Sara Charoenprasit explores how people are working with technology in completely new ways – and why organisations are all the better for it.
In 1964, the futurist and sci-fi writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke predicted an age in which it would be possible for “a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London.”
For some 6.1% of UK adults whose permanent work location is home, Clarke’s long-imagined future is the norm. But with COVID-19 now compelling organisations across the globe to embrace new ways of working, the population of remote workers has grown exponentially overnight - bringing with it lasting implications on the way we work with technology.
Research shows that we all stand to gain from leveraging technology to improve staff retention and create more diverse and inclusive teams – particularly when diverse workforces are proven to perform better financially. But we also know that, without an imperative, it can be easier said than done to roll out the infrastructure and encourage the culture change necessary to empower people to work remotely.
At Agilisys, we are always looking for opportunities to think differently and to work in new ways. I was lucky enough to witness this first-hand when given an opportunity to continue to work remotely when embarking on a four-month visit to Thailand – an experience that taught me lifelong skills about communication, working within geographically diverse teams and leveraging technology to communicate and collaborate effectively: even from the other side of the world.
Get the basics right
Having the right infrastructure is foundational to implementing remote working across an organisation. This means equipping – and training – staff with not just the right mobile devices, but also remote access to critical tools and other essential team-working and productivity software.
Simply making this technology available isn’t enough. Organisations must provide support for these tools – particularly if they’re unfamiliar to people. Having trained staff available to answer questions, address concerns and offer guidance, is crucial to ensuring everyone has the information they need to do their jobs.
Within our team, we had been practising remote working long before my trip to Thailand. We had all the tools in place necessary to facilitate remote working: all meetings, from daily catch-ups to monthly board reports, were often held over Microsoft Teams, our Excel and Word documents were worked on collaboratively in real-time, and our SharePoint site was the one-stop shop for all our Communications materials.
Communication is key
From the off, organisations must create a strong remote culture driven by senior leaders. This translates to individual managers being accessible and available as well as an organisation level commitment to communications that support a remote workforce.
Team members need to feel ‘bought in’ to what’s happening within the organisation – particularly as it’s easy to feel ‘out of things’ when working remotely. Failing to communicate and socialise effectively with colleagues can also be detrimental to mental wellbeing: a study conducted by online brand development agency Buffer found that loneliness was the second-most reported challenge, experienced by 19% of respondents.
It’s therefore essential to have clear-set expectations for day-to-day communications. This could be touching base with colleagues at the beginning or end of every day, keeping in regular contact over email and instant messaging, conference calls and video links.
Embracing remote team working
Leveraging technology empowers us not only to do our work but also to work together. Tools such as Microsoft’s Office 365 overcome geographical limitations by enabling us to store data, share files and edit documents together in real time – from anywhere and on any device.
We found Teams to be the most powerful tool for team working in our department, using it to chat and call, as well as access, share and edit files in real time. Managing our time and being transparent was essential to navigating our 7-hour time difference, but we often found it working in our favour: being half a day ahead allowed me to meet deadlines before the working day had even begun in the UK, while our working hours overlapped to ensure we had time to work together.
Creating a high-trust culture
Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” These words hold true for remote workers.
It’s essential for organisations to foster a high-trust culture when implementing a remote working policy. Managers can only equip their teams in all the right ways, delegate tasks, communicate regularly and trust that people are working as usual – they may even be pleasantly surprised.
A culture of trust was very much central to my experience working remotely from Thailand. With understanding colleagues who were flexible about hours, I was determined to repay their kindness with hard work, dedication and quite a few late nights.
There’s no doubt that trust is a motivator, and in my experience organisations that treat employees with flexibility will receive dedication and productivity back tenfold. It’s unsurprising that 65% of remote workers are more productive when working from home.
In fact, I think it would startle many of my wider circle of colleagues to know I was ever away at all!
Sara is an English Literature graduate with a background in PR and digital communications. She loves travel and is a social media champion, always looking for new ways to connect people and communities to share knowledge and learn new skills.