Ed Hussey – People Solutions Director
Whilst many businesses thought it was a great idea initially, remote working has recently fallen out of favour and some corporates have taken steps to bring workers back to the office – so is it time for a wider rethink?
In 2017, IBM took the decision to call people back to the office as part of a move to encourage greater collaboration. Other early-adopters of remote working have backtracked similarly, some claiming that remote working was not having the expected benefit in terms of productivity and in some cases, workers had reported feeling isolated or left out.
Despite the obvious challenges posed by home-based working, for HR managers and employees alike, many employers are continuing to offer it and view it as a useful work distribution option. Figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the number of workers practising remote working has grown steadily and this trend seems set to continue.
Rather than going into reverse, remote working opportunities are being used even more widely by small and growing businesses. In a bid to optimise work space and reduce costs, remote working has become a standard part of their work plans, and as long as candidates are recruited on this basis, the benefits of operating in this way should outweigh any downsides.
Important considerations for remote working
From a management perspective, there are important considerations to bear in mind before offering remote working. For example, this way of working is not necessarily going to produce the best productivity outcome if the role involves collaboration, regular meetings or real-time interaction with teams. It is also necessary for employers to perform a risk assessment of workers’ home-based work stations and take steps to ensure they will be working in a safe and secure environment. If remote working involves working away from home and accessing company information via unsecured networks, in coffee shops or other public places, security policies may need to be strengthened to meet current data protection requirements.
Tech solutions already exist to protect employers and support their compliance with GDPR and other regulations. For example, use of Office 365 to store and share all company information provides a degree of security, employers may need to consider introducing other specific security policies for remote workers, such as not working on confidential documents in public areas, restricting the use of USBs and mandatory use of security screens. Training should also be provided to ensure all employees, including remote workers, are aware of the importance of data protection and how it relates to their specific role.
With more start-ups and growing businesses relying on remote working to get their businesses up and running, there is a risk that some could be cutting corners and taking risks that could undermine their stability. To avoid this, they should be seeking advice about how to use flexible working to their advantage safely and securely.
Striking a balance
In reality, there are few jobs that can be done from home 100 percent of the time. However, most jobs will include occasional remote working, where necessary or it makes sense to do so. Whenever considering the role of remote working, employers should avoid taking an arbitrary decision. Instead, they should take a step back, to assess whether it would be a good fit for specific job roles or tasks.
By viewing remote working as a valuable work distribution option, employers can organise their businesses in a way that drives productivity, without exposing them to increased risk or undermining teamwork and innovation. The key is to act in a considered way, ensuring that where remote working is being offered, it is being done in the right way and will get the right result.