Advantages, concerns, and solutions for successful remote working
What are the benefits of telework? Why is cloud telephony essential for remote teams?
Remote working (telecommuting) is already a widely accepted norm for businesses of all sizes. It refers to any job opportunity for employees to complete their professional tasks outside the office. Remote working is a term also known as telecommuting, teleworking, telework, remote employment, home office, working from home, mobile work, and flexible workplace. Working from home, in a coffee shop, or while traveling is considered a win-win situation for both the company and its team. The business benefits from cost optimization increased productivity, and higher access to a remote workforce. At the same time, the employees enjoy flexibility while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Teleworking usually requires a combination of cloud-based solutions and other feature-rich collaboration tools. The evolution of communication technology is one of the key factors why the remote working trend grows so fast. Today – mobile devices, video and audio conferencing, file sharing, and instant messaging are more and more accessible. All these enhanced tools support remote working. As a result, a fast-growing number of companies consider telecommuting.
Benefits of flexible working policy for the company
Increased productivity of the team
Working remotely drives employees’ productivity. Mobile employees try to optimize their time better. Also, there are fewer distractions when working from home. As a result, the whole team is more productive. Traveling to work daily is often related to various stressful situations – the major one being late for work. With home working, this burden is lifted off the shoulders of the employees. Saving time on the commute helps employees be more effective in their daily tasks. Typically an office is a noisy place with lots of minor or bigger interruptions that interfere with the deep work. When working from home remote employees are less distracted and can focus better. Doing a home office allows anyone to organize their work environment in the best possible way. This ensures a better focus for teleworkers and therefore better performance of their duties.
A study conducted by the International Workplace Group shows that 85% of the respondents confirm that productivity and efficiency have increased in companies due to greater flexibility. Also, 65% of the surveyed professionals claim that businesses that adjust their work environment to match the flexible working standards are more productive.
Cost optimization / Cost efficiency
Applying a flexible working policy within an organization can bring significant cost savings. According to Vodafone UK Survey – UK enterprises that have adopted remote working practices save up to £34bn by freeing up desk space and reducing maintenance costs. The financial benefits of remote working can be achieved by reducing real estate costs. A company supporting the telecommuting policy will need fewer square feet for office space. As a result, the estimated cost savings can be a significant amount. Additionally, the organization can lower its operating expenditures. Travel and transport costs, covered by the employer are largely reduced for workers who work part-time or full-time remotely. Also, fewer employees in the company’s location at a time means less spending on office supplies, utilities, parking spaces, and technical maintenance.
Reduced sick days
Employees working remotely take fewer days of sick leave, compared to their office colleagues. According to surveys, many employees tend to take “fake” days off for personal reasons. Flexible schedules allow people to arrange their personal and professional tasks better. This eliminates the need to take sick leave for solving private issues.
Another advantage of teleworking is that even if the person is mildly sick, he is more likely to continue working from home. Contrary, many office employees tend to take sick leave immediately for the comfort of their present colleagues. 75% of telecommuters claim that they experience lower amounts of stress (The IWG Global Workspace Survey). As a result, they are less likely to fall sick and be unable to perform their tasks. Achieving a better work-life balance is very important for both the physical and mental health of the employees. The home office is one of the major steps towards a more harmonious lifestyle.
Improved retention of employees
Companies that encourage telecommuting have increased retention rates by more than 10% (gartner.com). Teleworkers enjoy their flexible working hours, which increases their job satisfaction. Hence they are becoming more loyal to their current employer, which leads to reduced personnel turnover.
A company offering flexible work options can build a strong long-term relationship with its team. Having committed employees, who have deep knowledge of the business is a valuable asset for any organization. Also lower turnover means less investment in the constant training of new employees. In other words, embracing remote working practices has a clear financial expression for the business. US consulting company Deloitte reports that the money invested in a newly hired colleague can reach up to $4000* (forbes.com).
Worldwide access to talented employees
In today’s highly competitive labor market working from home is often required as a perk from the top talents. So companies try to adjust their organizational and technical systems to meet these expectations. The flexible working policy is a strategic recruitment tool for any human resources department. It is considered to be a highly effective way to access a wider pool of talent. For the company, this means the freedom to hire the most talented professionals, regardless of their location. No one is obliged to move to a different city or country. This eliminates the travel and accommodation expenses for the new employee, covered usually by the company.
Positive environmental impact
Applying a flexible working policy is often part of the employer branding strategy. Remote working is a business practice considered to have many benefits. One of them being a positive environmental impact. It also helps the business build an image of a socially responsible organization. Many job applicants state they’ll choose a certain employer if the company applies a sustainable policy. This is true for representatives of baby boomers, generation X, and especially for the millennials.
