What if the best way to improve the office were to eliminate it? A 2017 Gallup study found that 43 percent of Americans worked from home at least part of the time, and many more would like to. Working remotely offers the advantages of no commute, choose-your-own attire, and more organic scheduling. Overall, it's just a lot more comfortable and convenient.

Thanks to modern information technology, remote workers can be as productive and connected as anyone in the office. There's no reason employers should cling to the idea that people must be on-site. In fact, there are a lot of reasons to encourage remote work.

Letting employees work remotely, at least for part of their workweek, can save your company money. One study found that companies can save $1 million on expenses each year by letting at least 100 employees work remote at least half of the workweek. Less expectedly, going remote might also help with recruiting. Fully 90 percent of people who currently work remotely say they plan to continue doing so for the rest of their career.

As companies become ever more decentralized and distributed, the idea of working in the same office will become antiquated. A remote workforce, in whole or in part, is the logical future of employment. Preparing for this future now will make the transition easier overall. Start by doing these three things:

1. Use technology to keep teams engaged.

A remote workforce can become disconnected and uncoordinated if you're not careful. Technology ensures that ideas and information, both formal and informal, flow throughout the organization. Videoconferencing, group chats, online training modules, and digital recognition platforms are all great tools for keeping employees engaged. Team members see each other as collaborators rather than isolated contributors.

There's no doubt you need the technology necessary to support your remote team, but your distributed tech also creates cyber risks. Robin Hau, founder and CEO of SimplyClouds, warns that lax security could create regulatory compliance concerns as well. "Small businesses and IT managers face many complex Data Management issues, not least of which is security," he says. "The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has shown that regulators are taking a hard stance on data security, and California's passage of a similar act means other U.S. states will likely follow suit." Before sending all your employees to work from home full-time, make sure you have the cybersecurity safeguards in place to protect the data your company holds.

2. Update your employment policies to facilitate remote work.

According to a 2018 Upwork report, the majority of hiring managers have the resources they need to hire remote employees, but 57 percent say they don't have the necessary policies in place. It's imperative to outline expectations and responsibilities before informing your team members that they can work remotely for part of the time or that you're hiring an entirely remote position. As you craft remote work policies, keep in mind that they won't be a one-size-fits-all affair. You'll need to differentiate which jobs at your company require daily, on-site attendance and which ones offer more flexibility.

In addition, remote workers shouldn't have absolute freedom; consider ways to establish accountability for those who work off-site. These policies will look different at every company, but no matter your industry, be sure to address issues like data protection, productivity, time management, and availability. Solicit employee input as well, then do a soft run with the initial version of your policies. Time and testing will reveal the most sustainable policies for remote work.

3. Equip managers for the transition.

Working remotely can feel liberating to team members but overwhelming to team leaders. The simple fact is that leading remotely is not as easy as following remotely. Managers face an out-sized burden whenever staff members leave the office, so it's important to prepare them even more extensively than employees. Managers need to make themselves available to answer questions, offer encouragement, and provide constructive criticism--and be given the tools to do so. They must become adept at treating fully remote and on-site workers equally. Most importantly, managers have to continue to fulfill their core role--assigning responsibilities and setting expectations--without face-to-face contact.

Developing a new mindset around productivity is important during this process. Donald Hatter, a business development consultant, recommends focusing on the big picture rather than the minutiae of task management. "It is important to manage expectations and stay focused on goals when embracing a remote workforce," he notes. "Don't worry as much about what is being done. Instead, concentrate on what is being accomplished." An effective remote workforce depends on effective remote managers.

The writing is on the wall, and it says that the traditional office is on the wane. If you start preparing now, the transition will be seamless. Better still, the advantages will be immediate.

Published on: Jan 21, 2019
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