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Re-Evaluating The Office: Why Remote Working Matters

 

Who needs an old-fashioned office these days? The short answer is – most commercial and service-based businesses employing more than a handful of people. For thousands of SMEs, having a permanent office base is a practical means of delivering service to customers, encouraging collaboration between employees, and holding sales and service meetings.

 

However, a growing proportion of businesses are moving away from purely office based working towards more flexible arrangements. At the beginning of 2020, it was estimated that 50% of the UK workforce worked remotely – from home, a hot desk or client site – at least some of the time. This applied to traditional office-based businesses as much as to newer, smaller businesses without a permanent office base, and was true for employees at most levels, from the boardroom to the helpdesk. The sudden and unwelcome intrusion of a pandemic into the workplace accelerates what is already a fast-growing trend, and makes remote working a necessity for many companies.

 

This e-book is a crash course in homeworking for small and medium-sized businesses, providing a brief overview of everything you need to operate a team successfully and efficiently from home offices, cafes, garden rooms and bedrooms. Whether you have already dipped your toe into remote working or have
been plunged into it by the current crisis, we hope you will find something in this guide to improve the productivity and effectiveness of your workforce when working away from the office.


The key words here are successfully and efficiently. Most businesses are capable of remote working at a pinch, using their employee’s own laptops, Internet connections and smart phones. Doing so, however, is not always efficient, productive or secure. It makes communication difficult, makes it problematic to monitor and assess an employee’s work, and poses security issues when accessing and sharing sensitive data. To make remote working work for your business, you need to equip your employees with the right infrastructure, the right systems and the right management processes to ensure best practices are adhered to, and that all team members are working from the same page. This guide explains how to do it.

 



The Benefits of Effective Remote Working

 

Even had a pandemic remained a plot line from a Michael Crichton novel, there are plenty of excellent reasons to adopt remote working – whether as a permanent adaptation to give your team greater flexibility, or as a response to specific circumstances. We’ll start the guide by looking at the main advantages and ways you can adapt them to your circumstances.

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No wasted time commuting

Commuting to work or between meetings takes time and drains
energy. On a bad day, after an hour crawling through traffic or
squashed into a crowded Tube, an employee might arrive late,
tired, distracted and in a bad mood. This impacts productivity, the
employee’s morale, and how well they communicate and interact
with their colleagues. When an employee is borderline unwell – i.e.
they might be able to face work but can’t handle the commute – a
lengthy commute could tip the scales as to whether or not to call
in sick. Remote working cuts out the commute entirely, meaning
that employees can start the day refreshed and focused.

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Happier employees

Remote working and flexible working patterns give employees a
greater feeling of control and responsibility. They feel respected
and empowered, and trusted to deliver their role and use their
skills in a way they feel most appropriate. This makes for happier
employees – often prepared to work longer hours than they
would in the office, while simultaneously enjoying a better work/
life balance. More time with the kids, freedom to use the gym
when they want, freedom to focus their time when they are most
productive and can get the most done. This directly benefits you in
lower staff turnover, increased initiative and motivation from your
staff, and higher productivity. Remote working employees tend to be healthier too. There’s less exposure to the bugs and colds that sweep through offices on a regular basis, for starters. Then there’s the office environment
itself, with its stress-inducing ambient noise, crowding, dry air
and artificial light. By avoiding this, remote workers get a more
peaceful (and thereby productive) working environment, with
more natural light, more freedom to move around and less
susceptibility to eyestrain, poor posture and other office -related
syndromes.

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Improved productivity

Contrary to the fear of some employers, that remote working
colleagues will twiddle away their day on Facebook in their
pyjamas, remote working has been shown to enhance
productivity. There are several reasons for this, two important
ones being increased flexibility and the lack of a commute – which
we have already explored. It also helps to have the freedom to
play to your strengths when working remotely. When you run into a problem at work in the office, it is tempting
to attempt to slog through it in a semi-productive stupor, when
in reality, the best thing to do would be to grab a coffee, go for a
short jog and then apply yourself in a fresher state of mind. A job
that might take eight hours stretched over two agonising days
could be wrapped up in two hours when working flexibly.

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Reduced overheads

Physically housing and maintaining employees is expensive.
The more people work permanently in your office, the more
desk space you need, the more computers you require, the
stronger servers you need, and so on. But the expenses don’t
stop there. You need sufficient toilets, breakout spaces and car
parking facilities. Then you have operating costs in heating, water,
recycling and waste disposal. These expenses can be significantly
reduced, even if only some of your employees work remotely,
some of the time. You may find you can downsize your office
space, decentralise your operation to two or more small regional
bases, or invest surplus resources in growing your business in
other ways.

