How many people work remotely? A 2015 Gallup survey found that currently 37% of employees in the US have worked remotely from their home. For those that do telecommutes, they average 6.4 days per month. However, about 15% work from home all of the time. As well, 39% of companies currently allow some employees to work remotely.
Who works remotely? A Global Workplace Analytics’ 2011 “State of Telework in the U.S.” report found that the average remote worker is 49 years old. As well, Gallup found that 55% of them were college graduates. Technology has allowed for more people to telecommute. However, there are many jobs that don’t utilize computers as their main focus, which could limit the ability for those employees to work remotely.
What is the impact to productivity? Often there is a common misconception that people who work remotely are not working as many hours, and are getting less done, than their in-office counterparts. There is often a fear that if you can’t see them, and they are not in the office, then they are not working. However, Gallup found that employees who spent at least some time telecommuting were more engaged in their jobs than those that never did, which translated to increased productivity, profitability and customer engagement. They also found that remote workers logged an average of 4 more hours per week than those who didn’t telecommute.
The number of companies who allow telecommuting are increasing, as are the number of employees and positions that take advantage of remote work. 70% of employees in a Gallup survey said they would like to telecommute. So it is clearly a trend that will continue to grow. Companies can recognize many benefits from allowing telecommuting, including more productive workers, and the ability to attract a better and larger pool of talent for new positions.
Mobile workforces need to replace face-to-face interaction and in-office time with other tools to stay connected and productive. When working in an office, there inherently tends to be more communication, idea generation sharing, collaboration, transparency of information, and community/team building. It is important to develop and encourage these areas with mobile workforces, so you don’t lose any of the in-office benefits. Using SharePoint can help.
SharePoint supplies an Intranet portal that allows mobile employees to contribute and share ideas and information. It is easy to learn, and allows users to be involved sharing ideas and content without requiring programming or IT. This makes it an ideal tool that can be quickly implemented and gain adoption.
Some of the key areas where SharePoint can help mobile workforces:
Document Sharing& Management – Easy to use document libraries to share content. Can tag documents with any desired properties to make them easy to find in future. Employees can change how documents are displayed so each can have their own unique way of organizing the same documents.
Discussion Boards & Newsfeeds – Generate idea sharing opportunities using these tools. Make this the location for “virtual water cooler” chat. Employees can start items or join into existing ones, sharing ideas about any topic. Users can also “Follow” topics to receive immediate updates when others post.
Wiki’s & Blogs – Give employees a forum to share more in-depth topics, ideas, and articles, or use them as a place for them to get important information such as handbooks, FAQs, help desk, competitor information, how-tos, etc.
MySites – Social networking for work. Each employee has their own landing page where they can post their bio – a great way to enable company searching for subject matter experts on specific topics! Allows employees to connect to others in the company, follow and tag important topics and areas on the company site, and track their own tasks.
Dashboards – Create dashboards to display individual and team KPIs and metrics for weekly meeting discussions.
Team Collaboration on documents – Multiple employees can edit and work on the same document at the same time to view live edits as they happen. They can also utilize versioning, so that each iteration of a document is stored in archives, to access again in the future if needed.
Searching – Can search for any content on a site (documents, discussions, wikis, etc.) with lighting fast speeds. Search results provide quick filters to further define searches, as well as preview panes, to preview each item prior to opening.
These are only a small sampling of ways that SharePoint can help a dispersed team of employees across multiple locations. But by using this type of intranet site, employees can still collaborate and communicate just as frequently as they would in an office, by supplementing the tools they use to do so.
SharePoint can provide an environment for team building to keep your mobile team working together and with others in the company.
Is Instant Messaging a good tool for a remote or dispersed workforce? The answer is Yes and No. It all depends on how it is used.
Keeping communication flowing between a dispersed team takes much more effort than when they are based in one office. This means that other technology tools must be utilized so that frequency doesn’t drop in the absence of regular face to face opportunities. One popular tool is Instant Messaging, which allows everyone to stay connected by quickly typing in a short question or chat that then pops up directly on the targeted individual’s computer. There are good and bad things about this.
