Remote Working – the silent revolution

A recent study by Stanford University which studied Chinese call centre workers found that they completed 13.5 per cent more calls than their office based colleagues. And this is just one of many examples extolling the benefits of remote working. For some people, the image of remote work still conjures up images of employees in the their pajamas, watching NetFlix, answering the door to Jehovah Witnesses whilst they try to reply to the odd email. The reality of remote work is quite different. Remote working is now a reality. Automatic, the company that owns WordPress (the most successful Content Management System in the world and the software on which this blog is published on) has just under 500 employees across 45 countries most of whom work remotely. Telus, a successful Canadian telco, now has seventy per cent of its 27,000 employees working remotely. Since introducing remote working, its employee engagement scores have leaped from 54 to 87 per cent. Moreover, Telus saves $40 million a year in real estate costs. The Work Foundation (part of Lancaster University in the UK) estimates that 70 per cent of organisations will have implemented remote working by 2020. Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch multinational famous for its personal care products, cleaning products and domination of the world’s ice-cream brands has almost thirty per cent of its workforce working remotely. Dell, the textbook example of a leanly run multinational has a global workforce of 110,000, 58% of which now work remotely at least one day a week. These companies are all embracing remote working because they know that it works. They can tap into talent pools of labour, which otherwise they might not have access to. They can attract talented employees from the millennial generation who now regard the opportunity to work remotely as the new normal.

More and more our customers (those in sectors such as engineering, architecture, accountancy and consultancy) are embracing remote working as a more efficient and life-enhancing way of achieving their business goals. Several factors which have been instrumental in the success of their programs.

1) First of all, organisations should examine the “why” of their motivation to implement remote working in the first place. Jumping on a bandwagon because you’ve seen one of your competitors adopt remote working practices is not an ideal motivation. Try to establish from the outset how your strategic goals can be better met using remote working.

2) Culture – Does the culture of your organisation lend itself to remote working? If you feel the need to constantly supervise employees, a remote working strategy might not be suitable. Many of the best remote working schemes which we have seen in action rely on trust and the intrinsic motivation of their employees to do great work.

3) Enable your employees with great technology which complements their workflows. In the last 10 years the Cloud has given organisations a plethora of collaboration-based software choices to enable better remote working. (A small sample of which is discussed below)

4) Remote working is not binary. You don’t have to turn your organisation into a remote working organisation overnight. Baby steps first. For example, some of your non-critical workflows can be piloted as remote tasks. This will give you the opportunity to test, pivot and fine-tune your remote working processes. Jumping in too soon can hurt user adoption and impact on productivity.

Tools which enable remote working.

The Cloud has given organisations multiple tools to make remote working more effective. It is important to remember though that cloud solutions are just an enabler of remote working processes – nothing more. You cannot improve the performance of a chef by buying him new knives in the same way that you cannot improve the performance of a football team by buying them new jerseys.

Goal / Task planning – Trello. Intuitive task tracking tool designed with the mantra “what gets measures gets done” in mind. .

Office Suite – Office 365 – Microsoft’s cloud-based Office suite. Compatible with Windows and Mac systems.

File Sharing – Dropbox is the classic cloud-based file sharing application. If you’re looking for something a little more heavy-duty, ShareFile can handle larger size file formats in its stride. (But what about iCloud I hear you ask? Unfortunately, we don’t consider Apple’s iCloud application robust or secure enough for enterprise-level file sharing. It’s fine for sharing pictures of puppies and nice sunsets though…)

– Teamwork Chat is a free Irish-developed application for quicker and smoother inter-team communication. Has the potential to save your team time-consuming games of email tennis. It’s like Slack only better.

Cloud-based whiteboard – Conceptboard acts as your virtual whiteboard in the cloud. Fantastic software for annotating documents and drawings during projects.

Online scheduling – Make sure everyone is clued into their team’s schedule with Google Calendar.

Capturing serendipitous moments – Many detractors of remote working claim those serendipitous water-cooler conversations don’t happen. Campfire app was designed to facilitate those shoot the breeze moments where ideas and insights can be shared quickly easily amongst remote teams. See, there’s an app for everything these days…

The security of remote working

In this post-Snowden era, no discussion about data storage would be complete without mentioning security. And rightly so. You’re giving employees access to company data from anywhere. This needs to be secure. Many organisations have now adopted a hybrid-model of data storage. Their internal data (financial data, etc.) gets stored on their own in-house storage devices whilst the rest of their data is stored in the cloud. At the very least, connections from in-house servers to remote clients should be tunneled using a VPN connection (SSL or IPSec recommended). VLANs along with ACLs should be used to securely segregate restricted files from normal non-sensitive ones. Using an RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) connection as your primary data exchange channel for remote employees is just too risky. RDP uses Port 3389 on your router and is frequently scanned by malicious bots (controlled by hackers) looking for an “open door” to your network. Even changing your RDP port to use a non-default port still does not mitigate the risk sufficiently. As for securing cloud-based services such as storage and email, ideally these should be secured using two-factor authentication. 2FA means that even if one of your remote employees has their computer hacked and their credentials for Dropbox stolen, for example, the hackers will still be unable to login. 2FA necessitates that users prove their identity using a second means of authentication such as a one-time code sent to their phone.

The pay off

Implemented correctly remote working offers many benefits to your organization, including more engaged and happier employees, lower transport and property costs, reduced commuting time, increased productivity and a even a smaller carbon footprint for the environment.