 

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Improved recruitment

There aren’t many deathbed confessions in which people wish they had spent more of their life in the office, and there’s a good reason for this. Commuting to a workplace, with all the sacrifices and compromises it entails, is a necessary evil at best. Potential recruits are well aware of this. From your perspective as a business, being office-bound can damage your chances of recruiting the best people.
For a start, you’re limited to the people who are able or willing to physically commute to your office location. Offering the prospect of remote working lets you chase the talent wherever they’re based in the UK, or even abroad. Additionally, flexible hours and remote working may actively draw people to your job posts, while a perceived inflexibility could drive talent into the arms of your competitors.

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Smaller carbon footprint

With fewer employees burning fossil fuels in your office, driving to work and buying plastic wrapped sandwiches, your carbon footprint goes down. Good for your employees, good for the environment.


The challenges of remote working…and how to get it right


Despite its benefits, remote working is not always a fairy story. There are plenty of pitfalls waiting for companies who dive into remote working without fully thinking it through. Over the next three sections we’ll explore these challenges and look at ways you can equip your team to succeed at remote working.

 

Hardware

Employees should be equipped to work from home. It isn’t sensible or fair to rely on the employee having a sufficiently powerful and secure computer, Internet connection and so on in place. So they will need – at the very least – a laptop, a smart phone and a means of connecting to the Internet, whether their own broadband connection (with a system of reimbursement for fair usage) or a mobile Wi-Fi dongle supplied by your company. In teams where colleagues need to chat by phone to each other or customers, a good hosted telephony service is essential, especially if remote workers are expected to provide customer service or sales advice to customers while working from home. The telephone system should provide a quiet and professional environment, with the ability to transfer calls to other remote working colleagues, and log phone messages centrally.

Software

The software applications your employees use also need to be optimised for remote working. Not everything works well remotely, especially software that depends on local installations. Cloud-based software, or Software as a Service (SaaS) applications tend to be better optimised for remote working. However, don’t assume a program will work for all your employees, even if it’s cloud-based. Test things rigorously before applying them in the field. Some applications may also have different licensing requirements for remote working.
When investing in software for remote working, it’s useful to have applications that track activity, or if activity has stopped. This is a positive tool to keep your employees on track, as well as to better enable workflow scheduling and collaboration.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Security: Safeguarding Your Sensitive Customer And Financial Data

With cyber-security almost as big an issue as a pandemic, businesses need to be really mindful of security when employees are working from home. This is a big reason why you shouldn’t ask an employee to use their own laptop or phone when remote working, unless absolutely necessary. You simply can’t vouch for the security of these devices, and it’s your culpability if you suffer a data breach as a result of an insecure Internet connection, or a virus on someone’s laptop. The coronavirus crisis has made this worse, if anything, with cyber criminals having a field day with a wide range of phishing scams by SMS and email purportedly from HMRC, Asda, and various banks. Make sure your remote working colleagues are well informed about the dangers of opening emails from people they don’t know, especially those with attachments they weren’t expecting. Set your remote working employees up with a good firewall, professional level antivirus software, and a secure VPN they can use to access the Internet.

The Remote Working Environment

When you ask an employee to work remotely, what environment are they working from? The fact is that everyone’s home environment is different, and some are more conducive to work than others. Some people may have the luxury of a separate Home Office or garden room in which they can work. Others may work from a small desk under the stairs or in the corner of a bedroom, or from the kitchen table. Others may have no obvious place to work at all, and may be distracted by babies or preschool age children at home (or ALL children during school closures). While there is only so much you can do to help an employee with their
working environment, it’s worth conducting a remote working interview to provide guidance on how to manage workload and space away from the family, especially if the employee is new to remote working. Take some time to understand the specific challenges faced by each remote working employee, and where possible, give them the flexibility to adapt their workload to their home environment. For instance, an employee with young or school-age children at home may find they work more productively in the evening or weekends, than they would during standard office hours.


How To Manage Your Remote Working Employees

 

As a business, you have the same duty of care to your employees when working remotely as you do when they’re sitting at the desk next to yours. Some people work better remotely than others, with some employees needing more hands-on guidance, and others thriving in independent working. Use your knowledge of each individual employee to establish a personalised management plan, and ensure there are clear communication channels with the employee’s line manager.

 

Social interaction and isolation

Employees who enjoy a social environment may find difficulties with isolation at the beginning, in which case group chats on WhatsApp, regular video conferencing and remote meetings can increase the sense of belonging to a team, even when physically isolated. Don’t assume that everyone will take to remote working like a duck to water, or necessarily welcome the opportunity. Especially during the coronavirus crisis, some employees may find remote working extremely difficult, stressful and disorientating, and may miss social contact with their colleagues, some of whom will be close friends. If you’re used to having regular team social events, or trips the pub on Friday evenings, or you’re aware that certain people work really well together, try to maintain this through social apps or online games outside work.

