54% of UK office workers are currently able to work remotely, according to YouGov research. This trend for remote working has been made possible by technology. Internet access, the cloud, smartphones and tablets allow employers to offer their employees the option of working from home; enable those travelling for business to stay in the loop and work remotely; and provide businesses with solutions for growth.

While many employers are embracing a mobile workforce, there are still questions that need to be addressed before giving the option to work from home. In this post I’m answering 10 common questions I get asked by organisations considering a remote and mobile workforce. What policies and procedures should you have in place to ensure your team is productive, secure and business continues as normal, wherever your employees are based?

1. Managing A Remote Workforce

One of the biggest issues for companies without a history of remote working is trust. Rightly or wrongly business owners worry that when their staff are ‘working from home’, they’re actually on Facebook or watching Jeremy Kyle. Research suggests that this is unfounded, and actually productivity increases without office distractions. However, employers still need to manage their remote staff and ensure they’re performing to the best of their ability.

Before exploring what technology is available to facilitate this, first and foremost trust needs to be established. Managers need to set clear expectations and objectives, perhaps more so than you might do in an office environment, so everyone understands the quality of the work expected and when it is due. As for IT solutions for managing your remote workforce, there are plenty of options. Office 365 has a whole suite of applications, project management software such as Basecamp, video conferencing tools like Skype and Google Hangouts, and employee monitoring software can all help accountability and team management.

However, sometimes the simple methods are best. Such as sending out an email at the end of the day, asking remote workers to recount their day. If you want to automate this, iDoneThis will do it for you, and then send the team a digest the following morning with everyone’s accomplishments from the day before.

2. Phone Bills & Broadband Costs

Employees are entitled to expenses when working from home. Many companies offer remote workers a home-working allowance to cover these expenses like phone calls, electricity and heating. Using business telephony and cloud services can reduce telecommunication costs, and take these expenses back into your general office costs.

3. Protecting Systems & Confidentiality

The security you need to put in place with depend on the nature of your business and the roles of your remote workers. There is no one size fits all answer. Often it’s not the regular remote workers who present an issue; you will have ensured that you have policies and procedures in place for them. Data breaches are more likely to happen when the unusual happens – for example when someone who is office-based takes work home without understanding the issues this may present.

There are a host of measures you may want to put in place for securing your company and clients’ data, in accordance with the data protection act and your organisation’s policies. From the basics such as secure passwords, through to the encryption of downloads to mobile devices, restrictions on access to business systems, as well as ensuring that remote workers have virus and malware protection on the devices they use. Many businesses understand that data breaches are no longer a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’. Mobile working is one soft exit that needs to be protected.

4. Forget Your Own Device?

The trend in employees using their own devices is not just confined to remote workers. Many employees now use ‘bring your own device’ BYOD, preferring to use their own technology rather than what their organisation provides. Who wouldn’t rather use their own iPhone 6 instead of what the IT department has in their mobile contract?

On the plus side, BYOD (whether in the office or at home) reduces costs for the employer. Employees tend to pay the bulk of the hardware, voice or data services associated with their own mobile devices. They are also more inclined to upgrade hardware regularly, which means that companies benefit from more up-to-date tech.

However, employees are not so keen for organisations to monitor or place restrictions on their devices. Especially if the security measures that are put in place impact on their personal use. Therefore, it may be preferable for all concerned to provide company laptops and mobile devices, particularly if the employee has access to sensitive data. Before doing so, check that your company insurance policy covers equipment used offsite, or will your employee need to get insurance cover for this tech?

Alternatively, if the employee uses their own equipment, policies must be in place to protect the company’s data and assets. For example, if an employee is to access the company’s intranet from their mobile, they should agree to allow IT to remotely wipe their device, including all personal information, should it be lost or stolen.

5. Keeping IT Costs Down

Cloud services have brought costs down for many businesses and provide a very agile solution that can scale to an organisation’s requirements. For example, SaaS (Software as a Service) is a way of ensuring that all your remote team have access to the software they need to perform their roles, without the expense of installing and maintaining software on individual devices.

6. IT Policies In Respect To Remote Workers

Your IT policies and procedures will need to include specific information for remote workers, or anyone accessing your business systems remotely. These should include:

  • Restrictions on what jobs or activities within an organisation can be carried out remotely or on mobile devices e.g. financial transactions, processing of sensitive or personal data
  • Security and storage of documents, sensitive data and IT equipment (including password protection) and the transportation of offsite equipment
  • The sending of documents or sensitive data either in hard copy or electronically, and the disposal of data
  • Virus and malware protection, firewalls, encryption software etc.
  • Disciplinary procedures for breaching security policies, loss of data or equipment
  • Procedures for notifying the company if data or equipment is lost or stolen, and for reporting suspected data breaches or loopholes in the system
  • Specific guidance should also be given for working in public places. This might include advice for keeping passwords secure from people in the area and policies regarding using public WiFi.

7. Remote Collaboration & Teamwork

Remote teams can miss out on the collaborative atmosphere of the office environment. That said many offices are full of people working with their headphones on and communicating with each other digitally. As mentioned before project management software and video communications tools can help to prevent your remote team becoming isolated. However, many companies do invest in software and then don’t use it. If your remote team are adding comments and sharing work with project management tools but no one in the office is contributing too, the system falls down. Managers need to take a proactive approach to these IT solutions and integrate them fully within the organisation both for the benefit of remote and office-based employees.

8. Remote IT Issues

If your IT department typically addresses any issues within your organisation by walking down the corridor to visit the member of staff with the problem, remote workers are going need a different level of support. The majority of issues are likely to be about gaining access, and using business systems and applications. Utilising cloud services is a good way of ensuring problems can be dealt with remotely. Hardware problems are more of a challenge but can be resolved by using remote control software, which takes control of your homeworker’s laptop to enable IT Support to identify the problem. This software can also be beneficial for demonstrating how to do something when an employee has a problem.

9. Trusted Locations

Working in public spaces does present additional security issues. These might include the theft of company property and the safety of your member of staff. There is also the potential for someone with criminal intent to watch your employee typing in a password or details from a company credit card, and then using this information. Online access through public WiFi must also be taken into account – if your employee is logging onto your business’ system, is this secure? Even mobile phone calls need to be thought out, is it appropriate for an employee to make calls in public areas? These considerations should all be included in your IT/remote working policies, and staff given clear guidance on whether they can, or cannot, work in this way.

10. Achieving A Better Work/Life Balance

While some employers worry that their remote staff are not working productivity, the opposite is often true. Many remote workers find that switching off from work is much more difficult when working from home, often putting in more hours, and feeling that they must always be available. Employers can help their remote staff by trusting them to use their time effectively, and by respecting an agreed working day. While you may be working over the weekend, your remote employee may not be; therefore save those emails as drafts and send them on Monday morning, not at 10pm on a Saturday night.