According to a 2015 Gallup survey, some 37 percent of US employees have worked remotely, with an average of 6.4 days a month spent outside the office. Even more telling, 15 percent of those surveyed worked from home full-time, while 39 percent of companies allowed some form of telecommuting.
With other studies showing that remote employees are more productive and work longer hours, it’s little wonder that telecommuting is a growing trend, with as many as 60 percent of office-based jobs expected to be staffed remotely by 2020.
Unfortunately, however, despite the benefits of remote employment, many companies still struggle to create an environment conducive to telecommuters. Just as in-house employees need a supportive environment to be most effective, remote employees should not be left to fend for themselves.
Here are a few ways you can properly support your remote workers:
Implement Security Training and Best Practices
According to Rick Albiero, founder of Telecommuting Advantage Group, 92 percent of those polled had computers and Internet connections that could be used for work. As Mr. Albiero notes, however, “just having a nice computer at home isn’t enough…organizations also need to determine if telecommuters can use their own computers or if they need to have dedicated computers for work-related activities.”
One of the main areas where home computer equipment may not meet the standard for remote work is in the security arena. According to Microsoft’s own research, nearly a quarter of all computers are unprotected and vulnerable to viruses, trojans and other malware. Even more telling, HP’s 2015 Cyber Risk Report revealed that some 44 percent of breaches relied on known vulnerabilities, some of which were four years old. In fact, the top ten breaches of 2015 all exploited vulnerabilities for which patches had been released years before.
While corporate IT departments may struggle to keep up with updates and security patches, home users are often in even worse shape. This goes directly to the point Mr. Albiero was making: often home users’ machines are in no condition to be relied on for mission-critical, secure communication and tasks. As a result, to properly support at-home workers, it’s important to equip them with the hardware and software necessary to securely do their job.
Equally important is ongoing training for employees, both in-house and out, regarding evolving software and security strategies. As technology changes, new methods need to be adopted to protect sensitive information. VPNs, full-disk encryption, end-to-end encryption and anti-malware are just a few of the technologies employees need to be trained to use effectively.
Provide IT Support
Closely related is the need to provide effective IT support. No matter how well-trained employees are, the one constant of technology is things go wrong. Whether it be a software bug, a crippling virus, networking issues, hardware failures or simply an employee who needs to know how to do something for the first time, having IT support readily available can make all the difference between at-home employee being productive or wasting time.
This is especially true when a company’s working nomads are scattered across multiple time zones, or even around the globe. In many cases, the only way to truly provide the technical support they need is to provide 24/7 access to IT support.
One advantage that in-house employees may feel they have is easy access to management. When questions, concerns or issues arise, a conversation with the appropriate person may be just a few steps away. In contrast, a telecommuter may not know who to speak with to address any issues they may be experiencing, thanks to a lack of clear communication channels.
While that may seem like an obvious issue that any company with remote employees would address, the reality is often quite different. For example, according to one Gartner survey of 260 enterprises, 25 percent of organizations didn’t even know what their own remote workers did. They had no idea if they were tech support, sales personnel, executives, programmers or consultants. If the companies who hired and paid these remote personnel did not even know what they did or who they were, it’s a safe bet the telecommuters were no better informed.
In contrast, to effectively manage a remote workforce, companies need to have clear, open channels of communication. Each remote worker needs to know exactly who they report to, who they can contact for assistance and the best way to do so. One technique that many companies have found effective is regular, scheduled check-ins with remote employees, proactively communicating with them to keep the lines of communication open. Tools such as Skype, Skype for Business and Slack can go a long way toward helping even the most far-flung team stay connected.
Implement a Purchase Allowance
One of the biggest benefits of at-home employees is the money companies can save. Real estate, energy costs and transportation fees are just a few of the many areas companies can save money. For the average telecommuter, however, working from home can sometimes be more costly. Internet fees, cell phone bills, office equipment and supplies are just a few of the expenses a remote worker must account for that would normally be handled if the employee was in-house.
Many companies find that a remote work allowance is an effective way to support telecommuters and ensure they’re not penalized for working from home. Allowing modest purchases—in approved categories—to be invoiced can help create an environment where remote workers are empowered to do their jobs well without being hindered by any costs associated with their remote status. Given that businesses can save as much as $10,000 in real estate costs per year, per remote employee, having a small remote work allowance will still leave room for massive savings over in-house employees.
The future of remote workers is, without a doubt, brighter than ever before. Not all remote work programs are created equal, however. By properly supporting your remote employees with proper training, IT support, open communication and expense reimbursement, you can ensure your company gains the maximum benefit from its remote workers.
To start building your remote workforce, or to learn more about how to better manage them, contact us at DistantJob and let our expertise work for you.