Tips for building a productive and successful virtual workforce for your business

Over the last 10 years, the remote workforce has expanded by more than 90 percent, according to a survey conducted by Global Workplace Analytics. In partnership with FlexJobs, Global Workplace Analytics created a report called the “State of Telecommuting” in 2017 that also showed telecommuting, or remote work, increased 159 percent between 2005 and 2017. With businesses trying to stay afloat and engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic, many have been forced to quickly establish remote workforces of their own with little notice.

A recent piece by InfoSecurity Magazine showed half of the respondents polled by Gartner in early April said 81 percent or more of their employees were currently working remotely. The article also showed that after the pandemic clears, it is expected that 41 percent of employees are likely to continue working outside of the office at least part-time. That’s a 30 percent increase in remote workers since before the Coronavirus pandemic began.

With the increased reliance on remote workers and the prediction that many will continue working outside of the office post-pandemic, there are things employers should be considering and implementing to shore up their organizations for a remote workforce. Here are some tips for increasing your business’s ability to work remotely, global pandemic and beyond.

Check Your Legacy Systems

One of the greatest challenges many companies of every size are facing in implementing remote work is their legacy systems. Many organizations are operating using old hardware and software programs not designed for remote access. Most legacy systems also fail to support newer technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT) devices most people now utilize in their homes. This means taking a hard look at what systems your business currently has in place and asking if it’s time for an upgrade.

Remote Access & Equipment

The key to implementing a reliable and successful remote workforce is providing secure remote access for your employees. Your staff must have access to the company’s networks, data, and their own desktops in order to continue working seamlessly. But allowing this access requires the right equipment and can also create real security risks as well.

Before your employees can work remotely, they need the right equipment. This might mean issuing hardware to employees such as desktop or laptop computers, mobile devices, monitors, hard drives, etc. If you expect your employees to provide their own equipment it can create an issue with security and software upgrades so providing it for them is best if your company can afford it. Your employees may also need software and programs to perform their work. Virtual desktop infrastructures (VDI) allow your employees to work right off their own desktop as if they were working in the office while providing remote network and data access. Your IT team or third-party service provider such as ORAM Corporate Advisors can often install such programs remotely for each team member so they can get working quickly.

The good news is most people already have internet access in their homes. If your company requires a certain speed, you will need to decide whether to cover that cost or your employees to upgrade with their carrier. You may need to determine what internet speed each employee has and work with them to achieve the necessary upgrades to allow them to get to work.

Each employee will also need access to technical support. Ensure your employees know who to contact if they encounter technical difficulties and how to reach them. You may also consider hosting some digital meetings to train employees on software, hardware, or applications they will need to perform their work. Record the meetings and send all employees the links so they can use them for reference as necessary, especially when they are learning to navigate new programs.

Take Security Measures

Security is a huge issue to overcome with remote workers. This is because company networks and data are available to those working outside of the office. Tell your employees to avoid using public Wi-Fi unless they are utilizing a virtual private network (VPN). You may wish to provide one to your employees. You can also implement the use of multifactor authentication to further improve secure access to business networks and data. Ensure that your IT department or service provider is pushing firewall, antivirus, antimalware, and software program updates and patches regularly to help reduce the odds of a hack.

Remember to remind your employees of best practices when it comes to digital hygiene and continue offering end-user education regarding security to every employee as they work remotely. Remind your remote workforce that security is more important than ever as they remote access company networks and data. Also, update them on client and business information security regulations. Your IT department or service provider can put together educational videos or meetings for your remote staff. Furthermore, be sure to implement the principle of least privilege for your remote employees as well to reduce the odds of data loss or a breach.

Monitoring & Managing Data

At ORAM Corporate Advisors, we suggest implementing secure online data stores that should be managed and scanned regularly by your IT team or service provider. This will allow you to watch for unauthorized access or attempts at access and will notify you of data issues on an ongoing basis so you can address security threats quickly in real-time.

Monitoring data also allows you to manage your remote team members. Data can be tracked to show sales opportunities, customer satisfaction, revenue, employee work statistics, and more. Just as in the office, it’s this data that can tell you where you are hitting or exceeding goals or falling short with your remote workforce.

BrightGauge is one of the tools ORAM recommends for such data monitoring and management of remote teams. Data from existing programs and tools such as ConnectWise, Autotask, QuickBooks, and Customer Thermometer can be migrated into a single pane to keep data organized and visible to all team members in real-time. This means everyone in your remote team can stay focused on your business goals with feedback to show them what is working and what’s not. This allows your remote workers to adapt accordingly and make necessary adjustments to ensure success.

