One of the biggest benefits of the huge advances in network capabilities over the last few years mean workers don't need to be constrained to the office any more. With average home broadband speeds much more in line with what businesses need, and 4G wireless connectivity ensuring people can now enjoy practical speeds wherever they are, this has opened the door for a revolution in how companies approach home and remote working.
And it seems many employees are taking advantage of this. According to figures from Gallup, some 43 percent of people in the US said they worked remotely at least some of the time in 2016, and those that do work away from the office are doing so for longer periods than in the previous year.
Therefore, it's vital for any company to have a clear strategy in place to ensure that remote working fits seamlessly into their operations. But there are many facets to this, so we've put together five key best practices that all firms should follow.
1. Have clear policies in place
The first step for any remote or home working strategy is to have a clear set of policies in place setting out what everyone's rights and responsibilities are. It should, for example, set out who is eligible for remote working (factors may include whether it is dependent on their role or if it is a performance-related perk), how often they are expected to check in, and how their performance will be measured when not in the office.
This is about more than making sure that people aren't using it as an excuse to watch daytime TV - it's about keeping track of your efficiency so you can see what effect, if any, remote working is having on your productivity, positive or negative.
2. Understand your IT infrastructure
Businesses also need to determine if there are any technical barriers that could hinder remote working. Issues such as bandwidth will be important if multiple users will be connecting from outside the firewall. How employees will access key fields and applications will also need to be considered.
In this regard, the use of cloud tools such as Office 365 or G Suite may be useful, but if these are not practical, or there are specialized tools that must be accessed, a secure method of doing this will be vital. Therefore, solutions such as VPNs will be essential in ensuring remote workers are able to connect to their office's network from home.
3. Know what equipment you need
Depending on what roles employees will be performing remotely, there may be a need for the business to provide the tools and equipment they will need, and what role the employee will play in this. Many businesses may decide that a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy is the best option, as this can save money and allow workers to select the options that work best for them - be this a laptop, smartphone, headset or whatever else they might need to complete their tasks. However, this may mean giving up a certain amount of control over equipment, so if this is a concern, issuing enterprise-owned devices will be necessary.
4. Determine how you'll communicate
Ensuring that remote workers are able to remain in contact when needed is another key aspect of a successful system. This is particularly true if remote workers will be customer-facing, but internal communications should not be overlooked. Tools such as videoconferencing may be especially useful here, but as these can take up valuable bandwidth and may not always be the best way of communicating, firms should consider clearly setting out when such calls will be necessary.
For more everyday interactions, where there is less need for a face-to-face conversation, collaboration tools such as Slack have a key role to play in keeping remote workers engaged and in touch with what's going on throughout the business.
5. Make sure there's a level playing field
One of the most important aspects of a remote working policy is ensuring that everyone has access to the same applications and information, and no-one feels disadvantaged - whether that's remote workers or those in the office. This means giving everyone the same opportunities and could mean, for instance, encouraging office-based workers to dial in to meetings from their own workspace. Amy Freshman, senior director of global workplace enablement at ADP, notes this:
is a great way to be inclusive of all of your associates on your team.
Whatever you do to implement remote, home or mobile working, the key things to remember are that it must be a seamless transition - anything an employee can do in the office, they'll also need to be able to do from wherever else they choose to work. With the right applications and infrastructure backing you up, you should find it is more practical than ever to run a business that doesn't stop at the office door.