Businesses of all sizes and in virtually every industry sector have found some advantage to enabling members of their workforce to operate on a remote basis over the course of the past decade or so. By now the practice is hugely prevalent and a remote workforce is the norm for millions of professionals in the UK, across Europe and throughout much of the world.
Despite all this, best practice policies in these areas are still far from being set in stone and many employers struggle to maximise the potential of a mobile workforce while taking into consideration all relevant security-related and operational concerns.
Here’s a look at some of the key issues that employers ought to consider as they look to make the most of employees operating outside traditional office environments.
Far from limiting the extent to which individual members of a given team or workforce can collaborate, remote workforce tools can actually make collaboration more straightforward and routine. Helping things along in this context are the growing variety of professional collaboration tools that are increasingly being used on a routine basis.
Often these tools will be based on cloud platforms that allow for remote access and which work extremely well as collaboration tools in any number of contexts. Crucially, these platforms give anyone using a given document full visibility in terms of who is accessing that document and where, when and by whom any changes are made.
Of course, while being able to collaborate seamlessly and in teal time has its advantages, there’s no denying that remote operating can open up security concerns for employers. Whether or not employees are using their own devices to access work-related platforms and content, it’s important for organisations to communicate very clearly to members of their workforce what they should and should not be doing in when working outside the office.
The importance of data protection and confidentiality should not be lost on any employee who is being trusted to operate remotely but mistakes and oversights can easily happen nonetheless. What’s crucial is that employers make clear what’s acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to using different devices, apps and platforms to access, download and work on certain documents. It’s also important of course that IT protection strategies and policies are kept suitably up to date and fit for purpose.
Another key challenge involved in managing a remote workforce is ensuring that everyone is as engaged as they can be with their work and given guidance as and when required. Being in the same room as a colleague on a day-to-day basis generally opens up scope for engagement levels to be assessed and feedback to be given out routinely but these opportunities need to be proactively created when team members are working from home or are out of the office.
So this means that Skype calls, Google Hangouts and visits to the office ought to be pencilled in often enough so that remote workers are not left to feel out of the loop. As in traditional office settings, some people will be more naturally engaged than others but it’s important that remote workers are not neglected or overlooked for extended periods of time and that efforts are consistently made to ensure that they are motivated and made to feel valued.
Costs and planning
Where it is determined that remote and flexible working policies could be advantageous, it’s important that plans be put in place to see those potential benefits maximised. It is particularly helpful for high-level managerial staff and business bosses to make clear that they and the organisation as a whole buy in to the idea that mobile working is a positive option.
It’s also crucial that the right tools and the right policies are put in place to ensure that remote working really works for a given organisation and that security issues are properly addressed. All of which requires effective leadership and a robust planning process. It isn’t enough for a company to simply decide suddenly that it wants to integrate mobile working practices. It usually takes time and a concerted effort, as well as appropriate investments, for the real benefits for truly flexible working to be realised.
Ensuring that the right people can access information and systems without difficulty is a fundamental aspect of what mobile working requires. There is little sense in allowing employees to operate from home or from outside a main office environment and then failing to take whatever actions are required to ensure that they can do their jobs properly from those locations.
In no small part this means making sure that equipment and IT systems are reliable and that they meet the needs of a disparate workforce. This can require a change of approach from the perspective of IT support staff, who need to be ready to help minimise disruption to the efforts of people who could be anywhere and whose computers they cannot wander along the corridor to take a closer look at.
Cloud computing has helped to make remote, mobile and flexible working a viable option for more and more professionals worldwide and the trend towards these practices is only set to continue. For businesses and other organisations, the benefits can be very considerable but only if the various issues around access, security and engagement are understood and addressed properly.
In years to come, an ability to effectively and seamlessly manage and coordinate the efforts of remote or mobile staff will increasingly become not just preferable but necessary. In this context, the ways in which the above issues are viewed by employers will become a matter of real competitive importance, with more and more individuals with valuable skills looking to work for organisations that can offer them real flexibility.
Images “ Manager plugging into his team a remotely working female freelancer to share a task with a permanent male employee. Technology concept for outsourcing, casual labor marketplace and mobile computing. / Shutterstock.com“
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