Remote work – is your company ready?

The rise of remote work may not be the single most significant trend in the business world today, but it’s definitely near the top. Not all that long ago, the notion of allowing employees to work remotely part-time or full-time would have seemed ludicrous to all but the most forward-thinking business leader. Now, it’s becoming not just a viable option, but absolutely essential for many firms.

remote_work_1Put simply, remote work is just about here. Is your company ready? If not, it’s time to take action.

An accelerating trend
To understand just how big an impact remote work is poised to have on businesses around the world, it’s useful to look at professionals’ expectations for the future. At a recent Global Leadership Summit in London, more than one-third of surveyed attendees said they expect that at least half of their full-time employees will work remotely by 2020, Fast Company reported. A quarter said that at least three-fourth of their employees will not operate in traditional offices by this time.

This doesn’t mean that the traditional office will disappear, though. As Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, told the news source, the future is much more likely to see a move toward more flexible work arrangements.

“Most people think of remote work as 100 percent, all or nothing. But the reality we see is that’s it’s not all or nothing,” said Sutton Fell, Fast Company reported.

By 2020, she projected that approximately half of the workforce would work remotely half the time, rather than fully committing to off-site arrangements, according to the source. This would allow employees to see each other in-person when their projects required a more up-close degree of collaboration, while still allowing these workers to take advantage of remote work’s benefits to a significant degree.

Millennial issues
The rising popularity of remote work is particularly pronounced among millennials. As Business Insider recently pointed out, by 2020, 46 percent of the workforce will be comprised of millennials. The fact that these numbers correspond to those from the Global Leadership Summit survey is not a coincidence. Millennials are far more enthusiastic about remote work than older employees.

The source also pointed out that more than two-thirds of millennials think that regular attendance in the office is unnecessary. This is key, because it shows that younger workers genuinely do not think they should be forced to come into the office every workday. A business that does not support remote work will therefore seem either antiquated or unconcerned with its employees’ preferences – regardless of whether this is true or not.

In fact, many people just now entering the labor market view the ability to work remotely part-time or full-time as a priority when conducting their job searches. Many would even choose remote work flexibility over a higher salary.

remote_work_2This has huge implications for businesses. As Business Insider pointed out, companies cannot hope to thrive unless they are steadily attracting millennial workers. After all, young up-and-coming talent is essential for organizations in every industry. The source further asserted that it is crucial for corporate recruiters to understand younger workers’ values and interests in order to attract and retain these personnel.

All of this adds up to a simple fact: Those businesses that do not support remote work capabilities will have a difficult time hiring the most skilled, promising young professionals in their industries, and this challenge will only grow with time. If you resist remote work solutions, you may be seriously damaging your firm’s ability to remain competitive in the coming years.

Remote strategies
This, of course, raises the question of how a business leader can go about pursuing remote work solutions in the most effective way possible. This is not the sort of thing to embrace haphazardly. On the contrary, a careful plan and strict adherence to best practices is essential for remote work to prove successful.

Arguably the single most important factor for making remote work a powerful resource for your company is choosing the right personnel. This is true for a few reasons. First and foremost, letting employees work from home or anywhere else outside the office requires a higher degree of trust than traditional arrangements. As a manager or business owner, you can’t just walk up to a remote worker and casually observe their behavior. You need to be confident that your employees will remain productive even when a direct supervisor is not in the same building, or even the same city.

Consequently, employees and job candidates who have a history of behaving responsibly and independently are the best fits for remote work strategies.

Another key best practice is starting slow and scaling up, as The HR Director asserted. Even if you find an employee who seems ideally suited for remote work, you can’t be certain right away that this will be a successful arrangement. If you rush, things may get out of control.

Instead, you should begin by assigning remote workers relatively easy, simple tasks, the source argued. Only after you’re satisfied with the remote worker’s productivity and performance on these starter-level tasks should you assign a full workload. From then on, you need to regularly review these off-site employees’ work to make sure that they meet your standards. Even the most responsible, productive personnel may eventually slack off if they don’t receive any oversight and recurring checkups.

One more essential tip for managing a remote workforce is establishing clear-cut rules and guidelines for all of your employees. The source explained that the time you spend outlining your policies early on will lead to much better results down the line. Confusion surrounding what is and isn’t permitted, on the other hand, will significantly hurt your remote workers’ productivity, and could potentially put your company at risk of a data breach or other security incident.

remote_work_3Finally, you need to make a dedicated effort to ensure that your in-office and remote workers all receive similar treatment. This is easier said than done. The old phrase “out of sight, out of mind” tends to take effect, and managers will frequently develop closer relationships with those employees they see every day than those who they only engage via phone or email. As a result, on-site workers may receive greater opportunities than remote employees. This will obviously not sit well with the remote workers, damaging their job satisfaction and overall morale, which in turn will hurt their performance.

To avoid this outcome, you need to make sure that there’s no disadvantage for your remote workers. That requires a dedicated effort. For example, you should make sure that any employee training programs are available to remote workers, so they can gain the skills needed to qualify for promotions.

For a company whose employees split their time between the office and home, this shouldn’t be too difficult. However, if some workers are entirely remote, you may need to rethink your training strategies. For example, you can tailor presentations to work with video conferencing, allowing remote employees to participate almost as if they were physically present.

Does your company allow remote work? If so, how do you support these out-of-office personnel?

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