It’s really quite simple: when people lack the tools to do their job, they either struggle mightily or fail altogether. Either way, your company pays the price.
Now that remote work is here to stay, with many firms allowing most employees to work from home full-time or in a hybrid arrangement, smart companies are putting in place policies that ensure every remote worker is able to perform to the best of their abilities.
This begins with a safe, comfortable and fully outfitted workspace, which must then be complemented with adequate mental and emotional support. Let’s start with the space.
The first step is determining your firm’s approach. Will you provide a laptop and additional equipment to new remote hires, or will they be expected to take care of their tech needs?
We might recommend a middle-of-the-road in which your company lays out a certain amount as a stipend for every new hire, either to fill gaps or provide a boost. If the new staffer has no computer or headphones, for instance, your firm would provide them.
But if the new remote hire has a reliable laptop and headphones, your firm could instead provide graphic design software and a comfortable chair. A smart, flexible policy will allow for worker customization, which is why a stipend is often the best approach.
Once you’ve established your policy, assess each new hire’s home office setup to ensure it’s comfortable and includes all the necessary tools. In addition, they should have access to a space where they can shut the door and keep out noise and distractions when needed.
This might be a guest bedroom, basement, attic, den, or private booth in a coworking space. If their home offers no possibility for quiet privacy, your firm might want to provide a membership to a local coworking outfit.
Write it down: in the years ahead, the business world will see a rise in the number of lawsuits initiated by workers sustaining injuries from poor home office setups.
The home office is meant to be just that, an office. It shouldn’t be a couch, a dining room table, or patio furniture. Over time, non-standard desks and chairs will cause problems for the human body. Pressure on the wrists due to table edges will cause carpal tunnel, screens at anything other than eye level will increase stress on the neck, and poorly adjusted furniture will result in long-term, sometimes permanent back problems.
Companies will need to take steps to address all the possible pitfalls. This could include consultations with ergonomics specialists, expanded training that includes remote safety, and regular visual check-ins on your remote staff’s equipment and well-being. We would also recommend an informed and comprehensive remote worker agreement, to ensure understanding of each side’s roles and responsibilities in this area.
Be sure to set high standards that ensure that all your remote and hybrid workers have fast, reliable Wi-Fi, a quality laptop, a working headset, and access to quiet. You probably want to set a minimum bandwidth speed since their internet connection is the lifeblood of their productivity. They need to be able to interact with co-workers without interruptions.
Supply your remote worker with high-quality equipment. That extra $200 you invest to provide reliable and dependable equipment will reduce the likelihood they will encounter a hardware issue that prevents them from working. Unlike office workers who can grab the spare PC in a pinch, a broken workstation may leave a highly-paid team member working off their iPad until you can send them a new laptop.
Invest in a decent remote IT support service. If your company isn’t large enough to have a dedicated tech support department, there are plenty of contracting companies who can provide IT support remotely, usually at a reasonable price. Look for a firm that provides a quick turnaround and is willing to back it up with a Service Level Agreement (SLA). The SLA should outline how fast they will respond to and resolve low, high, and critical issues for individuals, teams, and the whole company. When your whole company is unable to log into your intranet, you want to know it’ll be someone’s top priority.
Providing IT support isn’t just about having a plan in place to resolve incidents. You want to be proactive as well. Most computers need regular maintenance. A good IT partner will also be able to remotely log into your team’s computers and install necessary updates, security patches, clear caches, and scan for viruses.
Plan to replace remote equipment more regularly than you would in the office. Whereas most office-based PCs are scheduled to depreciate over three years, the home-office computer should be replaced every two years. This further reduces the risk that a catastrophic event will take a highly-valued employee offline for a day or two or longer. If cost is an issue, provide a buy-back plan for your employees. A large percentage of employees will appreciate having a second laptop at home for personal use or school work. Plus, you’ll now have an insurance policy if their primary computer fails.
And don’t forget about audio. We rarely think about it, but high-quality audio is an absolute must for today’s telecommuter. After all, being unable to see others makes little impact, but if people can’t hear you, or you can’t hear them, the meeting is sunk. Don’t underestimate the impact of furnishing new hires with durable, reliable, and comfortable headphones. Particularly when it comes to remote, productivity requires excellent communication.
In a traditional office setting it’s easy to make sure your employees have everything they need and are mentally and emotionally OK. With remote, the challenge is much greater, and it’s on managers to keep their workforce safe, healthy, happy and productive and ensure companies stay competitive in today’s telecommuting business environment.
Check out Virtira’s Remote Work Agreement Sample Clauses
Cynthia Watson is the Forbes Books co-author of The Power of Remote: Building High-Performing Organizations That Thrive in the Virtual Workplace. She is Executive Chair of Virtira, a completely virtual company that focuses on remote team performance. She wrote her 1993 master’s thesis on telecommuting, then went on to build a career around the concept — running and advising a variety of companies while traveling the world. Watson’s previous book was How To Work From Home And Actually Get SH*T Done: 50 Tips for Leaders and Professionals to Work Remotely and Outperform the Office.
Shane Spraggs is the Forbes Books co-author with Cynthia Watson of The Power of Remote: Building High-Performing Organizations That Thrive in the Virtual Workplace. He is the CEO of Virtira, a completely virtual company that focuses on remote team performance and whose client list includes Fortune 100 companies.
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