The benefits of switching to a remote workforce convince many employers to consider the transition. A remote work model allows employers to hire the right talent, regardless of location. It eliminates the high operational costs of leasing office space. It also allows employers to build an engaged workforce that’s happier, healthier and more productive.
And while employers crave these benefits, they aren’t quite compelling enough to eradicate certain major concerns about the risks of the transition. How will you know employees are actually working if they’re not in the office? How will team members collaborate if they never meet face-to-face? What happens if you need to meet with a customer but you don’t maintain an office space?
Each of these concerns are valid, but each also has a solution.
To overcome your concerns about switching to remote work—or to find ways to reassure hesitant leaders—consider these five solutions to common issues that will teach you to build a high-functioning remote team and enjoy the many benefits of transition.
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Concern #1: There’s no way to determine if employees are actually working
When everyone works in the office, it seems like it’s easy to tell if people are working. You see them at their desks, hear them on meetings, and notice if they’re spending more time looking at their phones than their computers.
On the other hand, remote workers can spend the workday watching TV, socializing on Facebook, or doing personal chores, and you won’t be there to catch them.
Remote worker productivity is a valid concern, but so is office worker productivity.
Studies have shown that office workers are only productive for three hours of every 8-hour workday. The other five hours are spent on social media sites, chatting with coworkers and desk neighbors, and making food, drinks, and snacks—among other unproductive activities.
Sitting at a desk doesn’t make people work, and it’s easy to switch tabs on a computer screen when a manager passes by. Employees who intend to slack off will find a way to do so whether they’re in a place where they can be directly observed or not.
The solution to productivity concerns isn’t forcing everyone to come into the office. It’s adopting tools that allow managers to monitor employee productivity.
How will the tools help me?
Tools like Hubstaff’s time tracker allow company leaders to keep a close eye on what employees are doing throughout the day—whether they’re working in the office or from home. It runs on employee computers all day, tracking the time they spend on specific tasks/projects and monitoring their activity.
- Hubstaff captures screenshots of employee devices at random intervals. Managers can review the screenshots at any time to see what employees are doing on their computers during working hours.
- It monitors employee activity levels. Screenshots don’t tell the whole story because employees can easily open a work application and walk away from their desk. To combat this issue, Hubstaff also monitors keystrokes and mouse movements so managers can identify idle time masked as work.
- It tracks internet usage. Managers can pull a report showing what websites employees are spending their time on and how much time is being spent on those sites. This makes it easy to identify employees who are spending too much time on news sites and social media.
With Hubstaff, it’s possible to monitor remote worker productivity even more closely than you can when employees work in the office.With Hubstaff, it’s possible to monitor worker productivity even more closely than in the office. Click To Tweet
Concern #2: Communication and collaboration suffer
Another common concern is that communication between managers, staff, and coworkers will suffer. Because employees can’t just tap on someone’s shoulder when they have questions, they may struggle to get the answers they need to stay productive.
Modern technology provides solutions for creating a remote workspace that’s just as efficient for communicating and collaborating as having everyone together in an office.
- Project Management Tools – Project management platforms like Basecamp, Asana, Trello, VersionOne, and JIRA allow managers to assign tasks to employees, add due dates, and monitor progress. Remote workers can collaborate with coworkers on the selected platform and stay up to date on the progress of assignments.
- Video Conferencing Tools – WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype, and Google Hangouts allow teams to mimic in-person meetings. When people speak, their webcams activate so other attendees can see them. Participants can also share their computer screens to present information to the group.
- Messaging and Chat Tools – Managers and coworkers can stay connected throughout the workday on popular messaging programs like Slack or HipChat. Or for a more personal experience, teams can utilize PukkaTeam —a platform that enables instant video chats to mimic stopping by someone’s desk to chat.
- Document Collaboration Tools – Applications like Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides allow coworkers to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. They can edit files, track changes, and leave comments. Multiple people can all work on the same file at the same time without overwriting each other’s changes.
- File Sharing Tools – Platforms like Google Drive, Box, Sharepoint, and Jive enable teams to share files with each other and set detailed permissions that prevent unwanted access. Coworkers can also share screenshots and screen recordings with each other instantly using CloudApp.
These tools enable collaboration and communication so effectively that many coworkers who sit near each other in an office will use these platforms to communicate instead of getting up to chat in person.
For effective remote team communication and collaboration using these platforms, Sean Graber, cofounder and CEO of Virtuali, recommends that leaders train their employees to match messages with the right medium:
“To effectively share information that is complex or personal, you often need to observe body language, hear tone and inflection, and be able to see what you’re talking about. For those purposes, video conferencing is the next best thing to talking face-to-face. At the other end of the spectrum, small, non-urgent requests are best suited to e-mail, instant messaging, or all-in-one platforms like Slack. Although this seems commonsensical, many people instinctively default to their preferred method of communication, which can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and lost productivity.”
