Discover how to achieve great results when working from home. With the Coronavirus (Covid-19) very likely to cause businesses to have to look at remote working sooner rather than later.
In this guide, I will take you through the positives and negatives of working from home. I will offer strategies that you can put into place to maximise your productivity while remote working. Plus, show you how to minimise the impact that social distancing will have on your business. Along the way, I will point out tools that will help you to achieve success while working from home.
Covid-19 might kickstart a more permanent shift towards more working from home, as people see the benefits for themselves.
What is Remote Working?
Remote working is working out of the office environment. Remote working can involve working from any location that isn’t part of the business premises for which you work.
However, it doesn’t usually apply to people who work on-site at a client’s location. Generally, it refers to office workers who work from home. Sometimes, this means at the park, in your favourite pub, in the shed – the list is endless.
With the effect of Coronavirus, this is more likely to be your home than a public place. It will defeat the purpose of remote working in this instance if not. In normal circumstances, other locations would be acceptable alternatives. Remote working is part of flexibility in the workplace, and it can be an employee benefit.
What do you need to get started with Remote Working?
Many office jobs today involve a similar pattern.
You start the day with a commute to your office. Switching on your computer, on arrival, and answering the emails that have arrived since you last checked your smartphone. You may then attend a meeting to discuss work that you will probably carry out on a computer.
From creating reports to calculating figures on spreadsheets. From entering data to designing products or marketing campaigns. The majority of your work likely involves a computer or digital device of some kind.
There is nothing on the list of things outlined above that you can’t achieve working from home. As long as you have a computer and an internet connection, then you are good to go!
The move to cloud-based software has allowed many businesses to adopt remote working as part of their everyday routine.
What is Cloud Software?
Cloud software is different from the applications installed on your computer. They don’t save your files to your hard drive or USB pen drive. The program runs on a server computer in a large datacentre, and you connect to it through the internet. Datacentres contain many servers in a controlled environment.
Some software is a hybrid with a program installed on your computer, but data held in the cloud. Many apps on your phone will work in this way.
The benefit of this is that you can be on any device and connect to your application. All your data available for you, and anyone in your business, with whom you need to share it. You can even share any information you need, directly, with your clients.
What are the business benefits of remote working?
Although this decision may be out of your hands if we are forced to work from home, it’s still worth considering the benefits of remote working.
Working from home reduces costs
The amount of spending that is required to operate an office environment is a massive saving that you can achieve instantly. While you will have to provide equipment such as computers, and potentially contribute to internet connections for home workers, this is a significant reduction. The non-exhaustive list of rent, utilities, insurance, fixtures and fittings, refreshments, paper and pens are all surplus to requirements.
As well as reducing costs for you as a business, working from home also reduces costs for an employee as they will no longer have to commute to work. Annual savings may run into the thousands for some commuters.
Another benefit of a reduction of commuting, as seen in areas impacted by Coronavirus, is the reduction in the environmental impact. Fewer cars, buses, taxis and trains on our roads and rail during the previous peak commuter hours all lead to reducing emissions.
Remote working reduces staff churn
Replacing an employee is estimated to cost over £12,000 in the UK, so, closing the revolving door of hiring and losing employees is worthwhile. A better working environment is part of the solution, and the flexibility that working from home offers is a powerful tool to address this issue.
The flexibility of remote working is also a great way to retain more experienced mature staff. Working from home can be a solution to managing the often growing demands on their time from things outside of work, such as caring for elderly relatives or childcare responsibilities.
Related to recruitment is the bonus that you don’t have a geographical restriction when looking to hire new employees. You can cast your net as wide as you like to find the perfect hire.
Remote working boosts productivity
Boosting productivity is about setting the right conditions for your employees to thrive. Allowing them to work in the setting in which they are most comfortable, with the flexibility to choose their schedule, all help to build the right environment for a productive day.
Remote workers often say they feel more motivated when working from home. Sitting in the garden on a beautiful sunny day with your laptop is going to be a more relaxing environment than the glaring lights and air-conditioned hum of an office building.
Working alone aids you to get into the flow of working without the constant interruptions that a busy office with co-workers dropping by for a chat or shouting across the open-plan room hinders.
Away from the eyes of the boss, people can also feel less monitored, allow them to relax, and get on with what they are supposed to be doing. By moving to output related metrics rather than time spent in the office, you can increase efficiency while reducing anxiety.
What are the negatives of Remote Working, and how can you overcome them?