It bridges the distance gap by making a team feel like they are constantly connected, similar to the cell phone texting craze! In an office people can stop by to ask a quick question or connect – IM allows them to do that virtually so communication isn’t restricted.
It also can help build the team’s sense of community by keeping them more connected which keeps those working relationships stronger.
It is a huge time zapper – even if it only takes 1 minute to read and respond to an IM, it has really taken 10-15 minutes of your time. This is because it takes that amount of time to get back to the same level of concentration toward what you were working on before the interruption. So six quick IMs a day could potentially deplete one hour of productivity.
Managers can fall into a bad habit of using it to see if someone is working and online. Don’t use IM as a time card or status checker. This leads to micro management and is just a lazy management style. Employees need to be able to log off of IM so they can concentrate on projects without interruptions.
People don’t realize that a company is liable for all communication sent electronically including IMs and can be liable if they ever go through legal discovery.
IM can be too informal and therefore cause conflicts between employees due to misinterpretations. We miss more communication nuances when using IM that we would have picked up through verbal or face to face interaction.
To ensure that IM becomes a useful rather than detrimental tool to office productivity, some rules should be agreed upon:
Agree that employees should turn off IM when working on projects so they are not interrupted.
Do not use it as a tool to monitor when they start or end work.
Set standards about what types of content and communication IM should be used for.
Let employees know that all IM is captured and potentially monitored by the company.
If a company or remote team is going to utilize Instant Messaging as a communication tool, it is important that they set up guidelines and expectations around its use, so it does not negatively impact productivity.
Quickly disappearing are the days in companies where all employees are based in one office. Remote and virtual workforces are growing with the need to improve speed to service, lower travel cost, and improved customer service. Research has suggested that now approximately 75% of US companies have employees that work virtual or remote. This can prove to be a new challenge for the HR role in administering to this dispersed group of employees. There are many technology tools now available to help in the HR function with remote workforces.
Document Management and Workflow systems
There are many document management systems that can make storing, finding, accessing and securing documents better than ever. With the amount of documents produced in corporations, it can be a productivity drain to find and utilize needed info. Document Management systems use a concept called metadata that tags documents with properties for easy organization and retrieval. These systems also allow for more granular security, providing better privacy for HR employee files.
Workflow automation tools are also increasingly popular to help companies streamline processes through technology. Systems can take an employee through the on-boarding process from job application submittal to training and review, or other processes such as expenses, vacation requests or 360 reviews.
One technology tool that incorporates both document management and workflow options is SharePoint. This tool can provide document management benefits such as auto versioning, searching, and metadata views and organization. It can automate processes such as document approval, or alert users of changes to calendars, employee document folders or company announcements. It also has tools that can allow you to convert your employee handbook into an electronic wiki, or provide employees with online tools to access benefit vendors or forms.
Communicating with Remote Workforces through Webinars
There are now many different webinar services to choose from that allow you to communicate with a remote workforce to give presentations, have visual meetings, and share computer applications. Some of the most popular services are: Citrix Go to Webinar, Adobe Connect, Microsoft Live Meeting, WebEx, and even the local Denver based company: Ready Talk. The best system for you depends on your needs.
They all offer a different array of features including: Ability to view participants with web cams, surveys & polling, remote desktop take over, either uploading PPT presentations to the web service or displaying them on the fly, downloadable files, multiple meeting rooms, etc.
There are many technology tools that can help you create e-learning or blended learning scenarios to help with the on-boarding and training of remote workforces. Often the amount of features available in the different tools is synonymous with the needed learning curve of the product. Some tools allow for easy conversion of PowerPoint presentations into videos, such as Lectora’s Snap or Adobe Presenter.
Others allow you to capture animation on your computer as you click through items, and allow for narration, branching logic and other more advanced development features. Some products along these lines are: Adobe Captivate, TechSmith’s Camtasia, or Articulate. The more advanced products require some programming skills but will allow you to build interactive elements and custom animation using programs such as Adobe Flash.
All of these different technologies can help the HR function in working with a remote workforce. Finding the right product for your company depends on the specific features you need. However, just understanding some of the options out there, and how they can benefit the HR function, will provide the first steps toward finding the right tools.