Working remotely is becoming increasingly popular and companies who have mastered “managing” them are enjoying increases to efficiencies and productivity! In addition, they see significant decreases in costs associated with overhead, travel, etc.
My previous article, “8 Ways to Support the Remote Worker” explored the personal and professional side of making the arrangement work. This article will consider some of the technology and tools that help an employer effectively and successfully manage a remote working environment.
Ideally, technological solutions will easily enable remote workers to participate in a number of activities:
- Communicate with supervisors, colleagues, and project teams;
- Collaborate with others;
- Connect to the employer’s network, software applications, files, etc.;
- Be adequately supported “technically.”
Employers can accommodate the remote worker’s needs by paying attention to the following:
- It goes without saying that the remote worker needs to be supported with email capabilities that are hosted by the employer, not the employee’s individual account. (I can just see it now…a professional email from “firstname.lastname@example.org.”)
- Likewise, the remote worker should have a reliable telephone. If the remote worker is going to use a land line, efforts need to be made to ensure the land line is dedicated for the employer’s work and able to effectively handle teleconferencing. If the remote worker is going to use a mobile phone, the employer needs to identify if a personal phone or employer-provided phone will be used. Either way, adequate and reliable cell service/coverage needs to be acquired, security measures need to be in place to lock the phone down when not in use, and protocols need to be established to identify how data, apps, etc. will be paid for and/or reimbursed. If the employee is using a personal device, he/she needs to be ensure his/her voice mail greetings and how he/she answers the phone are both professional and a positive reflection of the employer.
- Land lines or mobiles may handle the communication aspect on a basic level but they fall short in “removing perceived distance” for the remote worker. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is an option that has a number of advantages over land lines or mobile phones. VoIP gives the remote worker a way to “functionally” be a part of the company’s phone system. VoIP supports call forwarding and transfers as if the employee is in the next cubby, it supports conference calls and regular calls with no long distance or usage charges, it allows for caller ID, message forwarding, etc. without any additional charges. It can easily be integrated with other services available over the Internet, including video and data file exchanges. VoIP connections have also been found to be highly secure and some VoIP technologies can also allow the employer to monitor calls through a dedicated online control panel.
- Remote workers should be equipped with tools to enable them to work productively and efficiently with their colleagues. Teleconferencing and videoconferencing systems allow employees in two or more locations to interact. Attention to detail goes a long way when adopting this type of technology. Participants should have a sense of who is ‘present’ and who is talking and, just as VoIPs help with “perceived difference” regarding functionality, teleconferencing and videoconferencing should help create the impression that the participants are “right there with you.” This enables a sense of community and helps to build and maintain a positive working relationship. Finally, the employer should identify conferencing protocols so frustrations re: who should talk, when they should talk, how they can interrupt or ask questions, etc. can be minimized.
- Visual collaboration, data sharing and/or desktop sharing systems enable remote workers to virtually “be in the room” with their colleagues. These systems help get work done “in real time” as opposed the linear handoffs and/or data input processes that crippled a worker’s efficiency in years past.
- Online chatting allows the remote worker to feel as if he/she is better connected to the team. Online chatting use a virtual discussion platform to facilitate and manage real-time/synchronous text messages. (Think of it as the online equivalent of popping over to someone’s office or cubby and asking a question, offering a quick comment or piece of advice, or just an easy way to have a chat in order to maintain a positive working relationship.)
- The transference of large files between on-site staff and the remote worker has been problematic in years past due to broadband’s slow upload speeds. Large quantities of image or video files could take a significant amount of time and resources to upload/download. That being said, employers should invest in cloud-based, secure file sharing services to allow for easy and safe/secure file sharing.
- Shared software applications that allow for online processing of documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. should be adopted to support efficiency and eliminate the need for the linear “ping pong” transfer of files. Shared calendars, project management applications, customer/client management systems, etc. also support efficiency and productivity.
- The employer should provide the remote employee with equipment that can be controlled by the employer’s central Information Technology (IT) program. Personal computers are often filled with and/or susceptible to viruses, are not likely to be equipped with adequate resources and cannot be managed by the employer’s IT department. That being said, employers should provide employees a laptop or desktop computer with broadband Internet connection to the office and other services for email, file-sharing, text messaging, Voice over IP (VoIP), videoconferencing and Web access.
- The employer should provide security-related resources to make sure its data and devices are protected. Remote workers often work in coffee shops, airports, hotels and/or their back decks when the sun is shining! It’s relatively easy for someone to not only access open files on someone else’s computer that is on a shared Wi-Fi system, but to also access and download stored files on the computer. Laptops should be equipped with a Wi-Fi security system that requires a separate password for anyone on a shared Wi-Fi signal that tries to access the device. For those with access to Ethernet connections, another solution is using a travel router that plugs into an Ethernet jack to provide a hardware firewall against other users on the network. Another cost-effective solution is implementing a Virtual Private Network (VPN), a security measure that encrypts files on the device and any data being exchanged over the Internet.
Information Technology (IT) Support
- “Tech Support” tracking systems enable employees to submit IT support requests and enable the IT support team to prioritize and monitor its service accordingly. As a bonus to remote workers, these systems “even the playing field” by keeping them in the queue, so to speak. Tracking systems often allow IT to monitor and manage software upgrades, security measures, etc. and, therefore, the remote worker’s equipment doesn’t get forgotten.
- Remote assistance also helps support the remote worker who is having trouble with his/her equipment. Remote assistance allows control of the device to be granted to the IT representative who, in turn, can fix any problems.
Remote work situations have tremendous benefits to the employer, the employee and, subsequently, the organization. Cost savings, increased productivity, increased efficiencies, increased morale, etc. are just a few of the benefits a company can receive. However, these benefits are only enjoyed if the work is well managed. I’m hopeful this post has provided you with some ideas on how the remote work can be better managed so you and your company can truly enjoy the benefits.