The distributed workforce is here.
Remote work has arrived. Even before COVID-19, researchers were predicting that by 2025, 70% of the workforce would work remotely for at least five days each month.1 Today, of course, many businesses have gone 100% remote, 100% of the time, albeit by necessity. And employees, by all reports, love it. A full 86% of the time, employees who have been given the option of working from anywhere will seize the opportunity.2
It’s good for businesses, too. A landmark study by the Harvard Business Review found that companies get an extra workday a week from each remote employee.3 Another study found that the average business saves $11,000 per employee – per year – for workers who are just 50% remote. 4
But there are roadblocks to ensuring that employees are as productive as they need to be when working. Some are organizational, some are cultural, but many are technical. In this article, we’ll go through the challenges that many businesses are facing today with their distributed workforces and talk about the ways you can apply cloud-based unified communications (UC) technologies to address those challenges.
Challenges of working remotely
A dispersed workforce presents business leaders with new challenges. Many of them fall onto the CIO’s plate in particular. Here are four possible stumbling blocks that could prevent employees from being fully productive.
Limited access to corporate systems and data
When you have employees at distributed locations – such as their homes – they frequently lack easy and secure access to the corporate network and to various applications, especially those deployed in the corporate datacenter. You can put workarounds in place, but they are cumbersome and slow down the user experience, and employees tend to develop their own workarounds and shadow IT solutions rather than turning to IT for help. In fact, easy access to systems and data – and the ability to access them from anywhere – is one of the important factors shaping overall employee productivity.
No single source of truth
Working on documents individually and passing them back and forth by email is a time-consuming, error-prone method of collaborating. But it remains the prominent one today. When you have all these different silos of information, it is inevitably that there will be disconnects between them. And employee collaboration across locations starts to break down when you fail to maintain the correct relationships between employees and data.
Another problem with distributed working is that the proverbial water cooler is gone. People no longer bump into each other spontaneously or have off-the-cuff conversations that can often lead to collaborating on better ways of working. Community knowledge also suffers. The organization lacks a single source of truth that can be referred to when making important strategic decisions.
Difficulty with communications
As helpful as audio and video conferencing are, it can be challenging to master them. Distractions in the home, unprofessional backgrounds being shown to business colleagues, and poor latency that detracts from both audio and video abound.
Email remains the prime business communication tool, and it’s been proven by research to be less effective than person-to-person encounters. A face-to-face request for something, for example, is 35 times more successful than doing it by email.5
Then there’s the trouble of tracking down colleagues in real time. Especially today, how do you call coworkers? On their mobiles? Office phones forwarded to mobile? Home phones? Email is useful for asynchronous communication, but what about conversations that have to happen now, and those times when you need synchronous connectivity to colleagues?
How moving to the cloud – and – UC can help
Moving to the cloud solves many of the collaboration issues with distributed workforces. In particular, cloud- based unified communications (UC) addresses many of these challenges. UC is the integration of enterprise communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, voice – including VoIP – mobility calling features such as extension mobility and single number reach, audio and video conferencing, desktop sharing, and data. UC is not usually a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types.
Better access to applications and data
With cloud-based applications and data stores, employees can access what they need at any time, from any place. With applications like Office 365 or Google Docs, for example, your workforce gains better access to business information and applications from any device. Almost seven out of 10 employees (68%) believe it’s very important that new technologies allow them to work from anywhere.6 Ideally, the technology you deploy should give remote employees the same kind of great work experience as on-site workers, allowing them to access the same communication and file-sharing apps from any location and any device.
Single source of truth
Similarly, this centralized – through the cloud – source of both applications and data means that data silos concentrated on individual employee’s desktop machines or laptops disappear. Everything is done and saved in the cloud, ensuring everyone has the same source of data from which to make decisions.
Communicating effectively to maximize your team’s collaboration will unleash your business’s true potential. There is a strong link between productivity and communication.7 So much so, that one study found that organizations with connected employees saw their productivity improve by up to 25%.8 UC helps tremendously with communications, both synchronous and asynchronous. For example, UC allows you to send a message on one medium – say voicemail – and have it received on another medium, such as email. You can tell through “presence” features if an employee is online and contact him or her immediately through a text chat or video call. A team messaging tool is indispensable for this reason and should be part of your UC solution.
And whenever your distributed team has a video conference, make it a team policy to turn on individual webcams—even if most of your team is in a physical conference room. The goal here isn’t to make everyone self-conscious, but rather to encourage employees to engage with their remote colleagues. By seeing the faces of everyone on a call, your team will feel more present and connected to their coworkers across locations.
they’ll never go back
If given the chance to work remotely, 95% of knowledge workers would opt to work from home, on average 2.4 days per week.9 The total cost savings of the decline in time spent commuting and the actual expenditure on the means of commuting amount to $107.6 billion in a year for the United States.10 Workers could potentially gain 11.9 billion hours in leisure time per year in total through the greater use of flexible working practices.11
With the right technologies in place, employee productivity should rise. It will also increase overall employee satisfaction and engagement. And research shows that the more engaged employees are in their work, the more likely they are to be productive, self- starting and innovative. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, when your workforce is scattered across different locations, collaborative technologies is the best way to foster both collaboration and innovation.12
For more information, visit http://consolidated.com/proconnectyourteam.
1Rani Molla@ranimolla,“How remote work is quietly remaking our lives: Working from anywhere: the good, the bad, the lovely,” Vox, October 9, 2019. https://www.vox.com/recode/2019/10/9/20885699/remote- work-from-anywhere-change-coworking-office-real-estate
2 The potential economic impacts of a flexible working culture,” Citrix, August 2019. https://www.citrix.com/content/dam/citrix/en_us/docu- ments/white-paper/economic-impacts-flexible-working-us-2019.pdf
3 Nicholas Bloom and John Roberts, “A Working from Home Experiment Shows High Performers Like It Better,” January 23, 2015, Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2015/01/a-working-from- home-experiment-shows-high-performers-like-it-better
4 “Latest Work-At-Home/Telecommuting/Mobile Work/Remote Work Statistics,” Global Workplace Analytics, March 2020. https://globalwork- placeanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics
6 Priming a New Era of Digital Wellness,” Citrix, 2019. https://qzc-assets. qz.com/sponsors/citrix/research/Quartz+Insights+x+Citrix+-+Prim- ing+A+New+Era+of+Digital+Wellness+-+2019.pdf
7 “5 Interesting Correlations between Communication and Productivity at Work,” Voxer, May 31, 2019. https://www.voxer.com/blog/correla- tions-between-communication-and-productivity/
8 The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies,” McKinsey & Co., July 1, 2012. https://www.mckinsey. com/industries/high-tech/our-insights/the-social-economy
9 “The potential economic impacts of a flexible working culture,” Citrix, August 2019. https://www.citrix.com/content/dam/citrix/en_us/docu- ments/white-paper/economic-impacts-flexible-working-us-2019.pdf
12 The experience of work: The role of technology in productivity and engagement, The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2019. https://theexperienceofwork.economist.com/
About Consolidated Communications
Consolidated Communications Holdings, Inc., (Nasdaq: CNSL) is a leading broadband and business communications provider serving consumers, businesses, and wireless and wireline carriers across rural and metro communities and a 23-state service area. Leveraging an advanced fiber network spanning 46,000 fiber route miles, Consolidated Communications offers a wide range of communications solutions, including: high-speed Internet, data, phone, security, managed services, cloud services and wholesale carrier solutions. From our first connection 125 years ago, Consolidated is dedicated to turning technology into solutions, connecting people and enriching how they work and live.