Keeping in contact with your team
Once you lose the ability to see how busy someone is before bothering them, it becomes more challenging to communicate with your team, without interrupting the flow of work.
Many solutions exist, including email, phone, video conference, SMS/Whatsapp, and other messaging solutions. Choosing the right communication method for the right purpose is vital.
Some options like phone and video conference are disruptive, and you should try to schedule them in advance. However, they provide a more human touch to communication and are great for catch-ups.
Email is not great for concise and rapid responses or a conversation involving multiple people. However, email is suitable for detailed communications and the dissemination of information.
On the flip side, messaging applications – SMS, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts are more suited to quick questions and answers. In a long conversation, you may lose critical information, rather than with emails which can be searched by subject.
Dealing with loneliness
Human contact is something we are all going to miss during this time. It is easy to overlook all the quick chats and catch up conversations that happen in an office environment. Communication is not only about getting work done but about building a cohesive team through shared experiences.
Keeping in touch with your co-workers is essential, and will probably involve a more conscious decision than usual. Try to schedule regular video catch-ups, or leave text chat open for a bit of informal conversation.
Ensuring your working practices are secure
When you are working in an office, it is easier to control the environment with respect to your security. You can control who has access to your building. You can control access to the hardware and to the data network inside your business.
Once you start remote working, you lose this control, and you need to implement alternative measures to protect your data.
Once your hardware goes out of your building, there is a chance it could be physically accessed by anyone. It could be lost or stolen, so, locking down access if this occurs is crucial. Encryption of the hard drive, with a strong password on startup, is one way to strengthen the security of your devices. User authentication against a central server, or VPN, via the internet allows you to track logins and enforce password policies for remote systems.
You should consider policies to ensure systems aren’t left logged in when not in use, or in the view of others when viewing sensitive information.
These measures, with your normal security policies around password strength and password update frequencies, should help keep your data safe.
Tools To Help With Remote Working
There are a vast array of tools to help you to work remotely. Some of the tools outlined below are free, have a free version or are well worth paying for the full version to help your team to work from home. I have broken the tools down by their area of expertise so that you can fill the gaps that you need.
WhatsApp is a messaging app that is common as an alternative to SMS text messages on phones. You can use WhatsApp to chat with your team by text, voice or video, although video and call is only one-to-one. It works best via mobile devices, and although you can use it on a desktop, it doesn’t work as well here.
WhatsApp uses encryption, so, it ticks the box for security over standard SMS messaging.
You can share files through the app, but as you get them on your mobile rather than desktop, and there is a size limit of 100Mb, it is not always that useful for this purpose.
If you have a large team, then WhatsApp has a limit of 256 users, so, it is not great for broadcasting messages in this instance.
WhatsApp is free to use and quick to get up and running, simply download from your phone’s app store.
Overall, WhatApp is great if you have a small team, you want to use software that people are already used to, and you don’t mind the limitations described above.
If you want to message your team as a group, as individuals, or to allow communication between departments or teams, then Google Hangouts is ideal. It is a text-based chat app that you can access on a desktop, via mobile devices and tablets.
It includes the option to video call if you want to speak to people rather than type. You can send images and videos to each other.
It allows you to set a status so you can tell people if you are available, or busy. It shows when someone was last active on the chat, and can even show which device you are accessing the app on.
You can archive conversations to keep them for the future. It is part of the GSuite subscription for Google applications, which is reasonably priced, and quick to setup.
Overall, Google Hangouts are great for quick messages with very basic features that won’t overwhelm those who don’t normally use computer-based communication tools. If you want something with more features to organise conversations and workstreams, then this may be a little basic.
For businesses that want a little more organisation for their organisation, then Slack is a step up from Google Hangouts. With the ability to create channels (how Slack keeps chats separated) on any subject, with any members that you want, you can build the infrastructure of your messaging system in the way that you want. You have the added ability to create private channels that only members can see.
Slack has threaded conversations, so, it is easier to read message chains as they appear as connected threads, rather than simply chronologically as for Hangouts.
There are better search facilities in Slack, including being able to search the contents of shared documents. Hangouts have more of these features in their paid versions.
Slack has plenty of methods to keep communications connected between channels and users, including the ability to put links to other channels, messages and users, through tags and hashtags. It also has a vast array of plugins and shortcuts for power users to take advantage of. You don’t get as much storage in Slack as Google, but Google shares the storage with your other apps.
