Remote Working - How to Make the Most of Information and Communications Technology

The world of work is changing fast, and whatever we may face in the future, the chances are there will be more changes. And much of this is being driven by ICT, or information and communications technology.

Many employers have seen the opportunity to cut costs and have introduced so-called “hot desks” and remote working. The changing environment is not always easy for those affected, but it offers potential benefits as well as drawbacks. Time spent commuting can be minimised, as some workers find they can work at home, or another location nearer home, for at least some of their working week.

For staff who are travelling on business most of the time, such as export sales representatives, technology has already taken a good deal of the stress out of working, and in the future this trend can be expected to continue.

For travellers, the big benefits have come from making IT increasingly portable. Expensive telephone calls and faxes to and from hotels are now the exception. The travelling employee can contact colleagues and be contacted almost anywhere (even on flights, facilities to make phone calls and check email are becoming more routine), check data such as sales and prices and file reports while on the move.

For exporters, almost anywhere can quickly become a makeshift office. A hotel room, the lobby, a coffee shop, or on a train. WiFi often gives connections that are very nearly as fast as can be enjoyed at work, while laptops, tablets and even smart phones offer functions that enable most routine jobs to be completed easily.

The biggest challenge for the remote worker is to be aware of the downsides and manage their own working day effectively.

Remote workers need to take steps to ensure they are not becoming TOO remote, and those who manage them need to do the same. Emails, texts and messaging are very useful ways of communicating hard facts and data. But as human beings, we also thrive on the soft stuff, such as everyday conversation, trivia and anecdotes. The widespread availability of video communication through products such as Skype, Facetime and Facebook Messenger can play a vital role in keeping working relationships sweet and maintaining motivation. The written word in particular is surprisingly open to misinterpretation. Very often, what was intended as a harmless remark can read as a cutting criticism, and staff who are away from home on business extensively can sometimes be particularly sensitive to what seem like negative remarks.

Try to maintain regular “real time” contact with key colleagues. Bear in mind that a video connection is usually more effective than a phone call, which itself is often better than an email, at least in terms of maintaining a happy and productive relationship.

The other major challenge for travelling employees is to try and maintain some kind of work-life balance. This is never easy, particularly when travelling though different time zones, but the responsible employer needs to ensure that the worker is not at risk of burning out during a trip. It may bring a hollow laugh to some readers, but travelling employees should only be expected to work reasonable hours and to be encouraged to take breaks away from work, something that is increasingly difficult in an age of portable ICT.

Technology, like money, makes a good servant, but a bad master. Although the machines have considerable benefits in making routine tasks easier, remote workers should always remember that they have off switches for a reason! 

Article written by Tim Hiscock - Associate of Strong & Herd LLP

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