If you decide to make remote work permanent for your SMB—whether fully or partially—it is imperative to develop a remote work strategy to replace the band-aid approach you may have taken to get your remote employees up and running when COVID first hit. Yes, your employees may have been working remotely for two years now. But ensuring your remote work scheme addresses the following challenges will allow your business to implement remote work intentionally and more successfully.
We’ve all seen the stories on the news. Companies across the country are grappling with whether to renew their office space leases in full, let them go all together, or figure out a middle ground such as a hotel-like concept. But what happens to feelings of connectedness when your employees don’t gather in person or when they sit at a desk that doesn’t belong to them? According to Forbes, 87% of company leaders believe that office space provides an important function for collaboration, yet most expect to move forward with at least a hybrid option for remote work that includes a specified number of days in the office. Downsizing office space can produce cost savings, but that must be balanced with what your company may lose in return—employee engagement, meaningful collaboration, and innovation.
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Employee motivation and productivity
When employees first start working remotely, there is often an uptick in their productivity. Working remotely is new and unique, and employees are more efficient and productive. They get the time to work that they are normally commuting, and they don’t have people knocking on their doors all day asking questions. But over time, for some employees, that uptake diminishes and even trends downward. The bottom line is that remote work can be positive for people who are self-motivated—for workers who will be productive no matter where they are. But for workers who are either in jobs that require a lot of management and oversight or workers who are less motivated on their own—remote work may lead to reduced productivity. Businesses will need to contend with this challenge when making decisions and policies around remote work.
Maintaining employee engagement and corporate culture
Whether your company adopts a fully remote or hybrid approach, maintaining your company culture and ensuring that all employees, even remote ones, are engaged can be a challenge. We’ve all experienced being the one remote person in a meeting with a roomful of people in a conference room. When you are remote, it can be difficult to poke into the conversation, it can be difficult to hear, and it is easy to get distracted because you don’t have eye contact with people in the room. Working remote also does not produce the feelings of connection that come from in-person interactions. And there is a disconnect from company culture for those who work remotely.
It is important that the employees on the other side of the screen feel loved, valued, and included in the company. For example, if your company has a happy hour in the office, how do you include the person who works in another state? Or if your business invests in a company-wide training or kick-off event, do you fly in your remote employees that aren’t local? Do you require your employees who live locally to attend in person or let them attend online? How do you make the remote employees feel as involved and part of the team as in-office workers do? What about when you provide lunch to the office? Do you have lunch delivered to the remote workers? These activities can add a layer of cost but can go a long way in maintaining employee engagement.
Our final blog in this series will cover security more in-depth. But the overall security challenge for remote work is that your data, your intellectual property, and your assets are now in places that you don’t control. Sure, your employees have been stopping at a coffee shop and working there briefly for years. But with remote work, your assets will be out of your control indefinitely. For small and medium-sized businesses without security and tools in place, this is an important concern.
If your employees have been working remotely during the pandemic without measures to secure their home networks, your data has been at risk. Most home networks have weak/insecure passwords and include multiple devices that are treated as equal and that can access every other device on the network. For example, when your employee’s 12-year-old messes around on dark websites or hacking sites or views other material you don’t want him to, his laptop suddenly becomes a vulnerability for your company. And what about the person that sits in their car in the cul-de-sac outside of your home? With free and easy-to-get utilities, they can access your network. Most small businesses have not addressed these vulnerabilities yet or moved to secure the places their employees are working remotely. The firewalls on your employees’ laptops are not enough.
Setting your SMB up for success
Whatever your business chooses to do, it is critically important to consider these issues before you roll out a remote work policy—especially if you have no strategy or are still using the patchwork solution put in place for COVID. The challenges above can be addressed by creating a comprehensive remote work strategy, inclusive of policies, technology, security, and budget.
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