Remote working vs collaboration: Do you have to choose?
22 June 2016
5 min read
The greatest inventions in the world were created when someone saw a problem and thought enough is enough. That spark was enough to set the wheels of change in motion but the path from inspiration to innovation is rarely walked alone.
Alexander Graham Bell is credited with patenting the first telephone but when did you last hear about the team he worked with, conversations with his wife over dinner or with his best friend at his favourite bar? Sometimes it can be the quiet moments of unrelated conversation that lead to the biggest insights and breakthroughs. This is the power of collaboration.
Will there be a hidden cost to the rise of remote-working? Are these moments of face-to-face collaboration that lead to our greatest technological breakthroughs going to become a thing of the past?
The people have spoken – it’s time to work remotely
A recent study revealed that the savings from remote working can be significant. Over a 9-month period home-workers reported higher job satisfaction and completed 13.5% more calls than office-based staff; this nearly equals an extra workday per week per worker. Staff retention was higher (50% less turnover than office-based), and the total estimated savings of the experiment were around $1,900 per employee per month.
This was largely attributed to a lack of distractions, earlier start times/later finishing times and shorter breaks. Unsurprisingly sick days for home workers plummeted, adding to the savings: Aches, pains and muscular-skeletal disorders alone cost the EU €240bn a year, which equals up to 2% of total GDP.
Other pieces of research revealed a significant uplift of sales and productivity. Alpine Access, a large, all-virtual employer attributed a 30% increase in sales and 90% reduction in customer complaints to its home-based agents. Remote workers at American Express outperformed office workers by handling 26% more calls and producing 43% more business.
Financially it makes sense, but how does your workforce feel about remote working? A quick look at the stats from Randstad Sourceright’s 2015 Talent Trends Survey, immediately reveals a desk-based preference in the minority. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of employees in the global survey would work from home, while just 35% would visit the office every day.
Dig a little deeper and the results show that flexible hours rather than standard work days appear to be the ideal. This was highest among British respondents (58%) and in the 18-24 millennial demographic (20%).
It raises interesting questions about how people work together. Can millennials work remotely and have the collaborative, goal-orientated and team-based workstyle they crave? Yes says a recent study from IdeaPaint, but only by adopting modern tools and methods. 74% prefer to collaborate in small groups, either digitally via social networks and wikis or face to face. However, 38% of them feel that outdated collaboration processes get in the way of innovation.
How to work collaboratively and remotely
If you want to introduce remote working but don’t want to sacrifice office culture and collaboration, then it’s important plan and prepare. It’s not as simple as reworking rotas and ensuring everyone keeps their diaries up to date.
Upgrade your tech and security
People need to work effectively alone and with colleagues while offsite. They need the support of technology. This doesn’t just mean buying Skype for Business licenses for everyone (though that will certainly help). Develop a robust IT infrastructure which seamlessly integrates data, comms and easy access in a secure way - from anywhere in the world.
“Companies are providing… basic hardware [such as a] laptop and smartphone, but not all the technologies needed to build a digital workplace, like Wi-Fi, instant messaging, Web conferencing, team workspaces and enterprise social networks,” said Sean O’Brien, executive vice president of strategy at PGi.
Whether this means employer provided technology or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), it’s essential to discuss what your remote team actually need to be productive – and the best ways to stay secure while working offsite.
With stats like one in four EU employees admitting to breaking security policies so they can work remotely, and two in five having experienced lost or stolen business devices, developing a comprehensive cyber security training program is crucial for your data security.
A laptop and a smart phone are the bare minimum that remote workers need. Discuss the tech needs of your remote team and find out exactly what they’ll need. The needs of admin and call centre staff will differ greatly to mobile executives and your sales force.
The aim is to give people technology that can keep up with how they need to work.
Make the office culture digital
If you have a great office culture and don’t want to dilute it, then it’s essential to consider the impact remote working might have. A great start to preserving what makes your culture so powerful is to actively promote technology which will transform it into a digital entity.
For example, why not try inviting every remote worker to a weekly company meeting on a Friday? Set up a video conference invite with a program like Skype for Business and it’s easy to feel like everyone is taking part.
IM programs enable your workforce to informally communicate as much or as little as they need to throughout the day. Not only will this make it easier to share ideas and maintain friendships, it’ll cut down on the amount of emails being sent.
Don’t forget to schedule face-to-face meetings either. Whether you’re working on a piece of new business or starting a creative project, your teams will relish the chance to work together in person to get ideas flowing.
To help scheduling and prevent missed calls, establish expectations on working hours before employees leave the office. Flexible working doesn’t mean ‘turn up whenever you want’. It’s about understanding that there can be a balance between personal life and work life. So if someone will be available from 10-7, instead of 9-6, let everyone know.
With that in mind, let people know when you need them to be available and set a minimum notice period for whereabouts. It’s essential so that teams can communicate freely and synchronise their schedules.
And finally make sure that the business respects downtime. Being constantly available doesn’t mean people should sacrifice extra time to support the business. Your people have earned a break.