There are plenty of reasons why you might want to allow your employees to work from home - whether that's simply the benefits that remote working can provide, or because of travel disruption, health reasons, or environmental concerns.
Having employees work from home involves a certain level of trust. But up to date programs and software mean you can stay engaged with employees working remotely, and develop trust with your technology instead. This also contributes to a robust business continuity plan in the event of disaster.
Remote working has been proven to increase productivity and efficiency. With a better work-life balance, you’ll have happier employees with improved morale and enthusiasm. Not convinced telecommuting is for you? What about the cost savings for your business? No employees in the office means less overheads, no electricity or heating costs to pay for.
Creating a more mobile workforce is a win-win for everyone. So how do you keep a check on what your employees are up to?
Keep in contact
Communication is key to a mobile workforce - whether they're always remote or simply working from home for a brief period of time. With clear communication technologies implemented, you’ll have a much better idea of the tasks your employees are working on, no matter where they are. Microsoft Teams is a great tool for this, enabling various means of communicating with each other.
Instant messaging allows you to easily message staff members for a quick catch-up on progress or to check how a project is coming along. Plus the collaboration tools - like sharing documents and files - ensures that being out of the office doesn't make it difficult to work as a team.
Regular contact encourages a flow of conversation between you and your employees so you can stay engaged and informed. The easier this can be done through fast technology, the more likely is to be carried out regularly. Alternatively, you can schedule a regular time of contact every day to catch up without interruption.
Instant messaging keeps the day-to-day communication going, but meetings are another key area that affects how businesses function. Having people outside the office doesn't have to disrupt your meeting schedule, however.
Set up your regular meetings but include an online link - either Teams or Zoom will allow you to all log in online and communicate. Shared screens allow multiple employees to easily see and discuss a topic, so you know you're all literally on the same page. This enables a more comprehensive communication avenue than just phone calls.
We'd recommend insisting on cameras being on for the meetings - having face to face contact (even via video rather than in person) is important for building and maintaining strong teams. You can see how everyone is reacting to the meeting, and it's harder for anyone to get forgotten or left out. This shouldn't be framed as a way of 'checking up' on people - it really is about maintaining positive and productive relationships no matter where people are working from.
With employees spread out and working remotely, it’s important to tie it all back together. A disjointed effort with projects is not good for anyone and will just create an unorganised approach to working. With collaborative tools, your employees can still work together, just as they would back in the office, and you can get involved too.
Microsoft Teams a great way to do this. You can share your documents online so that all relevant colleagues and team members can view and edit files simultaneously - no waiting. You can tag individuals or entire teams in your messages, so you know you're getting input from all the right people, and you can see who's working on a file at the same time as you. You can incorporate Planner to do lists in your team so you can follow everything and make sure nothing gets missed.
Trello is another popular tool for remote collaboration. You can create different boards for different teams or projects, to do lists, cards with updates or documents you need to share, and plenty of places for keeping everyone up to date on what needs to be done.
With increased collaboration, projects can be completed faster and to a higher finish, with input from everyone. This all allows you to dip into current projects and files to quickly check on progress - which helps you keep track of how everyone is getting on when working remotely.
Track everyone's time
Timekeeping isn’t just great for monitoring time spent on specific projects but it also helps with budget allocation. With the correct timekeeping tools, you have a better understanding of what tasks are taking up your employees’ time. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to notice that a task or client has taken up too much time this month, or perhaps not enough.
When your employees are outside the usual working environment, it's even more important to track time. You can see if meetings are suddenly taking up more time (and therefore need to be managed more effectively), or identify where time is being wasted or not used as effectively as it should be.
There are tonnes of great timer tools out there - we use Clockify because we like its simplicity and ease of use, while still being able to track the level of detail we want. But there are plenty of other tools out there, so there will no doubt be one that suits your business. Obviously we'd recommend using technology for this, rather than relying on spreadsheets, so you get better data and easier reporting.
Remote working technologies
Allowing your employees to work remotely means their individual working areas should feel like an extension of the office. So it’s vital to have the technologies in place to allow this smooth transition.
Having a remote desktop means all your employees’ software and programs can be accessed from their home offices or even the coffee shop, anywhere with an internet connection. This way, you know that your employees have all the tools and software they need, wherever they are - so they're not unable to complete a specific task because they can't access the right documents.
Make sure your employees also have equipment like laptops and chargers, and that they take them home from the office each day, so that if necessary, they're completely ready to work from home in any eventuality.
Have a policy
Any remote working should be run in line with your company policy - if you don't have one, now is the time to create it. This should include your expectations and requirements for people working outside the office.
We'd hope that you can trust the people working for you to do their jobs effectively regardless of whether or not they're in the office. If you can't, that's a separate personnel issue rather than an issue with remote work. But it's always better to have a policy in place - that way you have clear guidelines for everyone to follow, and consequences if these expectations are not met.