An extra benefit for the company is that employees often claim they feel more motivated when working for an environment-friendly company. Apart from the corporate advantages, remote working can be a game-changer in fighting climate change. Transportation is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Allowing more employees to telecommute can reduce the carbon footprint of many businesses. It contributes as well to energy consumption optimization. Experts recommend more organizations and institutions to apply remote work policies to speed up the positive environmental effect.
Advantages of teleworking for employees
Increased employee’s satisfaction
Flexible work schedules increase job satisfaction. 75% of companies worldwide have adopted telecommuting practices, expecting to have a happier and more effective workforce (vodafone.com). Regardless of age, gender, location, or industry, being able to telework often tops the wish list of job seekers. Enjoying greater work independence usually leads to more satisfied and productive teams. It also boosts creativity as working in unconventional workspaces can urge them to be more innovative. Remote working allows employees to plan their daily activities and prioritize the tasks better. This gives them positive feelings about their employer and makes them more engaged with the company.
Remote working employees in figures:
• 13,5% were more efficient than their in-office colleagues
• 9% – more engaged than their fixed-working co-workers
• 23% took shorter breaks, fewer sick days, and spent more time working*
Better work/life balance
Remote employment supports the healthy balance between an employee’s personal and professional life. Surveys show that flexible working is a key factor in improving work-leisure balance. According to the European Working Conditions Survey, 80% of respondents prefer to be able to choose their working location. 86% claim that achieving a better work-life balance is among the top reasons for seeking flexible working options.
Flexibility in the workplace supports employees’ personal and family relations. Having more control over a daily schedule allows anyone to spend more quality time with family and friends. The ability to meet personal commitments impacts greatly employees’ success at work. It stimulates workers’ professional performance and makes them feel more fulfilled. Many employees face the problem of managing successfully personal responsibilities and work duties. Trying to avoid this constant conflict causes a lot of stress to the workers. Remote working helps them to be more flexible and achieve a better work-life balance. It allows teleworkers some freedom to optimize their time for both personal and professional duties.
Telecommuting improves the well-being of remote team members. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for the employees as well as employers, as it impacts the productivity of the team. Flexible work arrangement has a positive effect on the physical and mental health of telecommuters. The reason for this could be the reduced stress levels for employees working from home. With no daily commuting to work, they avoid traffic jams. This contributes strongly to lowering daily stress and improves their well-being. Additionally, teleworkers can save time for more sleep, more exercise, and personal meetings. And leading a healthier and more active lifestyle has a positive impact on job satisfaction and productivity.
Apart from saving time, remote working can be a cost-efficient decision. This is one of the important reasons why so many people prefer working from home. The expenses related to daily travel, lunch breaks, or following the company’s dress code, are often reduced for remote workers. These savings are considered by many as an actual pay rise for the employees working from home. Also, some employees choose even to move to a city with not so high living costs. This is possible as flexible working arrangements do not require a worker’s presence at the company’s location.
Working environment matching the employee’s individual needs
A teleworker can create a customized working environment that fits exactly her/his preferences. It can be a quiet location with toned lighting at home or a coffee shop with natural light and relaxing music. Wearing cozy clothes instead of the company’s strict dress code allows the home workers to feel comfortable and secure while working. This option is a part of the whole positive experience for those who choose alternative work conditions. Working from home allows telecommuters to arrange their space with various personal belongings. Being able to create a unique workplace makes employees happier, more productive, and motivated.
What are the major challenges that telecommuting is facing and how to overcome them?
The benefits of remote working are clear. However, this comparatively new style of working comes with a new set of challenges many companies encounter. Successfully managing people, located in different places and even time zones requires different strategies for staff administration. Integrating various enhanced communication tools eases a smooth collaboration within the virtual team. Creating an effective system of cooperation that supports the whole team is a key factor for its success. Below we listed the major issues for applying a work-from-home policy and some possible solutions:
1. Communication problems
While it’s easy to interact with colleagues who share the same working space, communicating with remote employees can be a real issue. Deskless workers rely very much on collaboration technology to receive information from their team on time. If the communication process does not run smoothly, the whole virtual team faces a decrease in productivity and efficiency.
Top 3 challenges that affect remote employees collaboration
• poor communication with co-workers and supervisors
• lack of information
• not receiving information on time
Efficient and effective communication is essential for any work environment. It can be a real challenge if most of the time the involved parties interact via email, phone, video conversations, or chat. Another major problem for virtual teams appears if a manager cannot provide proper information on time. This may cause misunderstanding and miscommunication among colleagues. Often supervisors find it hard to navigate the different communication styles of remote employees. They have to put in extra effort so that the entire remote team functions as a single unit even without daily in-person communication.
