The concept of remote working has come a long way. In its early stages, it was mostly unique to small start-ups lacking in physical offices and digital nomads operating out of co-working spaces scattered across the world. Many things have changed since then. While the Covid-19 pandemic definitely played a major role in the worldwide shift to remote working, the model's standalone benefits have gone on to surpass expectations and are more than capable of holding its own.
The initial transition required some getting used to. Introducing video conferencing, new tools and the right strategies proved to be a challenge and employers recognised that laying down a solid foundation was essential to a successful long-term telecommuting routine.
A remote working model allows businesses to save up to 40% in overhead costs
Amidst all the challenges encountered by business decision-makers, the benefits of a work from anywhere model were undeniable.
Some of these examples include:
Significant reductions in real estate expenses as only a small handful of employees were required to be in the office.
Reduction in costs related to electronic devices, electricity, heating, and air conditioning that would typically be utilised by on-site employees.
Reduction in time spent commuting to work. As the average employee spent an average of one hour commuting, working from home meant that this time could be spent on work-related projects.
Hiring remote employees from various geographic locations meant companies could expand their presence into multiple regions with a workforce familiar with the local business practices, languages and cultures.
Challenges of setting up a remote working strategy
Get your HR team involved early in the development of all workforce management plans. It is an essential step in helping departments communicate their workforce management plans to all their employees.
Transparency and clarity are key to ensuring that employees understand the financial reality, reasons behind the department’s approach, and the potential impact it may have on them.
Workplace culture and employee experience
For employees who are accustomed to working in an office setup, a work culture that involves some degree of isolation can throw various curveballs to the assimilation process. The most jarring shift perhaps, might come from working collaboratively in-person to having to adapt to a collaborative expectation in a physically distanced setup. Both employees and employers must learn how to manage the changes in how internal communication can be maintained.
Workers must also acclimate to the introduction of new technology. This might include tools to track and manage workflows in a mobile working setting, help onboard new employees, streamline interdepartmental collaboration, and structure HR processes. Along with this, comes the potential challenge of not having immediate access to an in-office IT department to troubleshoot any complications.
Another thing worth thinking about is what happens when homes begin to double as workspaces. For employees, identifying how to find balance between personal and professional lives will prove to be a learning curve as the line separating the two can easily blur under these circumstances.
Fostering an employee experience is integral to a company’s success. The physically distanced nature of teleworking settings can restrict the level of visibility companies have over employee engagement.
Employers must think about how to support remote work best practices in the long term. Be it through regular one-on-one phone calls, conducting periodic surveys or providing employees with sufficient access to information and knowledge tools to nurture their growth.
Growing accustomed to the new reality of a telecommuting model also involves adjusting how compliance policies are managed. This is even more complex for companies with a global workforce as they will have to pay attention to the regulations that govern their own country as well as the ones of the countries where their employees live and work.
For traditional office environments, these regulations are clearly laid out, but when most (if not all) of your employees are working from home, restructuring your compliance program to ensure that your newly remote company is legally liable can present a lot of grey areas.
Some of the steps companies can take to maintain an effective compliance program include:
Updating your compliance policies to reflect a work from anywhere environment.
Consulting global mobility experts like Airswift to identify best practices for incorporating employee safety and liability considerations into a global remote organisation.
Implementing training sessions to ensure that employees are caught up on the latest changes in your company’s compliance policy.
Ensuring employees are aware of the dos and don’ts surrounding the handling of company information.
Conducting regular compliance audits to reaffirm your company’s commitment to maintaining compliance.
“Where compliance is concerned, companies should be mindful of adding remote workers into the business in new locations, they should do so in a way that doesn’t trigger permanent establishment (PE) risks with corresponding corporate tax exposure.”
Consider the costs
There are plenty of tangible short-term savings to be made with regards to reduced overhead costs. However you must consider the costs your organisation is ready to absorb from employees working from home. Prior to rolling out a long-term flexible workplace model, companies must identify and outline the costs that will be covered along with the ones that won’t be.
From office equipment such as desks, laptops and scanners to stationery, insurance and the hiring and training of talent - be mindful of expenses that may be incurred through this new normal working model.
