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How to Enable Successful Remote Environments

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Work-life has changed drastically and unpredictably since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly everyone that can work from home has done so, and with little time to prepare. While this is non-traditional remote work experience, many business leaders are considering supporting remote work permanently – at least in some capacity – as we emerge from our current situation.

This is largely due to the competitive advantages remote work provides over office-first businesses, including increased employee productivity and engagement. This increased productivity drives better performance and, in turn, more profits. Decades of Gallup research shows that highly engaged employees are 15% more productive when they work remotely, and highly engaged workplaces claim 21% higher profitability.

Given this, businesses who have adapted successfully to remote work aren’t expected to rush back to the office any time soon. In fact, a recent study conducted by Motus found that once stay-at-home orders are lifted, as many as 30-40% of companies could permanently spend more time working remotely than in an office – a substantial increase from what business looked like before the pandemic.

The Business Advantages of Remote Work

Having a large remote workforce has numerous advantages for both businesses and their employees. Without commuting, employees can increase their focus on their work, reduce costs on once-necessary items – like gas – and find their own work-life balance. This has led to greater employee satisfaction and retention for businesses. Furthermore, as they are no longer limited by geography, employers can access a larger talent pool when looking at potential recruits.

Many have also experienced near-term savings on utility bills and in-office perks. But beyond these immediate savings, there are much larger savings opportunities when businesses embrace a remote work culture, for example:

  • Office space: Dedicated office space costs businesses $12,000 per employee every year, and office space leases are typically one of the least flexible costs of running a business. By reducing the number of workspace businesses need, they can reinvest office real estate spend into other initiatives that benefit their workforce. This includes investments like employee development and engagement and even perks like childcare or travel stipends, onboarding retreats, or home office setups.
  • Reduced absenteeism and business continuity: Unscheduled absences cost U.S. businesses $300 billion every year. Employees equipped to work remotely are more adaptable and can continue work through unplanned interruptions that disrupt work—for example, an HVAC problem in the office building or inclement weather.
  • Lower voluntary turnover: Losing a valued employee can cost a business $10,000 to $30,000, and 95% of businesses say that remote work has reduced voluntary turnover.

Enabling Successful Remote Work Environments

With increased flexibility, autonomy, and work-life balance for employees – and greater productivity and continuity for businesses – remote work benefits are numerous. Our current work from home situation is unique because they need to act swiftly at the onset of COVID-19 gave employers limited time to prepare employees for productive work in a home environment. Looking to the future, they have more time and ample options to consider that will enable successful remote work scenarios.

In the absence of a dedicated office environment, employers’ most important thing to do is to provide and deploy the tools and equipment that will enable employees to productively carry out their work – namely, a computer and a phone. They can provide these devices in a few different ways.

Company-provided approach:

One option is to supply employees with everything they need through a company-provided approach to supply computers, phones, and sometimes a dedicated internet connection.

However, even with enough time to procure and deploy equipment to every employee, this approach is expensive. Along with providing the actual devices, employers need to provide support for them. While expenses like a computer are one-time costs, phones are a mixture of a one-time device cost and recurring costs for data and service.

For every 500 company phones provided, the average company spends more than $3,000 per month in support. Considering that most employees already have a personal cell phone and an internet connection in their home, it might not make sense to supply these a second time.

BYOD programs:

A second approach is to enable a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program in which employers most commonly choose to pay a stipend to those who work remotely regularly. However, many employers are inconsistent in their approach to stipends. Sometimes amounts depend on when an employee was hired or what an employee negotiated when they were hired.

Additionally, when stipends are rolled into compensation packages, and employers don’t have the data to substantiate the amount paid, stipends are taxable. This means employees who receive a $100 taxable stipend each month; they only take home $70 of that stipend. Furthermore, remote work has costs beyond the mobile phone that should be considered when deciding what a stipend should cover. Frequently overlooked costs include high-speed internet and the space employees use in their homes as a dedicated workspace.