To ensure smooth information and communication flow with the remote employees the managers should focus on:
• Stimulating effective communication culture
• Providing the right tools
• Hiring the right people
Stimulate effective communication and collaboration culture
Any team leader should encourage active communication within the team. Thus the team members will feel more engaged and motivated. Remote employees should be aware of any information about the company. That way they will know the important events, happening within this organization.
Set regular meetings with the entire virtual team to discuss the progress of the projects and any other work-related issues. A manager has to provide written guidelines on how the team members should interact with each other. Also if needed specify what messages should be sent through different medium channels. If the virtual team members are in different time zones it is very important to have a set standard for communication procedures. Ensure that there is an overlapping period in the working schedules of the telecommuters. Any virtual meetings that concern the whole team should be arranged during this period.
If possible plan certain activities, that still require face-to-face meetings with employees working remotely. Organizing some in-house obligations will help them feel part of the team. It allows them to be more connected to the company’s community and stimulates a better communication process.
Provide the right tools
If a company wants to turn its flexible working policy into a successful strategy it has to use effective communication tools. So the remote employees will be constantly connected and will have access to office resources and information. The advanced technology today is what makes remote working possible. Providing the virtual team with enhanced tools ensures its high performance and productivity. Considering the company’s specific needs an employer can choose from different tools that ease the communication and organization process of remote employees.
One of the tools used mostly for internal and external communication. Always consider it because of its high accessibility and the option to write long informative emails when necessary.
• Chat and instant messaging programs
Instant messaging programs allow employees to have a real-time text-based conversation regardless of their location. The virtual chat rooms can be organized to correspond to the company’s structure. These tools help the team members discuss work-related issues in real time like in a face-to-face meeting. The co-workers can also leave a message if someone is not available at that moment. A team leader, however, should track if the ongoing messaging is not becoming too distracting for the employees.
The Cloud-based business phone system is one of the milestones of the flexible working policy. It provides a quick and easy way for calling, messaging, conferencing, and task management. These features build an effective communication system among remote co-workers. Hosted telephony solutions with their feature-rich applications support effective collaboration between remote employees. VoIP phone systems provide business phone extensions to any employee, regardless of location. A team leader can easily configure virtual phone number extensions for individual users across devices and locations. As a result, anyone can contact fast a specific person within the team or organization.
Additional features of the cloud communication system allow work, home, and mobile phones to be accessed through a single phone number. The calls are routed to any desired device – landline, mobile, or IP-softphone so the number of missed calls is minimized. That way flexible working employees stay connected to the office all the time, while still achieving complete mobility.
• Call Conferencing
Another valuable feature for remote employees offered by the integrated communications system. This tool is a useful solution if there is a need for a collective discussion involving team colleagues from many locations. Conference calls are powerful tools for scheduling regular meetings of virtual teams or if an urgent issue has to be discussed. Voice conversations improve the communication process of the distributed teams as remote meetings can be organized and managed easily. Learn how to conduct effective conference calls that will streamline the team’s communication.
• Video chat, video conferencing, and video messaging
Video chat is helpful when a supervisor has to discuss something in person and a face-to-face meeting is not possible. Video conferences may be necessary if the meeting involves newly acquired team members, who should be introduced to their co-workers. If the manager has to deliver a message to the entire team and its content should not be discussed immediately video message can be very useful.
• Project management tools
Organizing the projects and tasks with a centralized project management tool is very important for remote teams’ communication and collaboration. That way the flexible working employees have quick access to any resources related to their working projects. With their help a manager can have a transparent and efficient way of assigning tasks, outlining project development, and adding comments. If utilized in a proper way the project management system should become an information hub for the distributed team members
Having the right people for telecommuting
The recruiting process is an excellent way to discover if the job applicant is a good communicator or not. To find out if the person fits in a virtual team it is advisable to conduct the interviews via different mediums. As remote work requires specific skills in written and phone communication, test the candidates in these two areas of expertise. The ideal remote team member will be the one that has convinced the recruiter of his/her communication and time management skills.
2. Productivity issues
Many employers fear that their team can suffer from low productivity if its members are not working in the office. It is a concern that has an obvious explanation. Some remote employees experience difficulties in meeting deadlines when no one supervises them personally. Others are overworking and risk burnout which after all makes them unproductive and inefficient. Productivity problems arise because of the lack of a well-established structure, slow responsive times, too many distractions, and poor communication.
• Build a well functioning structure
Flexibility is a key benefit of remote working. However, if there is a lack of defined structure within the virtual team, this can affect its work. A manager should review regularly the processes and procedures to be clear, simple, and efficient. Any optimizations of the company’s policy and business practices should be communicated on time.