Data security risks
With employees working from their own spaces, increased use of unauthorised devices, insecure or public Wi-Fi networks and more put companies at greater risk of compromising their sensitive data. And that of their partners and clients. Making them susceptible to unintentional breach of data protection laws.
Enforcing cybersecurity safeguards across scattered home office spaces whilst having to monitor employee activities without infringing on their privacy can pose as a challenge. This is further heightened for businesses who operate globally and must be in compliance with multiple data protection laws.
For employers to continue to protect their corporate and employee information whilst remaining compliant, steps must be taken to suss out and mitigate data security risks. Start by assessing you cybersecurity risk profile, Next, work with your IT and risk management teams to properly establish a clear and robust data security playbook.
Once this has been put into place, the next phase should involve recalibrating and communicating these procedures to your employees and management teams. Training in this arena is often necessary to ensure that all staff are educated and up to date on company policies related to maintaining healthy data security habits.
A clear communication strategy is the quintessential stepping stone towards a successful strategy. Ensuring employees are performing consistently involves more than just tracking the times they're logging in and out of work. Therefore, project management teams must be precise in communicating their expectations from employees and perform regular check-ins to ensure that their virtual teams have the resources they need to meet these standards.
Employers should structure a clear workflow plan on an individual as well as team level with their staff. For the sake of transparency, this information should be available across the department so that employees know what they need to do to perform but are also looped into what their team mates are handling. This is so that they know what to expect and who to communicate with when challenges arise.
Online productivity tools such as Monday.com and Asana have proven to be helpful under these circumstances as they allow for ease of reporting, productivity measuring and business continuity.
Define goals and measurable outcomes
While we know that clear communication is integral to any effective strategy, the concept itself can be rather abstract. What exactly entails clear communication? This is where we break down the specifics of setting up a seamless communication plan.
Questions to ask and answer might include:
What are the agreed upon working hours for all team members to be available?
What tools will be used for communication and what are the procedures involved?
What is an acceptable response time for emails and messages (take timezone differences into consideration)
Who reports to whom?
Who has access to which documents?
How are responsibilities delegated?
Having well defined responsibilities is essential to ensuring that everyone in the team knows what they’re accountable. It’s also important to remember to not work in silos. Therefore, having an open stream of communication is necessary when discussing KPIs and expectations. It allows teams to acknowledge and agree on what they are working towards. It also makes it easier for employees to monitor their own progress against pre-defined targets and stay organised.
Create healthy telecommuting environments for your employees
Satisfied employees are the backbone of any successful company. Make it a point to provide your employees with conditions they need to maintain productivity while working from home. This might include making sure they have the right equipment to setting up task management solutions to help them stay on top of their KPIs and track their progress.
On an intrinsic level, empower employees by reminding them that they are valued, and their voices heard. Small gestures such as rewarding good performance, asking for opinions, or putting aside a few minutes a day to check in on their wellbeing can go a long way. In many cases, conducting employee surveys are useful in bridging the gap between expectation and actual experience.
Also, pay attention to changes in behavior such as lowered KPI scores, increase in sick days, etc. These may be telling signs that something might not be right. In instances like these, create a safe and comfortable space for employees to speak openly without strong arming or interrogating them.
Reinforce company culture
When your virtual workforce is scattered across geographic locations and timezones, how exactly do you cultivate an environment of trust and connectedness amongst employees? Here are some helpful tips:
Organise regular and informal Q&A sessions with team leaders and management staff
Send virtual kudos or shout-outs to recognise and encourage outstanding performance
Create a social channel on your business’s communication platform to allow employees from various departments to interact and mingle in a light-hearted environment
Schedule virtual townhalls or huddles once every quarter to re-establish company-wide goals, progress and values
Invest time into creating a thorough and informative employee onboarding deck as this can help new remote team members familiarise themselves with and understand your company culture
Navigating global workforce strategies with Airswift
Implementing an effective remote work strategy takes time and patience, especially when you’re working with a globally dispersed team. Here at Airswift, we have more than 40 years of experience in supporting companies manage a global workforce across 60 countries around the world.