Getting Started with Remote Work
Working remotely, often synonymous with the phrase “working from home,” has become the norm as technology advances and becomes more accessible, and the availability of online or cloud services expand. While some managers and companies remain skeptical of the benefits of remote work, numerous studies have found that many of the common fears—that employees won’t be productive or can’t be trusted to do the job correctly, or at all, when not in the office—are mostly unfounded. According to information gathered by Gallup, as of 2016, 43% of employees worked remotely in some capacity, and this flexibility leads to more engaged employees, which can improve everything from productivity, profitability, and employee retention.1 A Stanford University study 2 of call center workers found home-work resulted in a 13% performance increase, people took fewer breaks and sick days, and 4% more calls per minute handled thanks in part to a quieter and more convenient working environment. Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction, and their attrition rate was cut in half.
Not only is remote work increasing in normal, everyday circumstances, but it can become a downright essential alternative in times of emergency like natural or man-made disasters, or during health emergencies or pandemic like we are seeing right now with novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 where people are encouraged or mandated to quarantine or socially distance themselves from one another. Now, more than ever, it’s time to research and plan for the option of remote work as either a temporary or permanent option for your workforce.
How do you get started with having your employees or volunteers working remotely if this is not a current part of your operations? Your remote work plan will be more successful if you spend time on the front-end planning. Here are some ideas:
Write a Remote Work Policy
A remote work policy does not have to cover every single aspect of working from home, but it should outline when and how employees can work outside the office, who is eligible, and any particular protocols to be aware of. It can also cover whether or not the practice is temporary or permanent, legal rights, and other Human Resources specific rules and regulations. There are many templates and examples online that will give you a starting point to work from. Start with any professional listservs, email forums, or other groups that you subscribe or belong to.
Be sure that any remote worker has read your policy, and understands what is expected of them when working from home. Clearly explain what they are to do, and how they should do it. If their work will be evaluated in a specific way related to remote work, explain this to them so they can be clear on what is expected. Also communicate clearly how they can obtain support or guidance from supervisors in the event they need assistance.
Remote workers might need to access sensitive information to complete their work, so think about their home office setting and the digital security they’ll have in place. Will they be using a personal computer, or one from the office? What types of security applications must they have installed, and what protections does their home network and internet connection provide? Consider consulting with the IT professionals at your workplace and ask for their recommendations.
Provide Support and Supervision
While working remotely has many benefits, one downside sometimes reported by remote workers is a feeling of isolation or missing workplace camaraderie. It’s important to make your remote workers feel as connected as possible to each other and the activities of the organization, and provide them with ample supervision or other supports. Remote workers will still need to be evaluated, have quality performance checks, and be able to easily reach a supervisor for guidance in a given situation. This is not only important for their own effectiveness as an employee, but for the quality of your overall service delivery to the people who contact you.
Run a Pilot Program
A good test run can make any new initiative run more smoothly. If you are looking at adding remote work options to your organization, consider running a pilot program first. A pilot of your remote work plan could involve just a few select workers to start, and be limited to a set period of time to test the plan. Have workers follow the policy, and document what worked for them, and what didn’t. Likewise, from a managerial standpoint you can track what elements you found successful, along with which aspects were unsuccessful and why. Conduct quality assurance measures and evaluate documentation or Live Chat/SMS Transcripts to ensure contacts were handled properly. Analyze sign on logs to check that workers were signed in when they were supposed to be. Based on your findings, you might adjust your policy, make changes and run a new pilot, or use your results to launch your remote work program to more employees and/or for extended periods. Of course, it’s possible that the findings from your pilot may help you determine that remote work isn’t a possibility for your agency at this time.
Choose Technology to Support Remote Workers
All of this careful planning will be worthwhile once you launch your remote work program and start to see the benefits it brings. However, one of the biggest pieces of your preparation plan is making sure you have the tools–more precisely, technology–in place to execute your plan effectively. Processes based in paper and physical files, or in desktop applications that aren’t cloud-based, are very hard to duplicate remotely. How will workers accept and document contacts from their home? How will you provide supervision and coaching when your employee is 20 or more miles away and not at the cubicle next to yours? How will you monitor their work and ensure they are completing their assigned tasks?
If you are not currently set up with technology to make your remote work program a success, it’s not too late to get started. In Part 2 of this blog series, we share information about how the tools and features of iCarol not only enable remote work, but enhance your service delivery, improve workforce connectivity, reduce employee attrition, and more.