Additionally, you’ll want to monitor user behavior among your remote employees. Such monitoring will allow you to detect potential security risks created by employees, malicious or not. After all, your employees are your number one means of security for your organization.

Open Lines of Communication

Business leaders should schedule regular check-ins with their remote employees to discuss progress, roadblocks, and strategies for success. Tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Huddle allow communication among team members and clients to remain open regardless of where people are working. There are several platforms to choose from that offer secure communications your business can count on.

Slack allows businesses to communicate in one program. Through Slack, you can share documents, make approvals, and provide updates. You and your remote team can message the entire team, small groups, or individuals. You can also share files, make and receive announcements, and hold meetings from video chats to voice calls. There’s even an app directory within Slack that features more than 2,000 different apps that have been integrated into the program including Google and Office 365.

Microsoft Teams offers a safe and secure platform for video calling needs that is currently free. This platform allows you to collaborate with others for work through chat, meetings, and calls without compromising privacy or security. Microsoft Teams has incorporated a variety of privacy and security controls to allow you to manage who participates in meetings and who has access to data. It offers a “lobby” feature to keep people out of meetings until you allow them in and you can remove participants during a meeting as well as designate “presenters” and “attendees.” You can also allow guest access for people from outside of your organization while still retaining control over your data. The moderation feature allows you to control the posting and sharing of content and you can even record meetings.

Huddle is another platform meant for document sharing, collaboration, and client engagement. This platform promises a secure solution for businesses who wish to protect sensitive data. It also helps with scheduling to avoid missed deadlines with built-in tasks and approvals. In addition, this communications platform is Cloud-based for immediate, no-fuss deployment so it can be implemented quickly. From file-sharing and file requests to document approvals and mobile collaboration, Huddle is an all-in-one option for teams. It also boasts government-grade security with multifactor authentication and enterprise-grade single sign-on (SSO) across both mobile and desktop applications.

Structure with Flexibility

Remote work should offer your employees structure with flexibility. For example, providing regular office hours in the morning and afternoon allows your employees scheduled time to perform work, communicate with the rest of their team, and remain available to clients. Encourage employees to set up regular hours each morning and afternoon where they are available. For example, they might mark themselves available from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Be sure to notify the entire team of calls and video meetings in advance so they can flex their times accordingly.

Remain cognizant that remote team members may also need room for flexibility, especially during this pandemic as they may be dealing with homeschooling children, helping other family members, and just need time to refocus and relax. Some team members may prefer to work more in the morning hours while others find they perform better in the afternoons or evenings after they have fulfilled their familial obligations. One of the true gifts of remote work is being able to work on your own schedule. Just be sure to keep an eye on who is remaining productive and which employees may need more assistance with implementing structure into their workday.

Maintain & Manage Clear Expectations

Be sure to set clear and realistic expectations for your remote workers and over-communicate what you expect. If you require employees to commit 40 hours per week between Monday and Friday, make that clear from the beginning. If you are more flexible with them working 40 hours within a seven-day workweek, tell them that. Discuss the availability of your staff with each of them. Whether you decide to require a blanket 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday or let employees set their own schedules, you must implement availability requirements company-wide to avoid creating an inequitable work atmosphere.

While remote workers enjoy flexibility, make sure that you explain your expectations about completing work regularly and finishing projects, supporting other team members, and caring for customers. Tell your team members you expect them to stick to deadlines religiously and to communicate if there will be an issue meeting one.

When it comes to productivity, tell your employees how their productivity will be measured. This can vary from position to position. For example, your salesforce may be measured on the number of new clients they sign while project managers may be measured based on the time they spend on a project. You can also measure employees in other ways such as the number of clients they interact with, cases or issues resolved, calls taken, etc. However you decide to measure your employees, make sure the measurement is based upon work outcomes rather than hours worked. This will encourage your remote workers to perform successfully rather than just clocking in and out.

With regard to responsiveness, implement a rule for response times. How quickly should employees respond to colleagues and customers and what form of communication should everyone use? Tell your remote employees what is expected of them in terms of what you consider to be a “timely” response.

Be honest with your team members, and yourself, about what can effectively be done in a given timeframe. You may need to adjust your expectations accordingly and inform your team members immediately of any changes in expectations.

If you have further questions about instituting a safe and effective remote workforce or need assistance implementing the right technology in a secure manner for your team, contact ORAM Corporate Advisors now at (617) 933-5060. Regardless of the size of your budget, our IT and security experts can get your remote workforce up fast and affordably.