Last year, IBM took the decision to call people back to the office in a bid to encourage greater collaboration. Other early-adopters of remote working have backtracked similarly, some claiming that remote working was not having the expected benefit to productivity and, in some cases, workers were reporting feeling isolated or left out.
Despite the obvious challenges home-based working poses for HR and employees alike, many employers continue to offer the option. The latest figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the number of people working remotely has grown steadily.
This trend seems set to continue. Remote working opportunities are being used widely by small and growing businesses. In an effort to optimise work space and reduce costs, remote working has become a standard part of their work plans, and, as long as candidates are recruited on this basis, the benefits of operating in this manner should outweigh any downsides.
But managers have important considerations to bear in mind before offering remote working. For example, this way of working is not necessarily going to produce the best productivity outcome if the role involves collaboration, regular meetings or real-time interaction with teams. Employers must also perform a risk assessment of workers’ home-based work stations and take steps to make sure they will be working in a safe and secure environment. If remote working involves working away from home and accessing company information via unsecured networks – for example, in coffee shops or other public places – security policies may need strengthening to meet data protection requirements.
Tech solutions already exist to protect employers and support compliance with GDPR and other regulations. For example, while use of Office 365 to store and share company information provides a degree of security, employers may need to introduce other specific security policies for remote workers, such as not working on confidential documents in public areas, restricting USB use and mandatory use of security screens. Training should also be provided to make sure all employees, including remote workers, are aware of the importance of data protection and how it relates to their specific role.
With more start-ups and growing businesses relying on remote working to get their businesses up and running, there is a possibility some could be cutting corners and taking risks which could undermine their stability. To avoid this, they should seek advice about how to use flexible working safely and securely.
In reality, few roles can be done from home all of the time. However, most jobs will include occasional remote working, where necessary or where it makes sense to do so. Whenever considering remote working, employers should avoid making an arbitrary decision. Instead, they should take a step back, to assess whether it would be a good fit for specific job roles or tasks.
By viewing remote working as a valuable option, employers can organise their businesses in a way that drives productivity, without exposing them to increased risk or undermining teamwork and innovation. The key is to act in a considered way, make sure that where remote working is offered, it is being done in the right way and getting the right result.
Ed Hussey is director of people solutions at Menzies LLP