Slack is more expensive than Google Hangouts for the standard paid version, especially, as Hangouts is part of a wider suite. However, the top package is half the price of Google’s enterprise offer. Again these aren’t really direct comparisons due to the app vs package issue, but if you need a bit more than chat, then Slack may be the choice for you.
If you want something a bit more than chat with video calls for conversing with your clients, and as a replacement for meetings, then video conferencing systems may be for you. The advantage of these systems over the messaging apps above include scheduling, conference management features, like muting participants, and dial-in via phone features. Below are two of the popular choices, with both offering a free version with some limitations as compared with their paid plans.
Skype can handle a video call with 50 participants. You can record calls for audit purposes and to share with people unavailable for the live call. You can share files and screens, and use text chat like the messaging apps above. The paid plan is cheaper than Zoom; it is also part of your Office 365 subscription.
Zoom can handle a video call with 100 participants on their free version or up to 1,000 on the paid plan. You can share screens, record meetings and generate transcripts. Zoom has additional features that are great for virtual conferences like virtual hand-raising for questions, breakout sessions and links for individual meetings.
Overall, if you want to hold meetings with your own team or a couple of clients, then Skype may be a lower-cost option. If you want to hold professional large-scale conferences, webinars or meetings, then Zoom edges into the lead.
You may already share files with your team via one of these cloud-based file share apps. Alternatively, you may use an office server or shared hard drive. The physical option is difficult to access without setting up a VPN (virtual private network) into your office systems. Plus, physical infrastructure will require someone to maintain the equipment in the office. You may want to avoid this option with both Covid-19, and as it is a potential single point of failure.
If you don’t have any file sharing, or you send files around the office via email or a USB pen drive, then you might want to check out the options below. They aren’t an exhaustive list by any means, with Apple iCloud and Microsoft OneDrive being other similar examples.
Both of the options below work in pretty much the same way. You can install a plugin to allow a folder to be created on your local computer. Any file that is placed in the folder is automatically synced to the cloud app. This can be shared with other staff who have permission to access the file or folder. You can set up folders in any structure you like, by department, project, client, and so on. Then you may set permissions about who can see the contents of those folders, or individual files, for both internal staff and external third-parties.
Dropbox has faster syncing speeds to allow files to get shared more quickly between you and your team. They also allow you to earn additional space from referring others to use its service.
Google Drive gives you more space for free – 15GB rather than 2GB. Both apps have paid plans to add more storage. However, Dropbox has a maximum of 3TB to Google’s 30TB (ten times larger). However, Google’s storage space is shared between all of your Google apps. The sharing includes your Gmail account if you use this for your email service.
Overall, the choice is based on what you want from your file share app. If you use other apps like Gmail or Google Docs, it may be preferential to stay with the same environment. Cost-wise both services are pretty similar, so, this is less likely to be a factor in your decision.
Work Management Platform
Work is a lot easier to organise when you are in the same building as everyone else. A quick drop-in to see how the report is going, or a short catch-up meeting with your team, are all easy to achieve. While many of the tools above allow you to replace the drop-in chat or even the meeting, a lot of information is still spread across a number of systems, or in people’s heads. Having a central system that organises your tasks, who is responsible for the work, and the current status of the task will stop work falling through the cracks and increase efficiency.
SwiftCase is a workflow management platform that allows you to organise your business processes, giving you an oversight of the work you have in progress, and the way that you are utilising staffing resources. When working remotely, seeing what needs to be done, and who is doing it, is vital.
Throw in some automation and integration with other systems, and SwiftCase not only allows you to manage to work remotely but allows you to be a leader in productivity and organisation. It will make you wonder why you didn’t offer this flexibility to your team a long time ago.
Get in touch to find out how you can make a success of remote working, boosting productivity, with SwiftCase. We will get you up and running on our platform, and give you a whole month completely free. You can see for your self why we got Best Ease of Use 2019 for Workflow Management software by Capterra.
So, now you know the benefits of working from home and how to overcome the potential pitfalls. You have discovered which tools to use and how to make the most of them.
You might not have thought about remote working if it hadn’t been for the Coronavirus. However, I hope the information here helps you to take on a pretty big change to your way of working. If we can help you with any aspects of working from home, then please get in touch. We will do our best to help.
If you would like to get started with SwiftCase, we will offer you a full month completely free. Get in touch, and we will help you get started.
We wish you, your staff, your families and friends all the best in these unprecedented times. Stay safe.