Summertime and the livin’ is easy. So says the old Gershwin song. Many employees would like to have that as the theme tune for a few weeks that blend work more effectively with the chance to take the opportunities that summer offers…
Given the technology that we now have at our disposal it is certainly possible for employers to make remote and more flexible working available to more people. And on the other side you may find that people are just as productive, if not more so, with the opportunity to have a walk on the beach, dabbling their toes in the sea between answering emails or working on a report.
The pros and cons of remote summer working
Clearly one of the pluses is that people aren’t commuting. This is both saves time and makes for a more relaxed and probably earlier start to the working day. Let’s not forget this may also mean fewer sick days. If someone gets a summer cold they won’t get unnecessarily tired by their commute. They may even get more work done than if they’d struggled into work.
Counter intuitively, despite being at home, another plus is a reduction in distractions. Without colleagues to chat to over coffee or by the water cooler more gets done. Indeed, a recent two-year study on remote working by Google supports other research showing that productivity is not impacted by remote working.
On the con side of remote working employees may need a little time to adjust. You’ll need to make sure not only that they have the equipment they need to make the transition as easy as possible but also that you have the communication processes in place so that they don’t feel isolated.
Let’s look at what’s needed for people to work remotely and enjoy the summer, in more detail.
The required kit
To ensure people can work effectively from home, or indeed elsewhere, the best choice will be to give them a laptop to work from. If they are at home the weight of the laptop won’t matter and you’ll have a wide choice of models and cost. If they’ll be on the move you may need to invest in light weight options such as the Surface range from Microsoft, or alternatives from Dell and Lenovo which will give the performance needed.
Network access and security
You’ll need to give network access while ensuring company’s data is kept secure.
Many small companies are now using Office365 which means that employees can access documents, email etc from anywhere that has an internet connection.
VPN technologies are still in use so if you have a local server infrastructure this may still be the right option for you.
If people are using their home internet connection you’ll have to check their contracts to make sure they have unlimited data. With 4G (and in some areas 5G) tethering to their smartphones and using data packages is an option, particularly if they will be moving to different locations. They might just want to nip out for a change of scene and work from a local park or café.
What will be very important is that you make sure they understand the risks involved in using free WiFi. We recommend you think carefully about whether staff should be connecting to public WiFi, particularly free WiFi. These are easy to clone and can give hackers access to your devices and your network.
. For overall security you’ll need endpoint protection to secure all the devices connected to your company network e.g. laptop, smartphone and even employee’s personal equipment. Consider suppliers such as ESET and Sophos which will make life easy on this front.
Employees also need to be very aware of the risk of devices being stolen if they are working away from home. A stolen device can create a nightmare for your company! Remember that data breached on devices that contain Personally Identifiable Information (PII) for EU Citizens need to be reported to the Information Commissioners Office within 72 hours. You also have the responsibility of telling everyone affected by the data breach. Many endpoint protection solutions will allow you to wipe data if you fear there has been a security breach. Better safe than sorry.
A Smartphone may be all that is needed if communication is just within the team or if clients already have the staff members mobile number. However, if customers usually call the employee on your office number you may need to provide other solutions.
A softphone: with softphone apps the laptop becomes the phone and the employee will just need headphones.
Call diversion: if some of your team regularly work from home, you might consider giving them a desk phone. When they are at home, they simply log in to that phone and their DDI follows them. This is probably only if they have a home office. Best not to have any helpful little kids answering calls…
Mobile agents: this is an app for the smartphone that converts it into a desktop when a call is made (with the internet as the call carrier). It can work over the GSM network and will also use 4G when someone is not at home.
VoIP apps: Many VoIP solutions have smartphone apps. The apps ring and the caller doesn’t know that you’re at home rather than in the office. Some of these apps need WiFi to function but most will work on 3G or 4G.
Working remotely is not new and we’ll be seeing more of it in the future. If you don’t already use project management software you’ll find this is necessary with team members in different locations. There is a good range available to you. If your projects are fairly straightforward Basecamp is one to look at. Trello is a well-known product that can help people work together without needing to send endless emails. And if you use Microsoft products already there is Microsoft Teams.
Team communication and trust
People may relish the opportunity to work remotely during the summer, but it is important they still feel connected. Email is great but team meetings or one-to ones via video conferencing can be more useful as a connector and motivator. As a manager or business owner make sure that the video meeting involves everyone. Ask questions to draw people out and feel part of a genuine discussion.
In addition, a two-way conversation, rather than a series of ‘checking up on you’ questions will demonstrate that you trust the individual to complete their work to the required standards and to get everything completed even if some of it is done at odd hours. After all, unless they are communicating with customers working extra-early, or late should be fine.
As a bonus if they are working at home in Hawaiian shirt and flipflops they may well come up with clearer insights and creative ideas.
“Summertime and the livin’ is easy”. Giving staff some flexibility in the summer is likely to make them happy. Happy staff means work done well and in turn means happy customers. Where staff feel respected, trusted and supported there will be much more loyalty to the company and that must be a good thing for the summer and all year round. And if you have all the tech in place it might be very useful if bad weather means that people are snowed in at home in the winter.