The whole wide world is now our workplace. Dramatic advances in cloud computing, mobile technologies and collaborative tools have liberated employees from the office. Remote employees now have the freedom and flexibility to work from home, client locations, hotels, coffee shops and even (if absolutely necessary) vacation destinations.
Thirty-seven percent of American professionals say they have telecommuted, four times greater than the 9 percent who worked off-site in 1995, according to Gallup. Letting employees work from afar can also make them happier: 44 percent of telecommuters expressed a more positive attitude about their work than their desk-bound colleagues.
Employee happiness is great and all, but we’re most interested in how the uptick in remote workers can actually better the bottom line for businesses. And, it turns out, that’s true: Studies show that telecommuters tend to be more productive and take less time off than on-site employees. A study by Global Workplace Analytics also found that between savings on real estate, utilities, transit subsidies and office equipment, businesses save an estimated $11,000 per year on each remote employee.
Reaping the benefits of having a remote workforce isn’t as simple as untethering your employees and trusting it will work out. Companies must also identify and sidestep the potential pitfalls:
The Hurdle: Data Security
The more employees journey away from the workplace, the more business computing systems are decentralized and diffused, requiring IT departments to manage and secure an ever diversifying array of smartphones, laptops and tablets running across multiple operating systems. A lost, stolen or compromised device with access to the company’s critical data could spell catastrophe.
How to overcome it: Train all employees to follow security best practices to the letter, like using strong passwords and always logging out of systems when not in use. If your company is using streaming IT, a lost or stolen laptop is basically worthless in the hands of someone outside your company, because a secure log-in is required to access any files or company data. For a traditional laptop, that’s not the case, so you may want to consider extra security measures, like remote data wiping capabilities and device management software, for locating lost or stolen devices.
The Hurdle: IT Glitches
Your head of sales is killing it from afar, and her productivity is sky high…until her laptop goes on the fritz. She doesn’t have any way to access her files now that her computer is frozen. Your on-site IT department isn’t used to navigating issues over the phone—or isn’t awake yet, because her tech meltdown is happening in another time zone.
How to overcome it: First, ditch the idea that tech problems need to be fixed in person. Instead, you might need to rethink your current IT set-up. Instead of someone punching the clock from 9 to 5, what about a pro team that’s experienced fielding issues by phone 24/7? Likewise, a fritzy laptop that makes a remote worker’s productivity come to a screeching halt may be the wake-up call to consider streaming IT, which would allow that worker to log onto her account from any other laptop, tablet or phone and keep working, without losing a beat.
The Hurdle: Collaboration
Your business is built on team members sharing ideas—and files! While remote workers have mastered the art of the conference call, people keep forgetting to upload files to the shared server. Or, worse, they’re emailing clunky files back and forth and slowing down the execution phase.
How to overcome it: The more you can include collaborating into the natural workflow of remote workers, the more it will actually happen. Cloud-based services eliminate the need to email files back and forth, which means less time wasted and no danger of iterating different versions of the same file. So employees can spend more time actually working—whether they’re in the office or not.