Work can be done from anywhere, right? It’s the promise of the modern age.
Earlier this year, polling firm Gallup reported that 43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely in 2016, up four percentage points since 2012, according to The New York Times.
Companies, especially those that employ knowledge workers, need the right mix of technologies and policies to make remote work successful for their employees. Some companies are choosing to forgo telework to foster greater collaboration in the office. For companies that continue to support remote work, here are some approaches they can take to make it successful:
More work is becoming team-based, according to a 2016 survey from consultancy Deloitte, which found that only 38 percent of all companies are “functionally organized,” grouping employees by job type. “Most comprise collaborative groups that shift depending on the work,” Bloomberg News notes.
Deloitte recommends that companies “put in place tools and measurement systems that encourage people to move between teams, and share information and collaborate with other teams.”
“I think that’s why we’re seeing remote work come back in,” Erica Volini, a U.S. human capital leader at Deloitte, told Bloomberg. “In order to work in teams, you need a higher level of collaboration.”
For workers both inside and outside the office, team-based chat apps such as Slack, Google Chat, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Spark, allow users to stay in constant communication via persistent messaging. The apps, though they vary in terms of features, also allow documents to be shared easily. For example, Microsoft’s core Office applications — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint and Power BI — are integrated with Teams.
Last year, Richard Laermer, who owns a New York–based public relations firm, decided to let employees work from home on a regular basis. However, he told Bloomberg, workers took advantage of the policy, with one unavailable for hours at a time and another who didn’t communicate with co-workers all day. After 10 months, he abandoned the policy and made employees come into the office every day.
One way to avoid scenarios like this, and to foster more communication and collaboration with remote workers, is videoconferencing.
Videoconferencing can be used for specific meetings or kept on constantly to keep track of workers in remote locations. Fast Company reports that location-based social networking company Foursquare’s bi-coastal team uses an always-on videoconferencing system from Cisco Systems. “‘The Portal,’” as they call it, runs all day in the most crowded work area, which gives team members the opportunity to just walk up to the screen and see what people on the other side of the coast are doing,” Fast Company reports.
Remote workers can also use tools like Cisco’s Spark Board, which enables not only video calling, but also screen sharing and collaborative whiteboarding.
There are a plethora of other videoconferencing tools, including Google’s “Meet” app, designed for access via laptops and mobile devices, and Microsoft’s Skype for Business. High-definition videoconferencing allows team members to meet face to face and also ensures that managers know where and when an employee is working.
As workers have embraced mobility solutions and engaged in remote work, companies have sought ways to provide them with secure access to mission-critical applications. Virtualization of applications and desktop environments provide companies with easy and secure ways to grant remote workers access to the apps they need without fearing that critical data will be compromised if a user’s device is lost, stolen or hacked.
Virtualization solutions from vendors such as VMware, Citrix, Microsoft, Workspot and others “offer new ways to deliver rich client applications and environments to endpoints beyond the traditional boundaries of enterprise networks,” BizTech reports. “By serving these assets from centrally managed, server-based images, client virtualization solutions provide uniquely secure, efficient and manageable delivery of applications and environments to end users.”
Getting access to applications while working remotely is only part of the equation to ensure productivity. Users also need to be able to edit and collaborate on documents in real time.
Data and device security is a paramount concern with remote work. Virtual desktops can help mitigate some security issues, but companies should also invest in enterprise mobility management and endpoint security solutions.
Cisco also points out that companies need to employ virtual private networks and firewall technologies to secure remote workers. Companies may also want to restrict the kinds of data employees can access remotely.
“Remote working programs also call for stricter user controls,” Virtual Strategy Magazine notes. “Since you have less control over how an employee accesses and uses your company data, you’ll want to lock down high risk functions that aren’t necessary for job completion. Disabling features such as printing, screen capture, copy/paste and external saving help keep your data from being improperly handled, stored or shared.”
Remote work isn’t for every company. Earlier this year IBM told 2,000 U.S. workers they could no longer work from home, and about the same number of employees were told they had to commute into offices more often, Bloomberg reports.
“IBM’s strategy is about adopting the best work method for the work being done,” an IBM spokesperson told Bloomberg. “For example, small, multi-disciplinary teams of engineers, coders, project managers and designers work in close proximity, often directly with clients or end-users, continually generating and refining ideas.”
If companies do support telework, a Fast Company article recommends that teams communicate often, that managers and employees under them are proactive, and that companies know how to measure productivity.
Additionally, companies need to remember that employees are people with their hobbies, families and lives outside of work, something that should be discussed and nurtured with remote workers. “It is important to recreate that ‘water cooler’ conversation that naturally occurs in a traditional office,” Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, tells Fast Company.