The idea of remote working remains a contentious issue for business owners. For many, it spells out the future of how we will run our businesses. To others it poses a serious risk to company culture, stymying collaboration and productivity...
According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people that now work remotely is at the highest levels since records began. A survey of business owners by Virgin Media Business predicted that 60 per cent of office-based employees will regularly work from home by 2022. And a separate survey by Office Angels found a third of employees think commuting will be unheard of by 2036.
Remote working has undeniable benefits, not least for start-ups and growing firms. Most new firms now do away with the need for costly overhead of office space completely and instead work with well networked teams of remote workers.
What’s more, it unlocks a global talent pool, wherein a business can find a specialist to suit their needs, regardless of whether they’re in Auckland or Aberdeen. And for a swathe of parents unable to commit to full-time office jobs, it has provided a new source way to access employment - check out Power to Fly as an example of this in action. For bigger firms, one of the main reasons for the interest in remote working is the promise of a boost in productivity.
Research from Stanford University, in the US, has shown that remote workers are 13 per cent more productive. An increased sense of autonomy and reduced commuter time can make employees feel more positive about the work they’re doing, enabling them to deliver results in a way that fits with their own lifestyle.
The benefits are compelling, but is it just about results? What are remote workers missing out on by not being in the room with other members of the team?
1. Will company culture suffer?
For many founders who have built a value-driven business from the ground up, it can seem like madness to dilute that by having a team that is so physically disconnected.
However, consider the value of the conversations that workers can have outside of your business, networking with people from other firms. Remote workers may not always work at home and concepts like Near Desk, an oyster card system for co-working spaces founded by Tom Ball, a member of The Supper Club, are meeting the needs of remote workers who still value some social interaction, but struggle to travel into work.
Above all else, before introducing a remote culture, its vital that the entire business buys into it. There needs to be a mutual understanding that home, or mobile working is the ‘norm’. Business owners may have to reframe the way business values are upheld and culture is created with a team of workers who are not sat in the same room everyday. Tamara Littleton is one entrepreneur that has succeeded in doing this very well. She is founder of eModeration, a social media consultancy and a member of The Supper Club, her business now employs 500 people across the world who are all connected through technology platforms to maintain camaraderie.
2. The trust problem
A major hurdle to a successful remote working environment is poor trust. In an article for the Guardian, Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School asserted that the distaste for remote working comes down to suspicion from senior teams that workers are not working efficiently.
However, Cooper argues that if remote working is unsuccessful it often comes down to the "incompetence of managers who don't know how to manage people remotely". Remote working requires an entirely different outlook in team management and leadership. Poor organisation and communication will lead to a breakdown of trust and a disengaged team. This can be extremely damaging and will certainly negate any benefits that the supposed autonomy that remote working was supposed to bring.
Managers and leaders may need to train themselves to maintain communication but take a more hands-off approach, trusting workers to manage their time and workloads independently. Of course, when managed effectively remote working demonstrates trust from management - a statement of confidence in staff that nearly everyone will respond to.
3. High levels of support
Crucially, remote teams need excellent IT support. Communication is key and this relies on using the right tools. Software like Slack, Trello and Basecamp are all excellent ways of keeping track of projects and maintaining the conversation across different locations.
Similarly, touch points are important in managing work flow and regular social gatherings can help pull the team together and build relationships. This is something that will never be established over Skype, but shouldn’t be forgotten, even if targets are being met on paper.
The biggest mistake that leaders can make in implementing remote working is assuming that it will work from day one. It may seem like a daunting prospect, but with careful management it can revolutionise the way your business works. It takes time to learn the ropes - I used to be useless at working away from the office but after time I’ve learnt the way it works for me - with strict deadlines and occasional breaks which act as ‘treats’.
The reality is, working life no longer fits within a 9 -5 and new talent will increasingly expect some flexibility in the way their work is done. So whatever way it works for you and your business, its time you started thinking remotely.