What is remote work?

Remote work definition and meaning

Once viewed as a way of the future, it seems that remote working is nowhere to stay. The COVID-19 pandemic has been something that companies could not have predicted or planned for, leaving many business owners searching for a quick backup plan to keep their company both productive and afloat.

With business closures and social distancing measures in place, the necessary step is to transition your business to a virtual setting. But how will this affect the day-to-day running of your company, not to mention your employees?

The solution? Working remotely, and thankfully, it’s not as difficult or scary as you may think.

We’ve created this highly practical guide for you to understand what it really means to work remotely, the benefits and disadvantages, and how to prepare your business for remote work.

Remote Working

  • 1. What is remote work?
  • 2. What’s the difference between remote work and telecommuting?
  • 3. How does remote working work?
  • 4. Why let your employees work remotely?
  • 5. Remote working challenges
  • 6. Is your business ready for remote work?
  • 7. Remote working best practices

1. What is remote work?

Remote work is a form of flexible working arrangement in which an employee works from a place other than the company’s headquarters. Often, remote work will be carried out from an employee’s home, a co-working space, a private office, or any other location outside of the primary office managed by the employer.

Remote employment might be temporary or permanent, part-time or full-time, and sporadic or frequent, depending on the individual worker’s or company’s needs.

Despite not occurring within the central office, remote work still requires policies controlling equipment use, network access, and performance objectives to ensure all remote employees are fulfilling what’s required of them.

2. What’s the difference between remote work and telecommuting?

Remote work implies that an employee is working from a different location and suggests they live too far away from the workplace to attend in-person. Working remotely requires an employer to manage someone who is not always in the office and, in some situations, is not even in the same city, state, or country. The employee might work remotely for a limited time, such as while living temporarily overseas, or they may be a permanent remote worker.

Telecommuting, on the other hand, refers to when an employee works from home—or any other location—for a portion of the time. Businesses might require a telecommuting worker who lives in the region to come into the workplace for regular meetings. Additionally, they may want them to be present in the office one day each week to feel like they’re part of the team. In some cases, however, a telecommuting employee may never be required to attend the primary workplace, depending on their role.

Therefore, while the terms “remote work” and “telecommuting” are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some subtle differences between the two.

3. How does remote working work?

For remote working to be successful, it must combine three important elements: a healthy culture, collaborative procedures, and high-quality technology that enables virtual teams to function successfully from anywhere.

Healthy culture

A healthy remote work culture involves the understanding that work will take place off-site. Supportive management is also necessary within this culture, as is the empowerment of remote workers to allow them to successfully carry out this work model. Trust and teamwork should still be at the heart of an organization, no matter where employees carry out their work. Therefore, an organization should be focused more on outcomes than on the hours spent going into an office.

Collaborative procedures

Remote employees must be able to collaborate with the same ease as if they were all in the same room. Therefore, secure apps and technology for messaging, videoconferencing, file sharing, remote desktops, and more, are necessary.

High-quality technology

Fast internet and mobile technologies that can support extensive use are essential for remote teams. While high-quality technology is vital for all types of employees, it plays a particularly crucial role in a remote worker’s “virtual office.”

Instead of in-person meetings, remote workers communicate with their co-workers either via common online channels such as email, and video conferencing such as Zoom or through team management software such as Slack

These remote work tools replace in-office functions, allowing these workplaces to operate just as seamlessly as they would if each employee were in a single location.

4. Why let your employees work remotely?

Anyone who currently works remotely will tell you that when it comes to the pros and cons of this method, the good often outweighs the bad.

If you and your business are making the switch to working remotely or considering doing so, these are the benefits you can look forward to:

  • Employees are more productive because they don’t have the distractions of office space, like hearing other co-worker’s conversations or noisy machinery such as photocopiers running non-stop in the background
  • Reduced real estate costs with lower company overhead, as employees can simply work from their own home and there’s no need for a centralized location, shared equipment, and office furniture
  • More environmentally friendly, thanks to reduced fuel usage from having less of a need to commute daily to and from work
  • Improved quality of life for employees, as working remotely encourages greater work-life flexibility and therefore increases an employee’s happiness
  • Decreased recruitment and training costs due to the lower employee turnover rate, as well as the ability to train employees remotely through online methods 
  • Access to a wider pool of applicants should you need to hire additional employees, as your staff don’t need to live within a specific city anymore to work for you, now that everything is done online
  • Eliminates the risk of spreading illness, such as the cold or flu, among employees, which can commonly happen in a shared office environment

Studies of remote workers have also highlighted other, perhaps surprising benefits of remote working, including the following:

  • Remote employees work an extra 1.4 more days per month than in-office employees, which is equal to nearly 17 extra workdays a year 
  • When you don’t take lunch or other breaks into account, remote workers are unproductive for a smaller period of time (just 27 minutes), compared to an office worker’s average of 37 minutes
  • Almost one-quarter (22%) of office-based employees believe their boss distracts them from their work, compared to just 15% of remote employees who feel the same way

5. Remote working challenges

Although working remotely has many benefits, it still has its challenges, particularly as businesses and their employees make the switch to working virtually.