To optimize the team’s efficiency it is important to conduct constant workflow analysis. Supervisors should track the online collaboration between team members and if it is necessary to make adjustments. Effective collaboration between remote employees is not possible without implementing a system for resources and data sharing. Everyone should have easy access to it no matter their location.
Another helpful feature of advanced communication tools is the “presence” feature. It allows the in-office employees to see the current presence status of their remote colleagues. This option informs managers and co-workers if the person is actually at work, ready to cooperate or not. A manager should tell the remote employees to route their calls depending on their presence status. This ensures all questions will be handled by available colleagues on time and the team efficiency will not suffer.
• Set accountable goals
Setting clear and accountable goals for the team’s performance is an efficient way to stimulate productivity. A manager should be open about the expectations related to certain roles within the team. They have to be communicated properly and regular meetings can be held to follow their progress. Usually, not everyone works at the same pace. Yet, a supervisor should know whether the team members manage to complete their tasks on time. It is recommended to set a common deadline for finishing the whole project that applies to everyone involved. At the same time, co-workers should be allowed and even encouraged to arrange the execution of micro-tasks by themselves. This is useful for improving team collaboration and efficiency.
• Мonitor and manage the performance of the team
Tracking employees’ performance is fundamental for boosting the team’s productivity. It gives a supervisor a clear idea if the remote employees are completing successfully their work or not. Additionally, a manager can analyze if the team members are using their time effectively and properly. Set transparent KPIs (key performance indicators) that will be reviewed for each employee of the virtual team. There are various tools on the market that track the performance of flexible working teams.
The remote employees should install an application that will record how many hours they have spent on a certain project. Depending on the company’s industry different tools are most suitable to track the work output of the employees. Most of them deliver a quantitative way to evaluate the personal contribution of each team member. The supervisor should analyze the results and review if the virtual team is accomplishing the company’s goals.
• Hold regular meetings
Conducting meetings with remote co-workers is the next meaningful step to improve the team’s productivity. Giving feedback based on performance data is valuable for the employees. It motivates them and increases their efficiency. It also encourages transparency and creates a feeling of connectivity among team members. Even if colleagues are in different locations, there is always a way to schedule a meeting that suits all parties. The enhanced tools of communication enable conversations between co-workers in a distributed team. Being able to talk to remote employees regularly shows the support of the manager and stimulates team’s efficiency.
3. Building trustful relations with employees
Trust within any team is essential. Daily in-person communication and face-to-face meetings create and nurture trustful relations among colleagues. Working from home, however, has its natural limitations for bonding with co-workers. Often more efforts are required for “team-building” activities among remote employees. Also, managers should be comfortable giving certain freedom to telecommuters in completing their professional duties. If they try to micromanage the working process at every single step, the team members can feel frustrated and less motivated.
• Define a shared company vision and mission
Establish the core values for the company and communicate them actively among remote employees. Sharing a common vision for the future development of the business helps them feel more engaged. It boosts the community spirit and strengthens the relations within the remote team.
• Help virtual co-workers feel committed to the team
The supervisor should acknowledge regularly the valuable contribution of the remote colleagues in achieving the company’s goals. It is important for the team’s relations that the manager provides personal feedback. Personal challenges and work-related issues should be discussion topics as well. It is also advisable to inform remote employees about the company’s daily events and internal projects. When telecommuters know the updates in the company they have a feeling of belonging to the team.
• Organize team buildings and stimulate effective collaboration
If possible remote colleagues should meet at some point personally. Ideally, they will have regular face-to-face meetings every couple of months. In case the team is spread across the globe the in-person interaction can happen once or twice per year. Team building activities will be welcomed by remote employees, who sometimes feel isolated. Meeting personally allows them to become more familiar with colleagues outside the strict professional activities. This builds trust within teams and helps coworkers bond better.
• Provide tools that streamline collaboration and transparency
A communication channel can be dedicated to more informal communication. Colleagues can send virtual birthday greetings, share funny pictures or ask for recommendations. That way co-workers will feel the company’s support for building non-work relations as well. If face-to-face meetings are not possible the managers can allow using the company’s communication tools for personal interactions as well. Video are great solutions for strengthening interpersonal relations between teams and building trustful relations can be achieved when everyone follows the established rules.
Managers should use time-tracking options or the presence features of the applied communication solutions. Task-management tools should be transparent and accessible to everyone. This can reduce the suspicion that some team members work more than others and everyone benefits from improved collaboration.
Cloud telephony solutions have shaped the modern communication environment. It is becoming more flexible, mobile, and agile. The feature-rich cloud applications help companies and employees establish remote working as a successful business practice.
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