Both hailed as the future of working and criticised as the destroyer of efficiency, is remote working for every firm?
Remote working has existed since communications have been available to the roaming and remote worker. It has been pushed and pulled by enterprises of all sizes, and it has been claimed as the future of working and also criticised as the destroyer of efficiency and culture. So, what should a firm consider before deciding whether to implement remote working?
Some people work best in a team or around other people, some work better alone and others work best in a mix. Most employees exist on this spectrum or as an outlier requiring either space to think or a strong social environment to nurture and drive them on. It is important to ensure that all these personality types are catered for in whatever environment a firm chooses, as this will save money and HR headaches.
Often, when a key employee is not present during a meeting but is left to communicate via email and telephone platforms, so without face-to-face interaction, the meeting either comes to nothing or at least the employee is not as effective as they would have been had they been present. It is vital to consider how these issues will affect productivity and team working. Again, this will vary from person to person, role to role, business to business, but getting the environment right is critical.
Face-to-face video conferencing is the next best medium for communications. Nowadays, it is straightforward to talk face to face virtually and to collaborate via screen and application sharing through systems such as Microsoft Lync. Obviously, some of the dynamics are missed, but some virtual presence (telepresence) systems at the top end of the market provided by companies such as Polycom and Tandberg are impressive. Of course, the price points vary significantly, so mapping technologies to their correct applications is crucial.
Managing and operating in a remote working environment is far from straightforward. The process can easily feel disconnected and frustrating, since, for example, it is impossible to round people into a meeting room, grab a working lunch, etc. Calendars become king and can also become saturated. People can disconnect, rather than connect, as some of the natural corrections that occur between a team located in the same office can be lost.
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 it is impossible to get the best teams without them ever meeting in person. Of course, trust can be built from a capability perspective without meeting physically, but the bonding and softer side of relationships, the part that will give a team an edge, need that investment.
Apart from the get-together, it is possible to enhance the culture by creating virtual collaboration and social environments. Many businesses are using Yammer to fulfil this requirement, and much more. In essence, this is a private social network for businesses. SharePoint can help in this area, but it requires a little more work. Employees can post in forums, chat, upload photos, just as they do with their friends on systems such as Facebook, except that here the focus is around the working environment and teams. These tools do enhance and develop a culture, not merely for the remote working teams.
Striking a balance
If an organisation really thinks and plans its remote working strategy and operations, these can work just as well or arguably better than an ‘everyone in the office’ scenario. However it is vital to think all aspects through properly, beyond merely implementing technology for remote access. As would have become clear, many factors need to be considered, and not giving them due time will result in little or no gain, perhaps even causing damage. However, those organisations prepared to take remote working seriously will certainly grow a better business with happier employees, while increasing productivity and reducing costs. The potentials are too big to ignore. Technologies and people have advanced beyond recognition from the days of dialling in to pick up email or even using the trusty (slow) VPN.
Your organisation probably already has remote working in some form. Is it really delivering to its full potential? Could it be more effective? Could it improve the firm’s culture?
Robert Rutherford is the chief executive of QuoStar
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