We’ve outlined the three main challenges which might arise when working remotely, as well as how you and your employees can successfully overcome these.

  1. Employees need help to stay motivated: Some employees will thrive without a supervisor looking over their shoulder, while others will find it extremely hard to stay self-motivated while working solo from home. Keep your employees productive by lifting their spirits with incentives from time to time. This might include surprising them with special gifts delivered to their home to celebrate a special occasion, whether that’s their birthday, an important holiday, or even to mark their anniversary working for the company.
  2. Team communication problems might arise: When communication takes place online, it’s fair to assume that it won’t always be smooth-sailing – or at least, not in the beginning as employees make the transition to working remotely. Not everyone on your team will know how to use virtual tools for handling communication, tasks, or projects, so make sure everyone has received the proper training before you make the switch. You should also invest some extra time in writing and sending regular “how-to” emails to your staff, which cover the various software or tools they need to use.
  3. Employees might feel lonely or isolated: Even the most independent remote worker may suffer from pangs of loneliness every now and then. As their employer, you should do all you can to help alleviate or prevent these feelings, including scheduling routine meetings via video calls and sending weekly company newsletters to keep staff updated with achievements, current, and future projects, and more. You can even set up a Slack channel for non-work-related banter, helping to boost morale.

6. Is your business ready for remote work?

With the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, businesses are finding themselves with less time than they’d like to prepare for the transition to working remotely.

But don’t worry, we’ve put together a list of five essential questions you can ask yourself to determine if or when you’ll be ready to make the switch.

You’ll also find a helpful assortment of software programs that companies can use for remote work. These recommended programs assist with all aspects of operating and working within a remote business, including team management, communication, project management, and more.

So, are you ready to work remotely? Answering these 5 essential questions will help you find out.

1. Are your employees ready?

First and foremost, you’ll want to determine if your employees are ready to make the switch to remote work on a number of different levels.

Let’s start with their mindset, for example:

  • Are they mentally prepared to suddenly spend their time working from an independent location without being surrounded by co-workers?
  • Can they work well as an individual and maintain the motivation and productivity needed, even when a boss isn’t looking over their shoulder?
  • Can they easily create a distinction between when they should and shouldn’t be working, or will they find it difficult to “switch off” once their home environment also becomes their working environment?

Many employees shouldn’t find it too hard to embrace these aspects of remote work, particularly over time, but another area you’ll want to focus on includes their online access.

It’s easy to assume in this day and age that every employee will have a reliable and fast internet connection, but for some households, this simply might not be the case.

Having an internet connection that can handle tasks such as video conferencing, for example, is very important to working remotely, so it is certainly the first criteria to address.

2. Do all employees have access to the necessary hardware to keep connected? 

We mentioned an internet connection in the previous section, but how about the other necessary hardware an employee will need on-hand at home to perform their job?

Again, don’t assume everyone has access to a computer or laptop at home. Furthermore, some employees might not want to use their personal devices for their work.

Before making the transition, determine if you will need to provide your employees with the necessary hardware or devices, or if you will be encouraging them to use their own. 

Of course, it’s best practice to provide your remote workers with the equipment they need, and this will be much easier if you’re transitioning from an office setting where the required equipment is already available and being used by your employees.

Just keep in mind that while employees using their own devices may help you to save the cost of buying and replacing technology, it does come with some disadvantages too. These include:

  • IT support service issues surrounding different device models and operating systems
  • Higher security risks
  • Less control over company data or other private information

Employee’s computers will also need to be set up in advance with the office software applications your company chooses to use, such as email, anti-virus protection, and other commonly used applications.

Before making the switch to working remotely, you will need to decide which option isn’t just the most practical for you and your business operations, but your employees too.

3. If you rely on cloud-based services (Office 365, Quickbooks, Salesforce, DropBox, etc.) do you have enough licenses for employees to access these services?

Cloud-based services allow you and your employees to send and store data on a server remotely, which all of you can then have access to. This makes collaborating on tasks, projects, and other work-related documents easier, rather than having to email things back and forth.

Many of these cloud-based services require paid subscriptions and licenses, which then allow a specific number of people to access them. These subscriptions are usually tiered, so the more employees you need to grant access to, the higher the monthly cost.

This is a business cost that can’t be avoided, however, as it’s important that every employee is given access to the files they need to carry out their required work, particularly when working remotely. 

Keep in mind that if you’re moving your business to a completely virtual setting, you’ll be saving on other expensive overhead costs, such as rent, so it’ll still be cheaper in the long run.

