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Can remote working make firms more productive?

/ Strategy
Last updated on April 16th, 2020

IT strategy - What are the realities of remote working?

Both hailed as the future of working and criticised as the destroyer of efficiency, is remote working for every firm?

Remote working has existed since communications have been available to the roaming and remote worker. It has been pushed and pulled by enterprises of all sizes, and it has been claimed as the future of working and also criticised as the destroyer of productivity and culture. So, what should a firm consider before deciding whether to implement remote working?

Personality

Some people work best in a team or around other people, some work better alone and others work best in a mix. Most employees exist on this spectrum or as an outlier requiring either space to think or a strong social environment to nurture and drive them on. It is important to ensure you cater for all personality types for in whatever environment a firm chooses, as this will save money and HR headaches.

Communications

Often, when a key employee is not present during a meeting but is left to communicate via email and telephone platforms, so without face-to-face interaction, the meeting either comes to nothing. Or at least the employee is not as effective as they would have been had they been present. It is vital to consider how these issues will affect productivity and team working. Again, this will vary from person to person, role to role, business to business, but getting the environment right is critical.

Face-to-face video conferencing is the next best medium for communications. Nowadays, it is straightforward to talk face to face virtually and to collaborate via screen and application sharing through systems such as Microsoft Lync. Obviously, some of the dynamics are missed, but some virtual presence (telepresence) systems at the top end of the market provided by companies such as Polycom and Tandberg are impressive. Of course, the price points vary significantly, so mapping technologies to their correct applications are crucial.

Organisation

Managing and operating in a remote working environment is far from straightforward. The process can easily feel disconnected, since, for example, it’s impossible to round people into a meeting room, grab a working lunch, etc. Calendars become king and can also become saturated. People can disconnect as you lose some of the natural connections that occur between a team located in the same office..

Culture

Many firms bring their people together regularly to ensure team build bonds and align. With the best will in the world, it is impossible to get the best teams without them ever meeting in person. Of course, you can build trust from a capability perspective without a physical meeting. However, the bonding and softer side of relationships, the part that will give a team an edge, need that investment.

Apart from the get-together, it is possible to enhance the culture by creating virtual collaboration and social environments. Many businesses are using Yammer to fulfil this requirement, and much more. In essence, this is a private social network for businesses. SharePoint can help in this area, but it requires a little more work. Employees can post in forums, chat, upload photos, just like Facebook, except the focus is on the working environment. These tools do enhance and develop a culture, not merely for the remote working teams.

Striking a balance

If an organisation really plans its remote working strategy these can work just as well or arguably better than an ‘everyone in the office’ scenario. However, it is vital to think all aspects through properly, beyond merely implementing technology for remote access. You need to consider many factors, and not giving them due time will result in little gain, or even cause damage. Those who take remote working seriously will grow a better business with happier employees while increasing productivity and reducing costs. The potentials are too big to ignore. Technologies and people have advanced beyond recognition from the days of dialling in to pick up email or even using the trusty (slow) VPN.

Your organisation probably already has remote working in some form. Is it really delivering to its full potential? Could it be more effective? Could it improve the firm’s culture?

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