Winter Wisdom: When Working Remotely Boosts Performance and Bottom Line
By David Ryan for America's Backbone Weekly
As winter approaches, the number of employees working from home will rise. As the weather gets worse, winter commutes can be long and dangerous, so allowing your staff to work from home can be a great way to keep them happy and safe. Here are some tools and techniques that can help your staff do amazing things and maintain the same levels of productivity from offsite.
Cloud software platforms have made it easier and easier for employees to work offsite. This isn't just beneficial for work-at-home employees, it's valuable for any business that has multiple locations or a mobile workforce (eg. traveling sales) by nature. Hosted on redundant, external servers, cloud software can be accessed from approved devices from anywhere there's an internet connection. Employees can login and work from the road on their mobile devices, or from their computers at home. Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are just two examples of cloud platforms that businesses can adapt which enable remote access to essential business software. Setting up a cloud platform can take some work, so you'll have to do a cost analysis to see if it's worth it. It'll take time to move your digital infrastructure to the cloud (this time can vary from hours to days depending on your business) and you'll have to pay for the service. Prices are negotiated on a per-case basis, as the needs of individual businesses vary.
If meetings are an important part of your business structure, today's video conferencing tools can bring a remote workforce together like never before. Video conferencing technologies employ video cameras, microphones, monitors and software to bring people together. There are plenty of solutions on the market. For instance, GoToMeeting by Citrix provides video conferencing packages that range in price from $24 per month to $49 per month depending on the number of participants and features. The $24 package includes up to 5 participants and offers basic features like dial-in conference lines and HD video conferencing, while the $49 package allows up to 100 participants and includes drawing tools, recording, keyboard and mouse sharing and more. There are many other video conferencing products on the market. A simple Google search will reveal plenty of options. Consulting with vendors or experts on your IT team can help you find the solution that's right for your business's size and needs.
Measuring your ROI
If you're allowing employees to work remotely, it's a good idea to measure the effectiveness of your work-at-home (WAH) program. The UnitedHealth Group has 20 to 25 percent of their staff working remotely, citing high work quality, low turnover and satisfied employees as the benefits of WAH. They routinely conduct performance measurements on the quality of work, employee satisfaction and retention rate to ensure that their WAH program is effective. It's important to keep company goals in mind when analyzing the effectiveness of a remote workforce. For instance, if in-person consultation with clients is a keystone of your product or service provision, such as in a delivery-based or in-house consultation service, then working remotely isn't going to be as viable. If, on the other hand, service can be provided on the phone or through online channels, such as through remote customer service departments, then WAH programs can be a great way of extending your pool of talent to regions that are distant or otherwise difficult to travel from.
In fact, not only is working remotely seen as a way of avoiding commutes during bad weather or when employees live far from the office, it's seen as a viable corporate strategy in its own right. According to FlexJobs, a website that's designed to help match employees with remote jobs, half of American workers hold a job that could be done completely through telecommuting. Videoconferencing technologies and cloud software platforms are simply that good. FlexJobs estimates that telecommuting has grown by 103% in America over the last decade and predicts that by 2020, 50% of Americans will work remotely. Working remotely gives employees the freedom to work from home, and enables businesses to save money on office space. According to globalworkplaceanalytics.com, an average business would save $11,000 per year on overhead (including mortgage or leasing costs, maintenance services, office equipment and supplies, etc.) if they allowed employees to work at home for only half of the year.
As for worker productivity, a SurePayroll survey in 2016 revealed that 86% of workers feel they are more productive when they're working at home. The main reasons seem to be that they consider in-office colleagues to be a distraction, including loud colleagues (61% cite these people as their greatest distraction) and impromptu meetings (40% describe this as the greatest office disruptor). This isn't to say that there aren't distractions at home. Children, television and the internet are just three of many possible forces that can keep people from getting work done. This, of course, is where performance measurement is key. If you have clearly established goals and production metrics in mind, and keep track of employee performance, there's no reason your business can't thrive with a WAH model.
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