Remote work is quickly becoming the norm, expanding the pool of those who can Skype into the morning meeting in pajamas.
In Gallup’s State of the American Workforce report, the polling company found that 43 percent of employed Americans did some of their work remotely. This trend could accelerate, particularly with the rise in freelance and part-time work.
Getting the job done remotely offers many advantages: happier employees, lower office costs, and more flexibility for when people get their work done. Your team doesn’t need to fight traffic or wait for an unreliable transit system to deliver them to the workplace. There’s also a considerable body of research that shows employees take great enjoyment from the the flexibility that comes from working remotely.
Despite the upside, remote work isn’t the right fit for everyone. Choosing to set everyone free from the nest requires some some thought. If you need some guidance, here are a few key questions to consider before going partially or all-in on a remote work plan.
Is Some Work Already Being Done Remotely?
You may already be a remote organization and not even know it. If most of your workday involves Slack conversations, collaboration over Google Docs, video conferences, or other networked services then you’ve already made the first step into the remote world. Check out the current workflow to gauge if there’d be that major of a transition if some switched to a remote setting.
The key is to examine what the workflow looks like and if that can be replicated from anywhere. Some conference calls could be done via Skype. Software demos can still be shown off with screen sharing services. The technology is there to eliminate any issues caused by distance, and you don’t need a HoloLens to make it happen.
How Will Your Team Perform?
Successful remote work grants more independence to staff -- which can be uncomfortable for some managers. A supervisor can’t just walk down the hall to see how things are going. It takes some extra discipline on the part of both employer and employee to ensure the work is getting done.
But with the right digital tools, this can be resolved without much difficulty. In fact, it’s faster and more effective to ping a coworker in a program like Slack or Microsoft Teams than to ambush them at their cubicle.
Microsoft Teams is one of the many ways that a team can stay connected throughout the day without being in the same room.
Clear standards for what platforms team members should use to communicate and when they should be available can ensure a remote team is actually more responsive and available than one that’s physically together.
For example, you might have a team-wide rule that employees are expected to be logged on to Slack (or Teams) for specific hours every day. This way, you've conveyed the expectation that you should be able to reach out to coworkers and expect a response, and coworkers know you're also accessible during those times.
Is There A Collaborative Workspace?
Keeping everyone on the same page about deliverables, status updates, and when to call an audible is another important factor. It can sometimes be a challenge when everyone works together, so it’s critical to establish a central repository of files, schedules and to-dos for a team that is remote.
Applications like Trello can keep everyone on the same board, literally, as you can use it as a digital planning space to update projects and track their progress. (We've written about how to use it as a project-management tool here.)
And if there’s a productivity app out there, you can expect Microsoft to build a competitor. Microsoft Planner is that alternative, which of course integrates with Microsoft Teams and the Office 365 suite. Deeper ties are on the way as well.
Microsoft plans to further integrate Planner and Teams.
Instead of laying out such information on a whiteboard or during an all-person meeting, you can share brainstorming files or presentations digitally. Tools like Todoist or Microsoft Teams give an organization the ability to assign tasks and check off their progress. The tools are out there, it’s just a matter of developing a workflow that best fits the organization. Remember that the elements of a workflow include establishing the specific steps for each process, reaffirming the communications procedures at each step, and devising a way to visibly track the progress of a task so all the relevant players can see where their work is.
Can Just Some Work Be Done Remotely?
Working out of the office doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Perhaps the best solution is to add in some flexibility for remote work, i.e. maintaining an office presence and having employees report in on specific days of the week.
This way, the team gets some of the flexibility that remote work offers, while also allowing for in-person meetings, collaboration sessions, or meeting with customers and clients. For employees trying to convince a boss to consider remote work, another avenue may be a test run. Try out two weeks away from the office, and see if there’s any hindrance to the workflow or issues that need to be ironed out.
What you may find, however, is just how little changes. In fact, it might even be better. Giving everyone the opportunity to avoid the drudgery of commuting and the freedom to work from familiar confines has a high chance of creating a happier workplace. If nothing else, look at all that useful software you can learn about along the way.