Remote Working: The New Digital Workplace | Definition, Pro’s & Con’s, and Tips

Coronavirus (Covid-19) is sweeping the globe and many organizations are now challenged with transitioning to remote working and a digital workplace

The world as we know it is changing – fast. The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) is sweeping the globe, forcing countries to close borders, stores to close doors, people to stay home. And it is dramatically affecting companies in the way they do business, pushing them to switch to a remote working environment.

Many organizations are now challenged with transitioning to a remote workforce – in many cases transforming both technologies and processes as they look to keep pace with a rapidly unfolding situation. Let’s start with the very basics.

What is “remote working” ? 

The term remote work refers to groups of professionals that work from different locations without the requirement to be in an office environment. To be more precise, the employees have the flexibility to complete their tasks and meet their KPI’s whether working from home, library or while travelling.

What is “Digital Workplace”?

The digital workplace is defined as a virtual workplace (virtual office) that enables businesses and employees to operate efficiently and remotely whilst delivering set goals. This concept is one of the first steps that many companies take towards digital transformation and it includes setting up every platform, software and device so that employees can work effectively away from the office.

So how do you remain relevant and ensure your employees are being productive during these difficult times? Let’s dive into some tips, tricks and trends on how to switch to a digital workplace.

Remote Workforce: Out of office… not really 

A remote workforce allows employees to work outside of the traditional office environment. However, does ‘out of sight’ really mean ‘out of mind?’ It does not have to. Leading a remote team is common nowadays. In fact, close to a quarter of the US workforce already works from home, at least part of the time (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Just look at technology provider, Volo Commerce. “We are a very flexible organization and employees can pretty much work from anywhere and still connect into us,” explains Hannah Atack, Head of Human Resources. “You don’t necessarily have to be in the office.

We’ve worked very hard from an IT perspective and a cultural perspective to enable that to happen. And we are a very different business now to what we were two years ago in terms of how we work on a daily basis, how we collaborate and work together – both in terms of employees and customers as well,” she says.

But many companies don’t have the same back story and are launching mobile working for the first time. This comes with a set of remote working challenges.

Read more: What is Digital Leadership? – Definition, Examples, Skills, Qualities

Pros vs. cons of remote working: Can we cope? 

Benefits of Working from HomeThere are several advantages of mobile working. Employees don’t have to commute, saving them money and giving them time back with their families. That’s also time they can spend being more productive. And by reducing commuter travel, they’re also reducing their carbon footprint, helping the environment.

To describe this better, a survey of 3100 respondents conducted by FlexJobs , concludes that 76% stated that they would be more loyal to their employers if given the opportunity to work remotely, 28% stated that they would accept a salary decrease in exchange for working remotely, whereas only 8% stated that they prefer going to the office instead of working from home.

Moreover, remote working has also proved to have a great impact on health and happiness of the employees. The same survey concluded that 52% of the participants stated that remote working would have a positive impact on their life, 77% stated that working from home would allow them to be healthier by providing the opportunity to exercise more and eat better, and most importantly, 86% stated that they would be less stressed.

In addition, it can also save companies paying expensive real estate, facilities and maintenance costs. However, working remotely also comes with some obstacles:

  • Lack of face-to-face supervision
  • Social isolation
  • Distractions at home
  • Outdated or inefficient communications system

These are issues businesses’ need to tackle quickly in order to move forward in the current climate.  “That requires quite a different mindset,” suggests Dell EMC’s Dee Chury, CTO for the EMEA region, in a recent conversation with Meet the Boss. “That’s why we need to develop our workforces to embrace change and thrive in that type of opportunity.”

Tips for managing a remote workforce 

It’s crucial businesses develop a remote working strategy. Some of our tips include:

  1. Be clear, concise and confident with your employees

When should employees be online? What are their daily KPIs? Who are they reporting to? These are the very basic tips when managing a remote workforce. Besides just setting KPI’s, it is very important to make sure that those KPI’s are clear and realistic. Making sure that your employees have a clear idea of their responsibilities and the results they need to provide (report), is the foundation of a productive and effective remote working strategy.

  1. Share as much as possible

Leaders should make sure every employee has access to the same information. A lack of communication from senior management whilst working remotely might impact employee motivation or productivity due to feelings of disconnect from the wider organization on key projects and decisions.

  1. Look at productivity over working hours

People may have families or pets at home and need to make some adjustments to their working hours. Rather than looking at how much time they put in, look at how much work they’ve done that day. Did they hit their KPI’s?

  1. Implement team building activities

While it’s important to social distance it’s also crucial to maintain social interaction (virtually that is). Look into adding remote team building activities such as, fun discussion boards or a ‘virtual coffee hour.’

  1. Use the right tools for communication

Take advantage of remote working tools and clarify what employees are expected to use. For example:  Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, etc.

Building a strong digital culture 

Building a strategy and keeping employees informed will also help build a strong culture with a remote working team. “Trying to encourage people to do things differently is the biggest challenge of all,” says Chury.

So, in order to successfully build a digital culture, it’s important to pick a strong user experience over a strong tech experience – then motivate adoption. Remote team communication is key. It’s important team members know what’s going on in their organization, feel included and consistently share with one another.

If you want to introduce video or collaboration to allow people in different geographies to work together, the technologies are pretty well proven. But if you come from an organization where people are not used to working in that way, it requires a significant mind shift,” says Chury.

Part of it is about developing new skills to be able to use the tools effectively. But it is also about doing things differently. If people have a hard incentive to working a different way, that tends to drive behavior.”

Read more: What is Digital Culture? – Everything You Need to Know

Remote working tech tools 

Speaking of remote workforce tools, technologies like the cloud have given employees the opportunity to be connected regardless of their location or device. It creates a scenario where everyone can interact and see the common goals they are working towards. It also gives remote employees an opportunity to work hours that are more convenient for them.

With coronavirus front of mind, many tech companies are lending a helping hand, offering tools to businesses that need to implement them now. Google recently announced that they want to help businesses and schools stay connected in response to coronavirus. They are rolling out free access to advanced Hangouts Meet video conferencing capabilities to G Suite and G Suite Education customers. Microsoft also revealed they want to help employees working from home by offering a free trial of Office 365 E1, including Microsoft Teams.

Best practices to manage remote teams

This is something many business leaders are now having to do on the fly. But is there a right way to manage remote employees? Here are some remote team best practices that we believe can help:

  • Trust your team and employees. Trust they are getting their work done and want your company to succeed during these tough times.
  • Encourage employees to stay in work-mode. Dedicate time to check-in with them daily and avoid multi-tasking.
  • Connect your goals with theirs. Show them that you’re interested in their meetings, calls and calendar.
  • Be supportive! A few kind words can go a long way.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, we are all in this together. While you may be feeling nervous and frightened about the uncertain future – most likely your employees feel the same way. It’s crucial that when managing mobile working, we think about the employees.

How else can you get cross-departmental collaboration and encourage employees to be fully invested? Frank Pathyil from intelligent workplace platform Workgrid, suggests a more holistic experience. “It’s centered around the needs and desires of the employees versus the needs and desires of the function,” he explained at a recent Meet the Boss event. “Make things contextualized, make things self-service, make things easy to consume. A well-supported employee can access what they need, when they need it.

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