Monday Mornings with Madison

REMOTE STAFFING, PART 2:

THE TOOLS FOR REMOTE STAFFING SUCCESS

Last week, we examined the question of whether it is a good idea for companies to have remote employees… that is, employees who work part or all of their time from a location other than the company office.  Typically, these remote employees work from home.  We examined the benefits to the employee including the hundreds if not thousands of hours saved not commuting to work, and the money saved not driving to and working in an office including parking, tolls, gasoline, car repairs, dry cleaning and meals.  We also looked at the benefits to the employer including a much bigger pool of talent from which to hire.  Remote employees also tend to be more productive because they can work during their hours of peak productivity and briefly do other things to recharge their mental battery more quickly.  They also have fewer distractions (office chit-chat) and can avoid office politics which certainly play a part in reducing in-office productivity.  Another benefit is the cost savings generated for businesses that need less office space. 

Yet, despite the many benefits to employers and employees, some companies still shy away from having remote staff.  The biggest concern is that remote employees will slack off.  Given the level of unemployment, one would think that most employees value their employment enough that this would not be a concern.   Still, some believe that remote employees will laze around in slippers or watch TV.  (More about that next week.) Usually, this is not the case. Studies have found that remote employees are generally self-disciplined individuals who carry a heavy work load and are highly-productive given the right tools and management.

Indeed, for remote staff to be productive they must – first and foremost – have the right tools to succeed.  The communication network, back up systems, help desk and computer equipment are critical to the success of remote staff.  Here are some important tools to ensure that remote employees are highly productive.

1.  Laptop computer with wifi:  provides remote staff who also need to travel (sales managers, conference attendees, etc.) with the ability to work remotely not just from home but from wherever there is a wifi connection.  That means traveling staff can work while waiting for a flight at the airport, on the plane, and at the hotel in the evening.

2.  Quality printer with document scanner capability:  allows remote staff to print documents as well as upload documents to the network or to send via email.

3. Instant Messaging:  sends and receives written messages within a single pop-up screen shared by two or more users.  IM helps remote workers feel like they’re in the office. Users with desktop cameras can use video chat to add a more personal component.

It is faster and more personal than email, allows the remote employee to see and be seen, and tracks and transcribes exchanges. While it can be distracting and is not good for in-depth conversations, it can be effective for immediate feedback, quick question-and-answer exchanges, seeing if someone is available for a phone call, sending links during a conference call and reminders.  Video chat is good for check-in meetings. Good IM programs include Trillian or Adium, which support multiple Instant Messaging clients.

4. Personal Digital Assistant: bundles phone, email, calendar, and other features into one handheld device and ensures remote employees are always connected. PDAs ensure a remote employee is always connected, even if they stepped away from their desk briefly.  This is good for managers who need constant access to email and calendar. 

5. Teleconferencing: allows multiple users to dial into a phone call and connects multiple people simultaneously in real time. It can be purchased in-house or done through a third-party vendor inexpensively.  If most of the group is in one location, remote staff may feel left out of the conversation. This tool is effective for teams already familiar with each other and short meetings or planning sessions.

6. Videoconferencing:  adds video to a conference call with cameras or monitors posted in conference rooms or at individual workstations. Communication is improved by seeing gestures, expressions, and body language. This can be a cost-effective alternative to meeting in person, although the initial cost to set up a quality system on both sides can be expensive. Cheap systems have awkward delays and potentially poor sound and video quality.

7. Web Conferencing:  allows users to meet online in real time using a web site or software program like NetMeeting.   Features can include slide presentations, whiteboard annotation, live video, text chat, and real-time audio (using voice over IP). The ability to share documents adds a show-and-tell component to a meeting with a group.  However it is not ideal for large groups and multiple offices. Most web conferencing vendors only allow a document to be viewed onscreen.  Some webconferencing systems, such as Adobe’s ConnectPro, includes streaming video so that the remote person can see or be seen.This is an ideal tool for complicated discussions that require visual diagrams or for troubleshooting with a team.

8. Remote Desktop Connection:  allows a remote employee to do all his/her work on the company’s network server.  This is ideal when multiple staff (remote and in-office) must share documents or work product that may be too large to email, or that may be changed and updated often.  Employees simply log on to the company’s server online and are able to share the same programs and folders as in-office staff.

9.  FTP:  is useful for those who do not or cannot have a remote desktop connection.  It is better than email for exchanging large files because it keeps them off the email server.

10. Collaboration Technology:  allows colleagues in various locations to exchange and modify information through a project-specific online workspace. For example, MeetingPlace is real time and allows one user to share his desktop with another. SharePoint doesn’t have to be real time, which is good for coworkers in different time zones.  This makes it easy to share files and applications and is a good tool for brainstorming and customer presentations. Collaboration technology can also be used as a training tool.

For companies that decide to have remote staff, these tools will ensure greater productivity and better communication.  Next week, we will examine best practices for managing remote staff.  Don’t miss it!

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Technology is driving innovation. Technology is driving creativity. Technology and the use of it is going to determine our workers’ ability to compete in the 21st century global marketplace.” Ron Kind

© 2010 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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