote Workforce

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Work is an action not a place.

When we talk about remote working, we don’t just mean being permanently based away from an organisation’s headquarters, in some cases it may just mean an agreement for an employee to work from home once or twice a week.

Remote working enables employees to be flexible about where they carry out their day to day duties. As Ryan Asdourian, senior director at Microsoft, states “Gone are the days of rigid schedules where workers are fixed to computer terminals between the hours of 9am and 5pm. With technology on our side, the opportunities are endless as the reimagined modern workplace is here. More than ever, the best talent is seeking organisations that encourage creativity, shun silos and support flexible working.”

Being able to work flexibly is not only great for the employer, it is also something that employees relish. Choice, freedom and flexibility for workers to choose where and how they want to work results in happier workers and the ability to organise their own workflow and work-life balance will inevitably lead to higher productivity levels for employers.

Remote working gives employees more freedom to work to their own timetable, reducing stress levels by removing the battle of public transport or congested motorways twice a day in the commute to and from the office. This has a knock-on effect to the wider business and by reducing stress and unhappiness of staff, it can lead to an overall improvement in workplace health and wellbeing.

Remote working also frees up office space and reduces energy usage. As a result, companies are free to invest this additional capital into other business activities, such as marketing and recruitment of new employees who can take advantage of the free desk space.

There are so many benefits to remote working, but it does pose some potential problems if not managed well, especially around communication, recognition and learning and development. Keep reading for some quick and easy solutions to these remote working challenges.  

Communication

Staff that are remote don’t have the office water cooler to catch up on the latest goings on and may miss vital information that is often discussed in the office, shared on staff room posters or mentioned in passing. Internal communication is key. To ensure proper engagement with the content you release, it is important to collate it into regular communications, which every member of staff can access. It’s important to ensure all staff have access to the same information and news so that none will be missed or ignored.

But don’t rely on a single comms channel like an e-newsletter – remember those staff who may not be pc facing or who may not even have a company email address. There is still between 10-15% of jobs in the UK that do not require computer use. There are so many low-cost or no-cost conferencing programmes out there, such as Skype and Google Hangouts, that there really is no excuse to not take time out to update your team or colleagues. Find out how your staff want to be communicated with and follow their lead.

It is often difficult to ensure employees are actively engaging in the conversation. We, at Personal Group, have found that this can be hugely improved by giving employees everything that their business has to offer them– from vouchers and salary sacrifice schemes, to EAP support and online GPs – in a single location. That’s why we’ve made sure that our platform, Hapi, can be accessed both on a desktop computer and via a smartphone. With the vast majority of employees already owning a smartphone it literally puts their benefits and communications in the palm of their hand, whenever and wherever they are working. 

Recognition

Employee recognition is a key tool for increasing employee engagement, so managers must remember to give feedback and praise frequently. However, this means more than sending generic messages of thanks. Employees want to hear that their individual efforts are recognised and valued. When an employee takes initiative or exceeds expectations, supervisors should send them a message or tell them face to face exactly why they’re thanking them, specifically pointing out their accomplishment.

The best way to provide additional rewards beyond verbal recognition is to let the employee themselves decide what they would prefer to receive in recognition for a job well done. Consider implementing a reward and recognition system which allows them to pick from a set of rewards. Give them a gift they can practically use, not a gift that will collect dust on their desk or a voucher that goes unredeemed, costing the company and benefitting no one.

Learning and Development

Ensure that when formal learning opportunities are offered to the rest of the team, all resources are accessible to your remote employees too. Whether this is a live-stream of a speaker coming into the office or putting all interesting reading materials in an easily accessible shared location, like an app or one drive. Informing and encouraging remote employees to engage with these resources is key.

It is important to remember that, while formal training programs are important, informal training comprises up to 75% of total employee learning. Creating an online channel of collaboration, a “virtual water cooler” if you like, can be a great way to engage remote employees and encourage peer relationships, which will directly bolster employee engagement, and in turn productivity.

 

As remote work increases in popularity, an employer’s ability to effectively engage their remote employees will become more crucial than ever. Fully realising the benefits of a remote workforce requires a constant and consistent effort, from both HR and managers, to keep employees involved in company events and ensure that they are able to access the same benefits as their office-based colleagues whenever and wherever they are.

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