4. If instead, you have on-premises servers with business applications and data, are your employees able to securely access these via RDS or VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, which is a technology that allows an employee’s laptop (PC or Mac) to securely connect via the internet to a corporate network from their remote location, such as their own home. This is a popular way for employees to gain remote access to network resources such as shared folders and printers, all while doing so via a secured connection.

On the other hand, RDS, or Remote Desktop Services, works by allowing employees to log in from almost any of their devices via the Internet to a central server. They are then presented with the same virtual desktop as all other employees, helping to streamline their work and create a unified experience.

Whichever on-premises server you choose to use for your business (if you use one at all), it’s important to confirm with each of your employees that they have no problems accessing it for their work.

5. Do you have the right software?

While many believe working remotely increases productivity, this is only true if employees are using the right software and online tools to streamline the process.

To help you along, we’ve listed some recommended software programs that companies can use for remote work, covering 5 important categories:

To stay connected with your team in real-time:

  • Slack offers key features such as organized conversations, searchable history, the ability to connect services or tools you’re already using, and the option to make voice or video calls
  • Fleep is designed for internal communication, combining team chat with email, lightweight task management, and video calling
  • Workplace from Facebook allows you to set up a private version of Facebook for your employees and includes features such as groups, instant messaging and a custom News Feed

Task management and note sharing:

  • Todoist helps individuals and teams to organize, plan, and collaborate on tasks and projects by presenting these in list form
  • Evernote is very practical when it comes to taking screenshots and adding text, arrows, and other shapes to highlight important points

Video calls:

  • Google Meet allows you to hold meetings on the go, virtual training classes, remote interviews, and more. Anyone with a Google Account can create an online meeting with up to 100 participants and meet for up to an hour per meeting
  • Zoom is a cloud-based service designed for video and audio chat, conferences, webinars, and more. The free plan holds up to 100 participants with a 40-minute limit on group meetings
  • Join.me is an application designed for screen-sharing and online meetings, allowing you to connect and collaborate virtually

Project management:

  • Asana is a team-based project management tool that helps teams easily organize, track, and manage their workflow in the one place
  • Monday.com software gives teams the ability to build custom workflows, view their projects or tasks within one glance, communicate with each other, and more
  • Trello is a collaboration tool that lets employees organize their projects onto boards. It can be likened to a digital whiteboard

Cloud storage:

  • Google Drive access comes with any Google account, which allows users to store files on their servers, synchronize files across devices, and share files easily. It’s particularly useful for collaborating on files
  • OneDrive is an Internet-based storage platform offered for free by Microsoft to anyone with a Microsoft account. It’s useful for file sharing and synchronization
  • Dropbox is a similar service, Dropbox offers cloud storage, file synchronization, personal cloud, and client software features

Team management:

  • Time Doctor offers helpful features including time-tracking and employee monitoring, online timesheets and payroll, productivity measuring, distraction alerts, and more.
  • iDoneThis is unique in that it allows users to divide complete and pending tasks into “Goals” and “Dones.” It prompts everyone to reply to an email at the end of each day stating what they accomplished and then shares the responses with the team

A further word of advice about remote working software is to make sure everyone knows the preferred tools to avoid confusion caused by employees using different apps. When employees are working across several different tools, it makes it more difficult to track their work, collaborate by sending files, and communicate with one another.

Additionally, if your business has IT services or technical support, it will make their job a lot easier to provide assistance for specific, selected software that every employee is using.

7. Remote working best practices

Although there isn’t a single correct approach to working remotely, there are some basic best practices that can help you succeed.

Establish clear policies and guidelines

A culture of trust is achieved when both an employer and remote worker understand what’s expected of them. Guidelines should answer questions like, What times of the day should a remote employee be accessible? What methods of communication must be used? How is performance measured? Which equipment or software is approved for business use?

Build collaborative and communicative teams

Even when a team works remotely, a supportive team environment should still be fostered. Therefore, managers should encourage teamwork and regular team-building events, such as in-person or virtual catch-ups. Celebrating individual or team achievements can also boost group collaboration and communication, as it encourages everyone to be invested in the success of those around them.

Invest in the right technologies 

Organizations that have high-performing remote teams invest in the right tools that their employees need to fulfill their roles. These tools might include remote desktops, mobile devices, high-speed internet, user-friendly apps, and other role-specific requirements that make remote work more manageable.

Make a successful transition to remote work

Whether you’ve been thinking about transitioning your business to remote work for a while or not, there’s no denying that now is the perfect time to do so. The global pandemic has taught all of us a hard lesson, which is that we must be prepared to adapt and evolve with unprecedented changes, no matter how big or small.

Making the switch to remote work may take some time for you and your employees to adjust to, but thanks to this step-by-step guide, the process is now a whole lot less daunting. As you just learned, transitioning to remote working requires an understanding of what it is and how it works, as well as the benefits and drawbacks associated with it.

Once your business has satisfied all the requirements of being ready to work remotely, you can take comfort in the fact that there are many useful productivity tips and tricks to help you and your staff prosper.

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