Overcoming Remote Working Challenges

By Nikole TenBrink, CAE • July 27, 2018

With advancements in technology, and an increased desire of employers to provide work-life balance, remote working has become more and more common. To successfully implement a remote work program, employers must set guidelines that allow remote employees to seamlessly conduct business. This can encompass anything from the ability to access and disseminate data and intellectual property, to communication tools and support and even tips for safety and well-being.

The introduction of remote working is a culture shift that presents both opportunities and challenges. A comprehensive policy allows the employer to communicate parameters, guidelines and expectations of the remote workforce. RIMS initiated remote working opportunities in 2012 with a detailed policy that is frequently revisited and refined.

There are Advantages

The trend for organizations to offer remote working opportunities is supported by the numerous benefits – tangible and intangible – that they provide for both the employer and employee. One of the most compelling benefits is the associated cost-savings. Think decreases in leased office space, furniture, equipment and supplies for the employer, and reduced expenses for commuting, parking, gas and even dry cleaning for the employee.

Recruiting and retaining top talent can be a challenge for many organizations. Salary is no longer the only selling point; the ability to work remotely is an important consideration, especially for the next generation of employees already so proficient with technology. Remote working also allows organizations to access a wider pool of talent, removing geographical constraints when filling some more challenging or specialized positions.

And, allowing a current employee who may no longer be able to commute to transition to a remote working arrangement can be much more efficient than initiating a hiring and onboarding process for his or her replacement. Enabling remote working opportunities can lead to improvements in employees’ lives, increased morale and engagement and, ultimately, increased productivity.

And There are Challenges

Implementing a remote working program for employees is not without some challenges. Data protection and confidentiality are significant concerns for associations allowing remote employees. Involving IT staff in the development of any policy is essential to ensuring appropriate steps are taken for accessing, saving and/or transferring data. At RIMS, use of a virtual private network that provides employees with encrypted access to a shared server protects both the organization and the staff.

Increased productivity is a desired outcome of remote working, but it takes hard work to get there. Lack of in-person oversight has the potential for misunderstandings, missed deadlines, questions regarding project ownership and more. Frequent, meaningful communication is essential to achieving the optimum level of output. At RIMS, all employees use an online chat platform with video capability, and phone extensions can be forwarded directly to their computers or other devices. Quick check-ins, project team conference calls to discuss progress and on-going communication between employees helps to avert misunderstandings and keep team members moving forward.

With remote working arrangements, it’s imperative to train staff about being inclusive of their remote colleagues. It’s very easy to slip into an “out of sight, out of mind” perspective and treat remote workers as if they are absent. Putting off meetings until there is an opportunity for face-to-face time can inhibit productivity, and tension or resentment may also arise between “telecommuters” and “commuters.” Having the right technology and training in place, as well as structured communication protocols, will support successful workplace collaboration.

A Must-Have Policy

RIMS’ success in initiating a remote working program can be largely attributed to its detailed policy that each employee must agree to prior to participation. The policy sets parameters regarding scheduling, work expectations, safety and accidents, expenses, dependent care and communication protocols. The policy also thoroughly addresses expectations for use of technology, data protection, computer maintenance and accessing the RIMS network. IT policies and standards are explicitly defined in the remote work policy.

No policy is immune to change. The organization’s business initiatives may evolve, job responsibilities change, new regulations or simply a change in the organization’s remote work strategy could trigger the need for revisions. The policy should specify that such conditions may arise, and that the organization reserves the right to revise, or revoke, the policy.

Every organization will address remote working based on what works best for them, considering the needs of both the employer and employees. To be successful, remote workers will need to be self-motivated, dependable, communicative and focused to ensure productivity. Managers must adapt to a different style of management – initiating frequent contact, being inclusive, using technology to ensure everyone has a seamless experience. A well-defined remote work policy will set expectations and provide guidelines for organizations to successfully implement a remote work program that creates a morale-boosting work environment and increases productivity.

About The Author

Nikole TenBrink, CAE is the vice president for membership and marketing with RIMS, the Risk Management Society.