An Accidentally Remote Workforce Puts Business at Risk
Everyone is talking about digital employee experiences, but many ignore one of the most important aspects in need of major improvement: remote work.
Most employees work on some type of computer or smart device today in offices, banks, schools, stores, warehouses, hospitals and other workplaces. To make workdays more engaging and productive, organizations pay attention to the convenience, ease and flexibility of their digital employee experiences.
The area with the most room for improvement? The ability to remotely work. That’s according to more than three-quarters of employees and HR and IT decision-makers surveyed by VMware and Vanson Bourne, enterprise technology market leaders and research experts.
Respondents consider remote work capabilities one of the top five most important aspects of the overall digital employee experience. After all, about half of employees worldwide work outside the office each week, by some estimates.
However, many of these employees remotely work by accident, says Laurel Farrer, remote work strategist and chief executive officer of Distribute Consulting. Most companies don’t intentionally, proudly or openly support remote work. Leaders often believe it’s bad for teamwork, incompatible with their industry, less productive and/or unsustainable.
Regardless, if employees work at a location not provided by the company, they fit the definition of “remote worker” or “telecommuter.” And just about everyone has a laptop or smartphone to work while traveling to conferences, visiting clients, commuting or on vacation.
Organizations tend to take a reactive approach to remote work, Farrer says, which has consequences. Without proper support, communication, teamwork and productivity can suffer (a self-fulfilling prophecy). Ignoring the existence of remote work risks security, compliance and the legality of employee contracts. And without structure and boundaries for a global workforce across global time zones, employees will burn out and lose motivation.
Remote work feels new, exciting and trendy. Actually, it’s existed since the beginning of computers and the internet, Farrer says. Instead of reacting to remote work requests, it’s time companies proactively plan how to help employees get work done anytime and anywhere.
Follow her recommendations to take control of an accidentally remote workforce.
4 Essentials for Engaging Remote Employee Experiences
1. Create Channels for Communication, Collaboration and Culture.
No matter where they are, all employees need to communicate and connect with co-workers. They need to be able to find and offer support, and they need to engage in company culture.
Channels provide spaces where workers can feel connected, valued, appreciated and successful. Channels can include digital handbooks, virtual stand-up meetings, collaboration software, enterprise social networks, annual off-site meetings and more.
Building employee channels helps prevent isolation. “Social isolation is different than professional isolation,” Farrer points out. It’s not about missing the presence of people. It’s about missing access to answers, feedback, praise and comradery. Without channels, Farrer says, “We’re going to miss those opportunities that they provide in our lives and in our careers.”
Isolation is one of the most common concerns employers have about remote work, Farrer says in this video. What workers typically experience, however, isn’t social isolation but informational isolation, she says.
2. Put a Remote Work Policy on Paper.
Too often, organizations are secretive about remote work. Employers only allow remote work on a case-by-case basis and don’t make it public to the rest of the workforce.
That lack of transparency can cause problems for the company. Employees discretely working off site could unknowingly expose sensitive information over public Wi-Fi. They might accidentally introduce security risks to the company’s network, or they may mistakenly fail to comply with privacy and security requirements for customer data.
“The digital age is here. We all work on the train and answer calls in the car. It’s OK. Let’s admit it, then embrace it,” she says.
Farrer highly recommends organizations create an addendum to an employee contract that outlines what’s expected from remote employees. Remote work policies typically include guidelines, like:
- What’s required for a proper work environment.
- What devices employees can use.
- How and how often employees should communicate.
- When they should be available.
- How to secure networks and data from outside the workplace.
3. Foster a Results-Oriented Work Culture.
Employees don’t need visual supervision or to be physically accessible to be productive. They need the right key performance indicators (KPIs), results-based tracking and collaborative objectives to be successful, Farrer says.
For remote work to work, managers need to move away from micromanagement towards a culture of respect and trust. “This opens a door of trust and autonomy if we, say, update our OKRs and KPIs to be based on results,” she says. “We don’t care where or when you work, as long as it gets done.”
4. Structure the Workday and Define Boundaries.
Now that work can be done anywhere and anytime, it’s easy for employees to work everywhere and all the time. Farrer cautions that without structure and boundaries, remote workers can burn out.
“Remote work may not have geographic boundaries, but it certainly needs to have logistical boundaries,” she says.
Those boundaries — when, where and how employees can work off site — should be outlined in a remote work policy. Additionally, leaders can continue educating employees on achieving remote work productivity and work-life balance. They should also celebrate benchmarks, so remote workers don’t feel they need to overcompensate for being out of sight.
By 2028, 73% of all departments will have remote workers.
Upwork’s Future Workforce 2019 Report
Making the Remote Work Experience a Priority
About 86 percent of all respondents say the ability to remotely work with ease is important to the overall digital employee experience at work. Why are industry leaders now prioritizing the digital experiences of flexible, hybrid and fully remote employees?
It’s not just about the benefits for employees. “Actually, I see the greatest benefits of remote work go to the employer,” Farrer says.
- Employee Retention: Many employees consider remote work a perk and are more likely to stick around, saving employers the cost of onboarding and training new hires.
- Productivity Output: Studies show time and again that empowering employees to work when, how and where they prefer, boosts overall productivity.
- Environmental Sustainability: By foregoing a roundtrip commute to the office, workers help strengthen their organization’s environmental sustainability.
- Global Impact: Additionally, companies can help nurture diversity and inclusion and stimulate local economic development by hiring virtual workforces.
Work is no longer a place that employees go, but something that they do. Apps are the new office. Learn more about remote work priorities and trends in The Digital Employee Experience global report.
Watch the entire Employee Experience Summit online now.