The advantages of remote-working are well documented. Increased productivity, enhanced wellbeing, a culture of trust and eco-friendly credentials are just some of the benefits companies can expect when they introduce remote working.
But how well does it really work in practice and are there any drawbacks you need to be aware of when considering implementing a work-from-home policy?
Silver Cloud HR, a digital HR consultancy based in Essex, has created a business model out of remote-working, and believes that this not only provides their employees with greater job satisfaction, but gives them a commercial edge over their competitors.
“When not on client sites, all our consultants, and our management team, are based at home,” explains Helen Armstrong, Silver Cloud’s CEO and founder. “Initially this began as a logistical solution that enabled us to better serve clients based across the UK, yet it quickly became apparent that the benefits of operating in this way, far exceeded reduced travel times and costs.”
Keeping operating costs down to a minimum and passing those savings down to clients, is just one of the driving factors for maintaining a remote-working business model. Armstrong also believes that it enables her to recruit and retain the best talent, through offering the flexibility that is too often missing from ‘traditional’ business models.
“Like most of us, many of our employees have commitments outside of work – whether this be caring for children, relatives, other business interests or even hobbies that are important to them. By providing them with the flexibility they need to work from home and essentially mould their careers around their lifestyle, we are able to help them maintain that all important work/life balance.”
This work/life balance, Armstrong believes, translates into better job satisfaction, which in turn means that employees are less likely to look elsewhere. It also means that she is able to recruit the right person for the role and offer opportunities to experienced professionals based on their skills and not their location.
This also applies to returners such as working mums and those returning to work after an extended break, who Armstrong says are “sometimes forced to make career sacrifices in order to do so”, resulting in unnecessary gaps in the talent pool that could potentially restrict company growth.
With the increased freedom and flexibility that remote-working offers, can also come greater risk. Many business-owners share concerns such as “how can we monitor the effectiveness of our remote workers?”, or “if our employees are not sat in the same building, can we really offer them effective line management support?, or “can remote workers really feel part of our team?’
So how does Silver Cloud address these potential sticking points? As a digital HR consultancy, the answer perhaps unsurprising lies in the use of technology.
“There is a huge scope for businesses employing remote workers to ensure that everyone is working as efficiently and productively as possible – if they adopt the right tech”, explains Armstrong.
“The prevalence of cloud-based systems across all functions, including performance management, project management, internal comms, data analytics etc, mean it is now easier and far more practical for organisations to offer this type of business model, without losing the insights or business intelligence they need in order to nurture their talent and meet their objectives for growth.”
And what about data risks?
Armstrong has an answer for this too: “Today’s HRIS vendors have worked hard to incorporate cloud-based security features which will ensure that all your confidential documents can be accessed online via a secure environment – something that certainly can’t be said if you are still relying on desktop PCs and office filing cabinets!”
She does add however that simply implementing technology in itself is not enough. Businesses need to ensure that their use of remote working technology is based on and supported by robust policies and processes.
Putting measures in place to communicate regularly with remote workers is also vital. Limiting any feelings of isolation and safeguarding employee wellbeing is paramount.
“Not seeing your colleagues day in day out in the office can sometimes make you feel like you are alone, and you have no-one to vent to if your day isn’t going as well as planned for example. At Silver Cloud we go to great lengths to ensure this isn’t the case and have put in place a number of initiatives to prevent this”.
The Silver Cloud team is regularly in touch with each other via dedicated team messaging software, Whatsapp and through project management software, enabling them to collaborate, share ideas and problem-solve with the help of their colleagues.
They have also recently introduced a unique new concept, designed to further foster team spirit.
“Each week, we conduct a ‘virtual FIKA’ (FIKA being the Swedish word for ‘meeting up for a coffee and some cake and a chat’) where the whole team, except for those working on site with clients, logs into Zoom for a group catch up. Seeing each other face to face to chat about non work-related stuff, even just once a week, is a great, fun way to bring the team together.”