Remote Working And The Software That Makes It Better

The way we work is changing, and now, being out of the office doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be productive, all thanks to your friendly neighbourhood software consultants. Remote working, as it has come to be coined, is a growing phenomenon in business, where historically there has been a mistrust of employees working outside of a physical business location. However, as the technology, which allows us to work remotely and still interact with colleagues in a way that does not slow down productivity, has improved, so has a fondness for remote working. According to Venture Beat, a study last year found that two-thirds of the global workforce operate remotely at least one day a week.

Employers are now looking at the many benefits of remote workers. It gives greater flexibility to where a worker works, meaning that they don’t have to commute to an office everyday, helping them to optimise their work-life balance. Whether that’s to not have to work away from home so much, working around childcare or spending less time travelling, for an employee, this eases some of the issues that come with commuting to a physical location. This, in turn, brings benefits of employee retention.

However, the greatest value that offering workers remote options is that it widens the available talent pool and remove the limitations of geographical location from hiring the best and brightest in your given sector.

And, to go even further, according to a study by Google this year, 46 per cent of organisations employ ‘virtual teams’ all working remotely, reports Forbes. The company Stripe, a payments processing business similar to Paypal, for example, has just announced it’s adding a fifth engineering hub to its business, but unlike those in San Francisco, Seattle, Dublin and Singapore, this one will have no fixed abode, according to Venture Beat. While the same business structures are in place, this hub will be made up of a ‘distributed workforce’, who have no physical location to report into. In many ways, this is great for businesses, as it reduces the overheads of having office space, which can be one of the largest expenses a business has to stare down.

However remote working looks for a business, for it to work successfully, it does have to have the software infrastructure to support it, and to keep employees connected and working in as streamlined a way as they would be face to face in an office environment. So let’s look at some of the core functions we need for remote working from software, and some of the services that can provide it already available. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that only with bespoke software solutions are you going to be able to have all the functions your workforce really needs to make remote working as productive as in-office work. It’s about super-charging your staff, and if they’re working with software that’s not specifically tailored to your business and what you’re doing, there are always going to be gaps in what they can achieve with it, and time spent working around limitations.

The first function to think about is a ‘chat’. Emails are how much of the world communicates in business, but by remote working, you’re missing some of that inspiring, water-cooler chat that ignites new ideas and collaboration. Having a chat function that is less formal and more instant than email is a great way to foster that workplace talk environment. Applications such as Slack and Workplace by Facebook see widespread use for this reason, in such a way that employees can talk business as much as build more interpersonal relationships through them.

However, chat does not come without its problems. In review, Vox.com looked at some of the issues that come with using an application such as Slack and concluded that this kind of software is one that can become easily misused. On average employees at large companies are sending 200 Slack messages a week, and it can fast become a full-time job to just keep up with the conversation. ‘Productivity software should be something you use less than the thing you used before,’ says one commentator on the site, while another says, ‘We’re just moving email to another place and it’s more searchable.’

For ease of use and connecting remote workers, as well as workers from different departments of the same company, chat is a great function, but before employing it, it’s worth critically examining its use and purposes and potentially adding limitations to it.

Connecting on a more physical level, outside of the written word, is sometimes the best way to push forward with productivity, but can be the most frustrating process. Weak connections and poor software leading to loss of audio or video, as well as working around different schedules remotely, can make organising a virtual meeting seem like an impossible and thankless task, but important nonetheless. Aside from finding the best video meeting software that looks for you, consider software that helps draw together the scheduling process, so that you can find a time that works for everyone involved without having to ask each individually.

Project management tools are also used widely, not just with remote workers, but in this instance, they have a lot of benefits. At the core of working well remotely is communication, and project management tools ensure that the key projects, goals and priorities are clearly outlined for everyone involved, while also looping in all employees on who is doing what on a certain project. Working on both a large and small scale, from teams to individuals, project management tools are the new go-to for organisation and dissemination of information for workplaces.

Of course, none of these software applications work in isolation of other forms of communication, and to make remote working really function well for you, it takes the implementation of some guidelines that support the concept. These, from Forbes, might be a good place to start.

Remote working shouldn’t feel any less valuable than in office work, and shouldn’t be penalised, so ensuring this is well known and that the workplace policies support this is important. Having the software in place to make all aspects of the job possible, from communication to file sharing will also show you’re committed to remote workers.

This also moves into the conversation about trust. You have to start with trust with remote workers and see that they are working hard by the progress they make towards your goals. Micromanaging time remotely is a difficult conversation for virtual teams. Use your software tools instead to ensure they know what their priorities are at any given time, and have a clear view of deadlines on the horizon they need to be working to.

If you have workers who operate entirely remotely, it’s important to get to know them as people as well as workers. Conversation should breach purely professional to ensure they have an emotional stake in the team and the work, so incorporate it into your communications. Having a clear understanding of when real-life meetings with remote workers should be happening, and also use video meetings to put a face to the relationship regularly.

Also, build in time to check in. More than just arranging times for meetings about specific topics, this should be a more general conversation on progress and issues/concerns, both across your entire team and on a one to one basis. Keep the communication channels open with your software choices and remote working will be a useful tool in your arsenal.