By Elizabeth Harrin (London)
“People would love to work in their pajamas, on their own schedule and get around the consistency of 9-5,” says James Sinclair, CEO of OnSite Consulting, a U.S. based consulting company that focuses on insolvency, distress, and concept repositioning, with a mission to help remote workers be more productive. “However, remote or flex working is wholly dependent on the employee and their ability to work in a quasi-autonomous environment and use it to their advantage. If it is about working just enough to get by then it won’t work.”
Sinclair’s assessment is common to many employers: flexible working including the option of working from home is a leap of faith. However, OnSite Consulting has made it work – and in fact, from the company’s inception, its founder decided against bricks-and-mortar and created a remote workforce instead. Sinclair is clear that a remote workforce can generate a return on investment. The remote workforce model saves his company $1million a year in overheads. “For me, only with the advent of group collaboration tools, cloud based document storage and VOIP can I actually ensure that my employees are completing their work and I am constantly managing my workforce,” he says.
Sinclair judges his teams on their results, not hours spent at their desks, and this is a major change in thinking for many organisations. “For some employees, they love this approach and can speak openly about when they are unavailable because their confidence in their position and their completion of assignments speaks for itself,” Sinclair explains. He adds that even if employees are tied to their desks there is the expectation that they will carry out some personal tasks like paying bills during work time – simply because they are at work during business hours. “Remote working has allowed open discussion regarding personal time and what is expected,” he says.
Building an ROI case for remote working
According to a recent survey from Microsoft, remote-working programs can benefit employees and employers through increased productivity, reduced overheads and happier workers. Sixty percent of respondents, for example, said they are actually more productive and efficient when working remotely, as there are fewer interruptions and less time spent on the daily commute. There are cost savings from travel, office space and utilities. The talent pool is widened as you can recruit from a larger area, and providing flexible working options can help retain high fliers. Employees are less stressed and they get more done in the day. So it should be straightforward to build a business case that supports the idea of flexible working. Why aren’t more companies doing it?
Even if your company has an established flexible or remote working policy, chances are you feel that your company (or your boss) isn’t truly behind it. Only 15 percent of people feel that their company really supports flexible working arrangements. We’re constrained to our desks by the perception that our career prospects are worse the less time we spend in the office. While we might not talk openly about it, the lack of support for remote working is a major source of simmering conflict between employers and employees.
Create a policy
Rieva Lesonsky, president of GrowBiz Media, believes that to get over this hurdle the most important thing is for companies to support remote workers. A corporate policy on remote work is the first step, and not having a policy is asking for trouble. “Employees don’t know what they can and cannot do, and different managers may have different rules of their own,” she says. “They may work from home on Wednesday and come in Thursday to find it’s no longer allowed.”
Without a clear set of guidelines, employees don’t know if their career will suffer in some unseen way, and Lesonsky believes that this is one of the main reasons that employees choose not to work remotely, even if their company gives them a laptop and the technology to do so. “By codifying the terms of remote work, you’re actually empowering people to work remotely,” she says. “They won’t have to worry about potential repercussions, because it’s just company policy.”
Once you have a policy, relaunch your flexible working program with the firm backing of those at the top of the organisation, as well as the support of line managers further down the chain.
Get management on-side
“The principles of ‘getting on the boss’s radar’ can be seen in so many of the clients we visit and people are so confused on what loyalty and hours worked actually translate into,” says Sinclair. “All too often we see staff staying late to prove how indispensable they are because they have this belief that by being seen by the boss equates to performance which in turn equates to job security or opportunity for growth. The reality is that loyalty and hours worked are not the benchmarks a company should set when determining job security or growth. Instead it should all come down to performance.”
Choosing the right managers to support employees working remotely is key to them feeling supported and confident with their working set up – and for generating that all important return on investment.
“There’s a certain type of manager that gets sweaty palms at the thought of not being able to see their workforce,” says Christine Durst, author of The Two-Second Commute. “You should look for individuals who have a positive attitude toward telework and excellent communication skills. They should be results-driven and have superior delegation skills. And of course, they should show the willingness to be open to new ideas and change.”
Don’t forget meeting face-to-face
There is no substitute for meeting face-to-face on occasion, and the companies with successful remote-working practices make sure they meet up with their remote workers on a regular basis. “You want to make sure everyone comes together as frequently as possible and not only discusses work but gets that time to maintain and build relationships with their coworkers,” Lesonsky says.
Strong relationships and a deep corporate network also contribute to the return on investment – meeting up in person not only shows the remote employee that she is not alone, but also means that when she needs input from a colleague she has the contacts in place to get things done quickly and efficiently. What employer doesn’t want that?