The business case for remote working
The modern business world has a relatively brief history, but one thing is evident: disruptive technologies are often met with the most resistance. E-mail, online transactions and mobile phones were slow to catch on as efficient work tools because they changed the way people work. But can businesses really imagine operating without these devices today?
Today's financial climate requires businesses to be more agile. One way to do this is to leverage existing technologies to adopt a flexible working policy. Remote working has become an important way for companies to save money and increase productivity, and with the emergence of new technology over the last decade, it has become much easier.
A recent survey by Microsoft shows that 73 percent of Denver-based participants believe that their productivity increases when they work remotely. And only 14 percent identify their company as fully supporting a remote working program. These findings may suggest that businesses are not taking full advantage of remote working or reaping the potential benefits of such programs, including access to larger talent pools; improved productivity; and lower overhead costs for work space, insurance, utilities, maintenance and parking.
Although some employers have implemented remote working policies, less than half of those surveyed have taken advantage of the option. This gives those businesses that are encouraging employees to work remotely a future competitive advantage. The study also found that employees desire consistent access to internal systems when working remotely and that companies that had a formal remote working policy had higher adoption rates.
To further realize the advantages of a remote working policy, companies should take time to educate their employees on the program's availability and benefits, and combat the misunderstandings held by both managers and employees. As the survey suggests, business managers often believe that those working in a non-traditional office environment - like the home or a coffee shop - are not really working. Additionally, since some managers may rely heavily on in-person interaction to assess employee productivity, they may feel a lack of control over those working remotely.
From an employee perspective, although those surveyed say that their productivity increases when working remotely, workers are sometimes reticent to work remotely because they fear their work may not be acknowledged and/or valued. Furthermore, employees believe working from home could jeopardize their potential for a promotion because their managers cannot see their everyday performance.
Another group that has been historically averse to remote working are IT professionals. Like other managers, IT departments were reluctant to fully adopt remote working programs because they believed that it created the need for additional technical support and significant security risks. However, there are now advanced administrative and security solutions that reduce the burden on IT departments, helping to remove major barriers in the adoption of remote working.
• Recently introduced security improvements, such as laptops equipped with BitLocker drive encryption, have helped to address prior concerns regarding the administrative cost and risk associated with maintaining the security of remote workers.
• Cloud computing has been a positive force in changing the way that businesses function. Companies leveraging cloud technologies, including Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, can now seamlessly use and access collaborative tools, lessening the previous security and administrative challenges of remote working.
Companies should formulate a plan now to support their future remote workforce. The first step is to create a formal policy for your business, to ensure that managers and employees fully understand the benefits of remote working to the company and the expectations of those who use the program.
Also, businesses should take inventory of the current technologies available to employees, working with IT to leverage existing products for optimal remote working conditions. These are just two simple steps that businesses can take to embrace remote working as they find their companies on the way toward increased productivity and maximum profitability.
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About the author: Michael Clark is regional general manager for Microsoft's Small and Mid-market Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) group in Denver. For a free guide to starting a remote working program, technology tips and other valuable information, sign-up and visit http://www.microsoft.com/business/mycenter/default.aspx