Working remotely is no longer temporary to our professional lifestyles. The company ‘Visa’ is one of the most recent examples of an increasing trend: it recently announced that the majority of its employees would work from home for the rest of the year and in some cases, such as Twitter and Facebook, this has become a permanent arrangement.

But these aren’t just responses against the threat of COVID-19. Though the pandemic had hastened the adoption of remote- and home-working, it was already a trend in motion. Despite a fair amount of opposition to remote working, particularly from the “we’ve always done it this way” crowd, COVID-19 has forced their hand. Now, business is asking that same crowd if they actually need all that office space and if a remote work solution is not a better way of increasing performance and profitability.

This has driven discussion around remote working and whether it offers significant benefits. Other than saving on rental costs, what are the real benefits of a remote workforce?

Remote working is better on many levels, yet it’s not merely a matter of replacing office work. How remote working manifests depends on the company and what it would like to achieve. Twitter can go fully remote because its core business model is a fully online digital service. But a manufacturer can’t expect its people to work from home. Remote working has significant benefits, yet those only really come to fruition if it’s applied in the context of the business. This is why you need a remote working strategy.

“A remote work strategy isn’t a trick you pull out of a bag,” explained Daniel Jacobs, Senior Business Development Manager for VMware at Axiz. “Traditionally, someone would give their sales staff 3G sticks to access e-mail, then think that is remote working. Maybe it is, but that is a very basic and limited use of the concept. If you really want to empower your people in the right way, there must be a strategy behind it.”

Defining a remote work strategy

Fortunately, it’s not a tough process. The reason why most companies don’t have remote work strategies is that they didn’t think them necessary. But that was back in the days when remote working was more of a perk than a productivity and performance enhancer. Nice-to-have remote working is now business-critical remote working aligned to the organisation. How do you find a direction in this new order?

Jacobs refers to four crucial questions you should ask. First, does your organisation do the kind of work that could be done remotely? Are there roles that would benefit from remote working, without increasing burdens on other people? This question can also explore if work could be done more remotely if systems were enhanced, such as through process automation. The answers will reveal a remote-working strategy’s potential scope and focus.

Next, are your employees up to working remotely? To put it bluntly, can you trust your employees to do their work if you can’t see them? Chances are fair that they will be productive and responsible, often because remote working can make it easier to track results and hold people accountable. Yet this question delves deeper. Even if you can trust your employees, said Jacobs, are your indicators and processes ready to support them?

“How do we manage remote working? How do we manage the KPAs and the KPIs? What are the outcomes that we are looking for? How do we implement them successfully? The question about your people also extends to how you remotely support and measure your people.”

This question touches on the final two. Do your people want to work remotely? Under the pandemic, this is a moot point. But, realistically, even during the lockdown some staff are needed at the office or could have been much more effective on-site. It’s a given that a remote working culture will often still have on-site components. Also, your people might want to work at an office, where they can spend time and mind space with colleagues.

Finally, is your technology ready for a remote work culture? Even if you consider your organisation as very digital, that isn’t enough to answer this question.

“You have to look at all the applications you use, what’s hosted by you and what’s not. You should look at BYOD culture and if you have device management for remote workers. IT support falls under heavy strain during remote working – are your IT people equipped to support different employees each in a different location? Can you support connectivity for your employees, and can your network handle the extra traffic? Do you have a platform that can manage all of this easily? Otherwise, it becomes quite complicated. All of those things need an in-depth discussion to ensure your user experience is what you want.”

Taking the right approach

Can your organisation’s work be done remotely? Can you trust and measure your people remotely? Do your people want to work remotely? And, is your technology ready to support remote working? These four questions form the foundation of a remote work strategy. You then drill down, interrogating the elements, such as some of the follow-up questions in the above examples demonstrate.

There is then one more consideration: your approach. Though the CIO is the likely owner of creating a remote work strategy, it’s a shared responsibility across the C-suite and should be driven with a top-down approach. That being said, remote working is intimately connected to employees, so there also needs to be a bottom-up approach. To help harmonise the two, Jacobs suggests keeping the outcome in mind.

“You always have to work in reverse. You have to look at the end result that you want to get. If you’re going about this purely to save money on rental, I can almost guarantee that you’re not going to get the outcomes, such as business growth and value or the satisfaction that you’re looking for.”