Agile working, mobile working and remote working – whatever you want to call it – the practice of allowing staff to work outside of the office is extremely popular among the majority of UK businesses.
In fact more than four million people work solely from home in the UK. The way we work is changing, and going into an office isn’t necessarily the best option for many jobs. An estimated 14.1 million workers want more flexibility in their work.
Why is the shift from office-based jobs to remote workers become such a popular choice for many businesses?
The explosion of mobile technologies like 4G, FTTC and VOIP offers a number of opportunities for both employers and employees to benefit. For businesses, allowing staff to work from home can lower absenteeism, increase productivity, improve morale and save money.
For employees, flexibility is often a key element when considering a job offer, so by offering the option, you have access to an increased talent pool that isn’t limited by geographical restrictions.
There’s also the disruption element. If you have a workforce that is 100% office-based, and something happens to that office that is out of your control – such as a fire or a flood – then you’re going to feel the effects pretty quickly. Your customers are going to suffer from the disruption which is going to affect your reputation and, ultimately, this will hit your bottom line.
How can businesses ensure that employees working remotely stay productive?
Many studies have shown that remote working allows employees to be more productive and happier – having the choice to either work from the office or remotely, gives staff a sense of freedom.
Businesses need to have a trusting culture to fully support remote working, which may not necessarily work well in companies where team members aren’t already given the autonomy and freedom to manage their own tasks and work patterns.
Targets and objectives will remain the same no matter where someone chooses to work, but there needs to be more of a conscious effort to communicate. In types of work where outputs can be quantified – such as data entry work, deliveries and service work – it’s possible to use technology to set and measure performance targets.
Is remote working something that any business can adopt?
To an extent. We’ve seen a huge shift in consumer behaviour over the past ten years, we do the majority of our food shop online, we bank online, we meet partners online, so it’s possible to translate that into business. But for industries such as retail, total remote working is not necessarily possible.
There is still a real need for these types of businesses to have both an online and high street presence in order to stay competitive, so you’re always going to need people on the front line – at least for now.
But technology is a great enabler and there are opportunities to carry out some processes remotely. There’s no reason why most of your meetings, for example, can’t be done in this way to save both time and money. It’s up to a business to identify where there are opportunities to cut costs and be savvier.
What are the security issues?
Security risks increase with remote working. The dangers are manageable, but it is important to take precautions.
Remote working usually involves transferring important data across the internet.
Hackers could intercept this information or try to break into your computer.
Make sure all your company computers run up-to-date security software, including a firewall.
Only connect to your company extranet, VPN or email using computers and connections which you trust.
Use encryption to scramble sensitive data. This makes the data unreadable, even if intercepted.
It is possible to break into remote access systems by guessing usernames and passwords
Make sure all your staff have strong passwords. For example, you can often set up systems so they require passwords to be a certain length and contain both numbers and letters.
Consider using other ways to log in to your systems. For instance, many VPNs require something you have (a smartcard) and something you know (a password).
Portable devices like laptops and mobile phones are easily misplaced or stolen
This can be disastrous if they contain confidential information.
Try to store data on a central server rather than on individual laptops.
Always back up data. Often the value of data on a laptop exceeds the value of the laptop itself.
Some laptops have encrypted hard drives, which makes it hard for unauthorised users to access the data.
Make sure company policies include guidance on good practice with equipment. For example, employees should not carry laptops in readily-identifiable laptop bags, or leave them visible in cars.
Ensure you have adequate insurance cover for all devices in your business. Try to keep spares in stock for immediate replacement.
Why do you think so many employers are still pessimistic about adopting a working from home ethos?
Many businesses are still caught up in a culture change versus technology clash; culturally they are still working in the ‘old world’ which was based around attendance, visibility, work-critical factors and as a result, the technology used has perhaps never caught up.
But if you look at those factors, they are all input measures rather than output measures. I think businesses have got to rethink KPIs and what’s actually important and then assess whether an individual role can be performed using output measures where therefore attendance, visibility etc. are no longer relevant. So it’s essentially a switch of mindset for leaders to measure results by output rather than input; that is what enables an agile workforce