How to make remote working productive

Written by
Richard Morris

04 Feb 2016

04 Feb 2016 • by Richard Morris

The era of the remote worker

A recent report from Regus reveals that 45% of UK workers are now based outside of their main office for more than half the week. Of course, employers want to know that such a flexible approach can work. In fact, the evidence is compelling. Employees who are able to choose when they work, where they work and how they work are known to be more motivated, engaged and productive. Research commissioned by Regus last year confirms this point, with 81% of the senior business people polled indicating that flexible working improves business productivity. 

As well as this boost to productivity, the possible benefits of remote working include lower operating costs, greater staff wellbeing and a reduced environmental impact from commuting. In order to achieve these benefits, businesses need to adapt their management practices. At Regus we've helped many of our customers adopt remote and flexible working, and based on this experience, here are a few suggestions:

1. Set clear goals
Remote managers need to manage goals and outcomes, not tasks.  Goals need to be clear, and managers must communicate how outcomes are to be achieved. Meeting agendas have to be more focused and outcome-oriented, and participants must prepare properly. 

2. Make the most of technology
Successful remote working depends on staff having the necessary devices and connectivity and knowing how to use them. Cloud-based applications can facilitate data access or printing, and there are monitoring and reporting applications for remote managers and employees. 

3. Provide the right workplace tools 
Remote workers often struggle to work at home because of distractions and lack of professional working facilities. Providing staff with access to professional workspace, close to their home or near where they are travelling, can encourage focus and productivity.

4. Communication is vital - just as it always was
Virtual meetings are easy to arrange. Ensure active participation and encourage feedback and opinion - with conference calls, especially, it's easy for participants to 'switch off'. 

One-to-one communication is important too. Remote staff must feel their personal development is taken seriously, so regular scheduled sessions with managers to discuss progress and performance are essential. 

5. Be overt about the new rules
New ways of working usually demand a revised contract setting out the parameters for both employees and managers. Remote working requires more reporting, and staff need to understand not just their goals, but the definitions of 'success' and 'failure', and what availability is required of them. Rewards and sanctions should be clearly set out. 

6. Promote a corporate culture
It's important that remote staff feel a sense of belonging. Meetings and communication tools help with this; so does a rewards system that doesn't overlook the contribution of remote workers. Social events, away days and virtual workshops can also help employees interact and form productive relationships.

The days of the fixed-hours, fixed-location job are numbered. Today’s workforce expects flexibility and forward-thinking businesses are building this into their strategy.  There will be some level of adaptation required as each party gets used to a set-up focused firmly on outputs rather than presenteeism. But all the evidence points to the fact that those businesses getting it right are enjoying significant rewards.