A man called Adam Coleman leans on a railing overlooking a rocky beach with a cliff and waves featuring in the background.
Adam Coleman, HRLocker. Image: Daniel O’Brien Photography

How to ensure a successful remote working environment

31 Jan 2023

Adam Coleman, CEO of HR tech company HRLocker, advises Irish employers on remote working essentials.

After many years of being on the fringe, remote working has finally made it to the mainstream. And that means more people are discovering that you can work from almost anywhere.

Last year, I set out on a six-week road trip to learn about this aspect of the future of work. With my trusty VW camper and a head full of questions, I travelled through Ireland to mainland Europe. I met with HRLocker colleagues, consulted with thought leaders in the remote work community and enlisted the voices of digital nomads throughout Europe.

At night I slept at campsites and occasionally on roadsides (legally). Many colleagues generously offered a bed for the night in their homes. In the daytime, I worked a four-day week. My productivity soared. I was inspired and motivated to make remote working work for HRLocker and promote the benefits to a wider industry audience.

My six-week trip might sound like a vacation, but it was far from it. Sure, I was spending time in dynamic cities throughout Europe. But I asked everyone I met the same question: What do you think of remote working?

They answered my call, and here’s what I learned. Making remote working work needs an active will on the part of the employee and employer. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure your people have the necessary capabilities, are managed effectively, and have the tools they need to make remote work succeed.

Let’s unpack what that means in reality.

Capabilities remote workers need

If your employees can do their job with a laptop and strong Wi-Fi, they could do it in Barbados, Estonia, Portugal or Mexico. Especially since all of these countries offer digital nomad visas. Having the income and you as a supportive employer means the world is their oyster. But, just because they can be a digital nomad, doesn’t mean they have to be one – or they’ll have what it takes to make it work.

Remote working works for some, but others might be uncomfortable switching between their home, a coffee shop and a co-working space. Your people will need to be flexible and able to adapt to change. Remote workers have to have versatility at their heart and be open to different types of remote working, not just a digital nomad fairytale.

Working remotely requires a change in mindset. Some of your people will find it trickier than others. Going from office-based environments where supportive colleagues and resources are on hand to working solo is a major shift. They’ll have to be resilient and capable of solving problems independently, be that overcoming the usual day-to-day issues or remote work-specific challenges.

Remote work also requires a different outlook on time. One of the most important things I learned during my travels was that the way output is measured has to change. Over those six weeks, I tried to stick with a four-day week. But I discovered that the number of days or hours was arbitrary. Your remote workers must be able to balance their schedules and outputs with time-sensitive business-critical demands.

Managing your remote workers

Just like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can govern what’s important in the physical workplace, remote workers also have a hierarchy of needs. But these are not just equipment or IT needs. Sure, employees won’t get very far without a laptop, company software or remote access to customer records. But these things sit at the bottom of the pyramid of what you need to provide remote workers.

As an employer looking to make remote work effective, you need to foster a culture that embraces and seeks to include remote workers as much as it does centralised workers. You must consider your staff’s differing needs, boundaries and time zones. After all, you don’t want that ‘urgent’ request to land in their inbox at 1am.

You must ensure that leaders and co-workers are mindful that they could be working very different hours than their colleagues or teams, and to factor this in when waiting for a response or check-in. Before embracing a remote-first culture, companies must implement frameworks to educate, harmonise and manage all workers at all levels, regardless of location.

Businesses also need to find a balance between asynchronous and synchronous communication so that time is used effectively and needs for connection are met. Do your teams need to make every decision on a Zoom call? Or can they work something out over Slack?

The more distributed your workforce is, the harder it will be to find meeting slots that suit everyone. When you and your employees select a new remote working location, you need to plan how frequently you want your people to connect ‘live’.

Many remote companies choose yearly retreats, where all employees (remote or centrally located) can meet in person. These events help employees connect, collaborate and realign themselves with the company’s mission and values.

Remote working doesn’t have to mean your people constantly work in silos. It should mean that they can work from an inspiring location, have fulfilling experiences and integrate work and life better.

The right tools for the (remote) job

Technology is fundamental to effective remote working. The right project management system can help workers perform better, find it easier to complete tasks and inspire collaboration. And a top-of-the-range HR system makes organising a distributed workforce achievable.

When it comes to managing remote workers, employee management software solutions are there to safeguard your interactions. Cloud-enabled solutions like document management ensure all staff can store, access and manage information from anywhere effortlessly.

Online information portals give your staff on-demand access to information like their total reward statement. A digital communication channel also means they can access resources quickly and easily in a way that overcomes those tricky time differences.

Tech can also be the key to gathering all-important feedback and insights from your workforce about your remote work policy. For instance, pulse surveys that allow employees to respond anonymously mean they’re more likely to be honest.

Technology also enables remote working and fuels the work-life blend, a world where work and life fit together. A world where you and your people can get the job done but not at the expense of a child’s first football match or that pottery evening class.

For too long, people have been forced to fit life in around work. Now, remote work offers the opportunity to make work fit with lives. Let’s not waste it!

By Adam Coleman

Adam Coleman is the CEO of cloud-based HR software company HRLocker.

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