Managing distractions

Distractions are rife at home, and it’s a fact of life that some remote
working employees may be distracted by pets, children, spouses, Netflix,
the garden or whatever else. Maintain focus through clear project
milestones and micro goals, with regular touch points by supervisors and
line managers. Other workers may find the opposite problem of not being
able to switch off from work, thereby impacting their work-life balance. For
these employees, you may wish to enforce specific start and finish times
for work, or limit working hours – and to encourage a clear delineation of
work and personal/family space within the home as far as possible.
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Healthy work practices

Finally, healthy habits should be encouraged for remote workers,
especially regarding a balance of sedentary and active time, taking breaks
away from the screen, and care taken to maintain a good posture and
level of relaxation to avoid stress.

 

 

 

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How TMB Can Help You

At TMB, we provide a flexible managed IT service to allow businesses
to reach their full potential. This often includes setting up the right
infrastructure and cloud-based tools to allow easy collaboration between
remote working colleagues, and advising on the best processes to
maintain efficiency and productivity while away from the office.
Our customers include a mix of predominantly office-based companies
who adopt remote working procedures on a case-by-case basis, and
some companies who have completely transitioned to flexible working
arrangements, away from a fixed office team.

 

Support during the coronavirus crisis

The coronavirus pandemic has caught everyone by surprise. However,
at TMB we have the expertise and knowledge in all of the areas we have
discussed, and are well placed to provide you with rapid and practical
solutions to any problem you may face with remote working. Our goal is
to help you make a fast and effective transition with minimal disruption to
your operation, so you can continue to provide an effective service to your
customers during the lockdown.
This means strategic adoption of the best remote working technologies
and solutions for your business. You may not need them all, and some
may be more suited to you than others. We can advise on the best course
to take in the short term, during a pandemic outbreak, and long-term as a
permanent strategy if you choose to adopt it.

 

Remote working tips you can implement today

For businesses who are new to remote working, in particular, we are
recommending the following strategies:

 

 

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Transfer critical software to cloud apps

Communication becomes an issue among remote teams dependent on
individually installed versions of software. Fortunately, there are plenty
of high-quality cloud apps available for most business functions, with
the benefits of rapid implementation time and low costs per user. There
are too many to assess here, but a good place to start is Microsoft Office
365. This has the full, latest versions of MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint,
with both cloud and locally installed versions of the software, and secure
cloud storage through Microsoft OneDrive. As a short-term solution,
give preference to cloud-based versions of software you already use, to
reduce training and implementation time.

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Backups and disaster recovery

An IT backup and disaster recovery (BDR) strategy gives you peace of
mind that in the event your business had to close doors completely for
some reason, without any access to shared systems, your data and apps
are backed up to a secure location, for rapid deployment as soon as
possible

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Cloud-based telephony

How do you ensure that no important telephone calls are missed while
your team is working remotely? The answer: cloud telephony. A cloud
telephony service deploys a cloud-based phone network, which can be
accessed remotely through a desk phone, PC, or an app on the user’s
mobile phone. This means that employees can use their same office
phone numbers, wherever they are working.

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Mobile data access

Having a decent laptop gives remote workers access to all the functions
of their office based colleagues. Keep track of data access and monitor
software usage for your remote teams through a mobile device
management service such as Microsoft Intune. This lets you determine
different levels of access to your cloud-based systems and databases
– and manage the devices employees use to access the network, such
as laptops, desktop PCs, tablets and smart phones. New devices can be
enrolled into the network, updated and removed when necessary. The
network requires no new hardware and can be set up in a very short
time.


Next Steps

These are difficult times and we appreciate you probably have a lot on your plate managing the demands of a remote working team with the infrastructure at hand, while struggling to provide business as usual for your customers. Cloud-based apps, mobile device management systems and effective remote working procedures provide a good degree of flexibility and efficiency for remote working teams, with minimal expense and setup
time. As a next step, we recommend having a chat with one of our team, to discuss your current IT setup and determine what can realistically be achieved with the infrastructure you already have, and what improvements can be made in the short, mid and long-term. Short-term, we’re here to support your team in every way we can during a pandemic lockdown, and in the long term, to help you optimise your IT systems to save you time, save you money, and maximise your productivity! To chat with one of our team please give us a call on 0333 900 9050, or click the button below to request a free IT audit.

 

 

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