Future of Work Insights

How to support remote workers?

5 minute read time

In light of recent advice surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, we look at how you can effectively support staff working remotely.

A 2019 Zapier survey of US knowledge workers found that 95% of respondents want to work remotely, and 74% of those questioned would be willing to quit a job in order to do so. This trend is echoed in Europe, with 10% of workers currently working remotely full time – a figure that is expected to increase steadily. As current advice around the global coronavirus pandemic increases the number of staff expected to work from home, the need to have an effective plan for supporting your remote workforce is paramount

There are several technical and cultural issues involved with remote working, so what does it offer your business?

The benefits of having a remote workforce

Encouraging remote working is an obvious way of reducing office-related expenses, but the benefits to businesses go beyond cost savings.

At a time when competition for top-quality candidates has strengthened, remote working technologies dramatically increase your reach. Now you can look beyond the local geographical region to recruit the most qualified, experienced people from anywhere in the world. And there is no need to offer relocation packages either.

“We’ve seen an increased demand amongst our workforce and those of our clients for the ability to work flexibly, which includes working remotely,” says Lois Horne, partner at law firm Macfarlanes. Indeed, where industry disruptors like Google, Uber and Airbnb lead, others follow. Attracted by the flexible working provisions of these brands, millennial and Generation Z candidates are forcing established organisations to reconsider what they do.

“Demand for flexible working is driven in part by a younger generation more adept at using technology to enhance their work-life balance,” says Horne. “To support this, we need to demonstrate flexibility in the ways in which we accommodate members of staff with other demands on their time to help us retain our talented and diverse workforce and allow us to meet client demands globally.”

Being flexible on the location of your workforce can also benefit your clients, says Horne: “Our flexibility about where our staff work benefits our ability to be responsive, particularly for clients in different time zones.”

How to introduce remote working

As businesses restructure processes to meet future challenges, remote working will become an important element of operations. To avoid brain drain, or missing out on the best candidates, you will need to seriously investigate its role in your strategy.

Achieving a true “work anywhere” operation is a multi-phase project that will take some time to complete. The following framework provides some pointers:

1. Set out who provides what

One of the earliest questions that needs to be answered is: how will remote workers connect and who will provide the necessary equipment? Will your company supply a pre-configured company laptop, or will the employees use their own personal devices?

Key consideration: Compliance with EU and FCA rulings on the use of personal devices within investment firms and, more broadly, financial services, must be met.

2. Start with communications

Staying in touch with colleagues is vital to productivity. Off-site employees need a way to connect with the main office easily and efficiently – and not just by email.

Will you forward calls to the worker’s mobile, or can you provide a proper VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) extension that connects them directly to the company switchboard? Consider other communication platforms that will better help you stay in touch with staff. “We use Skype and Zoom to assist with remote face-to-face meetings, and online, secure, portals for working on documents collectively from different locations,” says Horne.

Implementing a communications plan early will make it much easier to resolve other technical issues you encounter during the rest of the project.

Key consideration: Initially, teams may opt to use ‘unauthorised’ apps and services for communications. You’ll need to assess whether these fit with your information security policy, and make executive decisions on whether to adopt or ban them.

3. Lighten the load with cloud applications

Public cloud and software as a service (SaaS) applications are natively configured for remote access – so even your office-based workers are already connecting ‘remotely’ if you are using these platforms. In most cases this makes deployment to home workers as simple as creating a new user account; they can log in and begin working immediately.

Key consideration: Cloud accounts need to be closely monitored to ensure that subscriptions are added and removed in a timely manner. Left unchecked, costs can quickly spiral out of control.

4. Expand existing provisions

You probably already support a handful of remote workers, such as site engineers or field sales reps. These individuals will have been set up to use email and other line-of-business applications as they work outside the office.

These existing configurations can be used to jump-start a larger remote working deployment. You should also interview current field-based employees to understand their experiences and frustrations, and to identify potential improvements as you scale up.

Key consideration: Existing remote access provisions are just a reference point for your project, particularly where they have developed organically. You should assess and improve the service, paying careful attention to how data is secured.

5. Train, train, train

Remote working entails a degree of trust and self-reliance. Your off-site workers must be able to troubleshoot their own basic IT issues, for instance.

Before they are sent into the wild, every remote employee will need additional training to ensure they are able to access company systems and that they can comply with corporate data policies and best practices. As Horne explains: “While it is relatively straightforward to ensure that your devices are secure, staff need to be trained to be mindful of their location when they are working remotely and where there could be a risk of confidential information being seen or overheard.

“This requires training and awareness of our information security policy – international security standards like ISO 27001 can help to some extent as their implementation can raise awareness of information security issues.”

Key consideration: Some employees may lack the basic skills required for home working. You should not enable remote access for any employee who cannot demonstrate the requisite level of knowledge and ability.

6. Consider your corporate culture

Addressing attitudes to remote working is essential in order to avoid communication breakdowns.

Office-bound employees may resent their remote colleagues, assuming they are less productive, committed or effective. Without the usual office interactions, home-based workers may feel they are out of the loop, ignored and undervalued.

Key consideration: Management needs to confront these attitudes early to ensure everyone is on board with the project.

By Ben Lloyd