Remote working is definitely a trend on the rise. As much as 50% of the UK workforce will be telecommuting by 2020 if this practice keeps growing at the same rate as it has in the past decade. 

Whether you’re simply curious about working from home, are interested in offering the option of telecommuting to your staff some of the time or want to shift into having a fully remote team, this article is for you. Here are some of the positive and negative aspects of remote working as well as a description of some of the digital tools that can help you with the switch.

The pros of offering remote working to staff

The benefits of remote working for staff members are clear: without the commute, they can work from a setting they find most conducive to productivity during the hours that suit them best. As a result, they can enjoy a better work-life balance, with more time for hobbies and taking care of kids or family members needing special care.

The above benefits aren’t limited to the employees, though: a happy and fulfilled staff equals greater productivity, a higher level of job satisfaction and a lower employee turnover rate. Your team members won’t be tired or stressed by the time they get to the office, but rather, can get to work right when they wake up or take a short walk to their favourite coffee shop with their work laptop. 

It’s no surprise that people working from home also get more done: a Stanford University survey found that homeworking people were 13% more productive than their office-bound peers, while another survey found that remote staff self-evaluated their productivity at 7.7/10, while people in offices rated themselves at 6.5.

Offering your staff the option to work from home is a very welcome perk, especially for Millennials who are very accustomed to electronic communications and are now starting to have children. Remote working is also a way for smaller companies to compete with bigger organisations who might be able to offer larger salaries and better name recognition. In fact, one survey found that 36% of people would prefer the option to work remotely over a pay rise. 

Remote working also means you can hire the best talent with less focus on their geographical location. And if a key player in your business moves from the city you’re based in, you don’t have to go through the trouble of finding a qualified replacement as they can keep working for you.

Remote working also lowers your operational costs. You’ll need a smaller office, even if you’re offering people the option to work from home a few days a week and operating a hot-desking policy the rest of the time. By saving people from the commute and operating from a smaller office, you’ll also be a more eco-friendly business.

Neringa Sidlauskaite

Potential pitfalls of allowing staff to work from home

So clearly, there are numerous advantages to allowing staff to work from home at least some of the time. That being said, the shift to remote work is not all plain sailing. Some of the problems you might run into when shifting your business towards flexible work are around accountability, communication and culture, while IT security should also be given special attention to avoid data breaches.

While studies show that productivity increases when people are allowed to work from home, there’s always the possibility of someone taking advantage of this flexibility and trust to shirk their duties. That’s why it’s important to have a process in place to allocate responsibilities and holding people accountable for the progress of the projects they’re working on.

Problems can also arise in your company culture and communication if you don’t take a strategic approach to this when introducing remote working. Especially if part of the team works in the office, remote team members can easily feel isolated and left out. 

That’s why it’s important you organise regular social get-togethers for all staff – face-to-face when possible and via video if your staff all live far apart from each other. Similarly, having specific digital channels to chat about work projects and using the ‘@’ function to tag people into messages are important rules to follow to avoid miscommunications.

And finally, to avoid IT security issues, you should implement a strong BYOD policy, use VPNs and encryption and make sure devices your staff use for work are always protected by anti-malware software and a firewall. Investing in some cybersecurity awareness training is also a good idea.

What tools you need for a remote team

There are a large number of intuitive digital tools out there that promise better communication and productivity to remote workers. Investing in some of these means your company culture is less likely to suffer from a move to flexible working. It also means that work continues to be done on time, with minimal issues rising from things like missed emails and meeting invitations as well as general miscommunications.

First of all, your staff needs to be able to access relevant files wherever they are, be it their home office, the train or their favourite cafe. That’s why you need a cloud-based storage system where people can add files and make comments and edits without needing to download files to their device, creating multiple versions of the same file. 

A productivity tracking tool like Asana or Teamwork allows you to assign tasks to specific people and track their progress, making sure deadlines are met. This means it’s easier to keep people accountable and ensure the same work isn’t done twice or, worse yet, not done at all because someone missed an email or thought someone else was doing the work.

Chat tools like Slack and Telegram allow staff to have the kind of casual conversations that would take place in the kitchen or break room in a traditional office. Channels in these tools can also be used to communicate about specific projects and within specific teams. A video conferencing tool like Zoom allows you to host virtual meetings wherever your staff are. Video conferencing tools can also be used for virtual hangouts, where homeworking colleagues can get to know each other and their office-based coworkers in a more casual setting.

Djurdjica Boskovic

How Office 365 can support remote teams

As you probably gathered from the above, a successful remote team depends on flexible digital tools. The cost of subscriptions to a number of these can add up pretty quickly, not to mention that it can be difficult to get staff used to a whole bunch of new tools and know which one is used for what. That’s why we recommend Office 365 for remote teams.

Office 365’s tools are familiar to everyone, making the move to this cloud-based suite easier. Apart from classic favourites like Word and Excel, your O365 subscription also gives you access to a number of tools that can be hugely beneficial to remote teams.

You can host video meetings and chat with coworkers on Microsoft Teams and collaborate on files using SharePoint and OneDrive. You can also schedule work and send emails using Outlook. Office 365 is fully cloud-based, meaning that your staff can work from anywhere and comes with robust cybersecurity.

All of this comes with just one, monthly subscription. If you’re interested in learning more about how O365 works and whether it’s right for your business, read our series of articles on Office 365 here. To talk to our IT experts about getting started with your subscription, get in touch with us.