How standups can help
Remote companies can also adopt Agile’s standup meetings. Scrum teams have a 15-minute meeting at the start of each day where every team member provides a report on what they did the day before, what they’re planning to work on that day, and any impediments blocking their progress.
A daily standup helps managers track progress, allows team members to report and resolve impediments, and gives everyone a chance to connect and ask questions.
One final concern for companies with distributed remote teams is time zone differences. If you have employees working in both New York and Dubai, 9-5 shifts mean employees will never be online at the same time. The solution to this issue is to set policies for expected availability.
For example, workers in New York may need to begin working at 8 a.m. so they can connect with coworkers in Dubai during the last hour of their 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift. Standups should also be scheduled during that hour when everyone is online so all team members can connect daily.
Concern #3: Company culture suffers
A positive company culture is foundational for employee engagement. In Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report, company culture was among the top five reasons why employees leave their jobs for positions with other companies. They’re either dissatisfied with the culture at their current employers or enticed by a positive culture at another company.
Building a company culture when everyone works remotely is difficult, but it’s not impossible.
Executives at Automattic —the company behind WordPress—built a positive company culture by using the money they save on office space to pay for employees to travel and meet each other.
Employees can take trips to a destination of their choice to work together in person at any time, and Automattic also has an annual companywide retreat—usually at an exciting and exotic location.
In addition to an annual retreat, version control platform provider GitHub requires all remote employees to spend their first week of work at its headquarters to get a feel for the company’s culture from day one. They also host a #toasts forum where employees can post threads about their accomplishments and receive toasting selfies from coworkers in reply.
With a little creativity and budgeting, building a strong and positive company culture that boosts engagement among remote workers is absolutely possible. But it won’t happen on its own. Company leaders must commit to finding innovative ways to bring employees together, inspire positive relationships, and encourage advocacy.
Concern #4: Remote work amplifies data security risks
When everyone works in the office, companies have more control over their data because it’s accessed using company computers over private networks.
On the other hand, when people work from home without the right tools, technologies, and equipment, data security becomes a greater risk.
This concern can be eliminated by equipping employees with the right tools and technology to work from home without risking the exposure of confidential, proprietary, or protected data.
While some companies provide remote workers with funds to acquire their own equipment, others continue to provide company laptops and devices secured against threats and monitored by a central IT data security team. Company-issued laptops set up to minimize threats can be shipped to new remote workers before their first day.
Companies can also use Virtual Provider Network (VPN) technology to minimize the risk of data exposure over various networks. VPNs mimic connecting to a company network—just like employees would do when connecting at the office—and include features like authentication and encryption that prevent attackers from accessing data passed through the network.
Concern #5: We need to meet with customers, clients, or investors
Another concern many companies have about abandoning their office space is that they’ll have nowhere for meetings with customers, clients, or investors.
If you have regular meetings that must occur in an office, maintaining a lease on an office space may be worthwhile. The good news is letting most employees to work remotely should allow you to downsize your office space and reduce your rent and utility payments.
But if you have meetings with customers and partners occasionally but infrequently, you can rent temporary office space for those meetings instead of leasing an office space year-round.
The growth in remote work has led to many services that offer temporary office spaces—from entire furnished offices that can impress potential clients, to single desks in shared spaces for remote employees that need to get out of the house occasionally.
Temporary office space can be found using popular services like ShareDesk, Regus, and LiquidSpace. If these providers don’t serve your area, other local providers are likely available. Google “temporary office space in [your location].”
Temporary, rentable office space allows you to conduct meetings with customers, clients, and investors in a professional environment without incurring leasing and utility fees year-round for a rarely used building.
The benefits of switching to remote work outweigh the concerns
Remote work horror stories like those told by Yahoo, Best Buy, and IBM warn of the pitfalls and inefficiencies of the model, but their messaging may not tell the whole story.
There were rumors that IBM made the change to run off older employees with families who would be less willing to move across a state or country to keep their jobs at the company.
And in an interview with NBC News, Thanh Nguyen, managing director of HR firm Connery Consulting, argues that these moves away from remote work are less about the model itself than they are about larger problems in the organization.
“I think these companies are really struggling to compete at an innovation level with smaller-stage organizations. They’re thinking of every single possible way to reunite people to drive better innovations.”
For every remote work horror story, there are dozens/hundreds/thousands of case studies from businesses who’ve achieved extreme success with the model. Hubstaff is a fully remote company, as are big name brands like Automattic, Zapier, and Buffer.
With 35% of employees admitting they’d leave their current job for one that offered remote work, companies will soon have to consider the transition—concerns or not—to stay competitive when trying to recruit the best talent.
What additional concerns do you have about making the transition to a remote work model? We’d love to hear them and provide solutions in the comments below!