Studies show that remote work can have a number of benefits across the board—which is lucky, because it seems like many enterprises around the world will be stuck with it as their primary model for at least a while longer. Indeed, 75% of remote workers report better productivity, and 80% report reduced stress. Not only does this mean that remote work can keep the gears turning when it’s not feasible for most people to work from an office, but also that remote workers can form the backbone of a cost effective long-term corporate strategy.
Of course, not all work-from-home policies are created equal. You need to craft policies and guidelines that will support your workers in their new settings (i.e. their homes), while continuing to be mindful of things like ADA compliance, other accessibility issues, or even simple work-life balance. This will require careful consideration not just of the rules and guidelines you set out for your workers, but the tools and infrastructure you set up to make that remote work possible.
Why Remote Work?
Before we tackle some of the exact ins and outs of remote work policies, we’ll try to answer a simple question: why utilize remote workers? The easiest answer to give right now is that, for many enterprises, it’s the only option during the pandemic—but even outside the current moment there are plenty of ways that this model can drive success. For instance:
- Since remote workers can be anywhere in the world, recruiting for a remote workforce lets you widen your search to include any qualified person on the globe. This can make a huge difference in terms of how easy or difficult it is to find the right talent.
- If you do find yourself with a workers spread across the globe, you can actually leverage that fact to create areas of convenient time zone alignment and coverage. With everyone in a physical office together, you might have difficulty working with clients in far-flung locales—but a remote workforce might already have team members in those locations who are in a position to work with those clients.
- By the same token, since new workers don’t necessarily require new physical office space, you can scale your workforce up without worrying about the increased costs that would potentially come from leasing or buying more brick-and-mortar square footage.
- Speaking more broadly, remote work policies are (usually) a catalyst for increased flexibility across your workforce, which can have a number of intrinsic benefits. For one thing, it’s much easier to accommodate people with different work needs, habits, or styles. At the same time, workers tend to start thinking less in terms of “punching the clock” and more in terms of deliverables and results—which can result in improved performance.
These are just a few of the reasons that many companies who transitioned to remote work after the onset of the pandemic are wondering whether they should ever transition back. Taken together, they represent the possibility of utilizing remote work as a strategy, rather than simply as a convenience.
Setting the Right Policies
In order to actually get the benefits that we talked about above, enterprises need to go about setting up and empowering a remote workforce in the right way. This begins with establishing a remote work policy. This shouldn’t be something abstract: it should be written down as disseminated among your workforce—and it should include a policy brief, a note on the scope of the policy, and potentially a remote working agreement. From there, the policy needs to address:
- Workspace and connectivity requirements: If you have a strong vision of what a healthy work environment looks like for your remote workers, this is the space to lay that out. This might include ensuring that company property (e.g. work computers) are being used and stored in a safe environment, that the employee isn’t an unsafe environment, etc. Remember that you’re still responsible for the health and safety of your workers while they’re working from home. You might also use this space to set standards for the minimum acceptable internet connection speed for working from home.
- Attendance: When everyone is together in the office, it’s easy to see when people come and go, and it’s easy to make sure that no one is playing hooky from all-hands meetings and the like. So, for your remote workers, you need to set clear expectations about what constitutes an excused absence and what doesn’t—and what expectations are for attendance in general.
- Confidentiality and data protection: These policies will, no doubt, reflect the same ones that you might have had in-office, but with provisions for a few added wrinkles: e.g. the fact that many employees will potentially be using their own devices (which might they might be less rigorous about habitually updating) and almost all will be utilizing their own networks.
- Employee Code of Conduct: File this one under “list of unacceptable Zoom behaviors.” You’ll obviously have your existing Code of Conduct to cover most facets of corporate life, but you’ll need to get explicit about where you draw the lines for what is and isn’t expected for how employees comport themselves over video chat and while using other tools designed around remote work. This might also include a dress code when meeting with customers or partners.
- Anti-discrimination/equal opportunity: This is another crucial consideration. It’s often much easier for issues of access and equity to be “out of sight, out of mind,” when everything in a normal workday is happening via Zoom or Teams—but it’s still incumbent upon businesses to ensure that differently abled employees or members of marginalized groups are provided with safe work environments.
Challenges with Remote Work
As you can imagine, many of the policies we discussed above are going to come with challenges that businesses will need to deal with. For data protection and confidentiality, for instance, you might find that you need a way to remotely manage mobile devices and other physical infrastructure in order to restrict access to devices that aren’t running up-to-date software, connecting to secure networks, utilizing encryption protocols, etc. When it comes to workspaces, you might find that you need to adjust your approach to furnishing employees with equipment, erring on the side of home-office necessities instead of typical corporate swag.
Beyond the operational challenges, most of the difficulties that teams face in going remote are psychological. We noted that remote workers often report higher productivity, but many also report struggling to disconnect from work, having a harder time connecting and collaborating with teammates, and dealing with distractions at home. They also have a tendency to work longer hours at a more intense pace, which can result in added stress and an increased risk of burnout.
There’s no easy solution that will mitigate all of these challenges in one blow. But, at the end of the day, just being aware of these issues is an important first step. That puts you in a position to promote policies that will counter some of the added stresses and risks of remote work (for instance, encouraging your employees to set reminders to take breaks, to set appointments on their calendars for the end of the day, to turn off notification after work, etc.). It also gives you the perspective you need to find the right tools and technology to keep everything running smoothly and your team happy.
What Tools and Infrastructure Do You Need?
Here you might be wondering what kinds of tools and technology we’re talking about. For starters, there’s a handful of different apps and tools that can help keep a remote team sane, healthy, and in-sync:
- Shared calendars
- Videoconferencing and messaging applications
- Time zone calculators
- Password managers
- Customer support platforms
- Internal documentation and wikis
- Pairing applications for teammates
- Background noise sources for concentration
Then, there’s more complicated applications like Microsoft Intune and other MDM (mobile device management) solutions that you can use to manage the sorts of the remote worker policies that we were covering a few sections ago. These kinds of solutions can help you to ensure that, for instance, remote workers are always using equipment that meets corporate standards, and that they’re never accessing your corporate cloud applications without taking the appropriate precautions. Depending on the MDM solution you’re using, you can even natively provision some of the remote-worker-friendly applications we’ve discussed above, so that as soon as an employee receives a new device they’re all set to start contributing.
Tools like these can, of course, be quite complex when it comes to setup and configuration. Luckily, just as your teams are increasingly not wedded to a particular geographical location, there’s no rule that says your internal IT staff needs to deal with every last task that comes along. When it comes to setting up the right infrastructure to jumpstart your remote working initiative, outsourcing configuration and setup of an MDM solution to the cloud experts can be a straightforward, cost-effective way to get the ball rolling.