With employment laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which require employees to be reimbursed for any business-related expense, employers who follow a stipend approach put themselves in danger of failing to reimburse employees on-the-job expenses fully and can become entangled in costly lawsuits.

Localized reimbursement rates:

The third (and most accurate) approach is to reimburse using localized reimbursement rates, which factor in geographic costs. This is important — as phone, internet, and home office costs are not the same in every location — and different roles require different levels of availability. Some jobs require employees to be responsive outside of business hours, while others require more limited connectivity.

The average national cost for these expenses ranges between $90 – $126 per employee per month – so what is the right amount? By factoring in the amount of connectivity required and geographic costs, employers can ensure that their employees are fairly and accurately compensated for the costs they incur at the benefit of their employers.

More than 90 million people in the U.S. today have a job that could be performed at least partially from a remote location. As businesses look to the future, some have already announced that they will be transitioning to permanent remote work environments. Companies that empower employees with the tools and resources to be successful will find themselves at an advantage as the way we work continues to evolve.

Image Credit: andrea piacquadio; pexels

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The Competitive Advantage of a Mobile-Enabled Workforce

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Even before we made a dramatic pivot to favoring remote work due to coronavirus (COVID-19), there was a shift to mobile workforces and BYOD underway. According to research conducted in October 2019, as many as 70% of U.S. employees were no longer sitting behind a desk every day, and there were already more than 92 million mobile-enabled workers in the United States. Here is the competitive advantage of a mobile-enabled workforce.

The mobile-enabled workforce had grown 11X faster than the total workforce from 2005 to 2019.

Employers were exploring the extent of this change and how it was impacting the business and bottom line. Those instituting mobile workforce plans believed they would ultimately be at a business advantage (though none could have foreseen how quickly that would manifest).

Beyond the qualitative benefits of workplace flexibility, it was estimated that employers could save $11,000 per year for every mobile-enabled worker when taking into account workspace leases, amenities, and more.

Clearly, not every business or employee can do their job or be fully productive when they work remotely. Perhaps they need a particular piece of equipment to perform their job duties or don’t have an acceptable space to use for work. But groups that often work in the field, mainstream office employees, and people in leadership roles should be enabled to work remotely. What’s more, they can be just as productive working remotely as they are in the office.

Acting Short Term While Thinking Long Term

Namely, these businesses experience a less severe drop in productivity, efficiency, and output.

It’s important to remember, the advantages of having a sizeable mobile-enabled workforce are not limited to situations such as the once-in-a-generation type response to COVID-19. Even lesser disruptions, like a power outage affecting an office or inclement weather making travel to the office slow or dangerous, are situations where being mobile-enabled is an advantage.

For business leaders looking to expand their mobile workforce’s numbers – either immediately or in the longer term – there are cultural and structural changes that should be top of mind.

Culturally, organizations must find ways to limit the need for onsite attendance as the norm. The preparation should involve increasing the use of communication tools for collaborative work sessions and facilitate quick questions or back-and-forth discussion. Furthermore, businesses must set achievable goals when it comes to shifting the focus from staying at work during work hours to completing work during work hours.

Structurally, the first and most apparent employee needs are devices and tools that will enable them for mobile work. Those devices must be secured appropriately for remote work and extended periods away from the office, which could present challenges for IT and regular activities such as patching.

For those who can work from home, employees should be provided with what they need by the employer, or the expenses to pay for coverage at their home address – i.e., reimbursement for mixed-use assets – must be legally taken into consideration.

Reimbursement is vital and will be an exciting development to follow as businesses and the economy adjust to this period of increased remote work. Over the past few years, emerging trends in employment law have required employers to recognize even small tasks performed by employees on their own devices as work.

Employee work includes quick duties like clocking in or out – amounts of time that would have been considered too small to track in the past. As a result, unpaid BYOD programs have recently exposed employers to lawsuits. In the recent rush to remote work, those legal considerations may be taking a back seat to the physical constraints preventing remote work — whether that continues to be the case as businesses see a return to standard remains to be seen.

Creating Flexibility Where You Have Control

There are issues outside a company’s control, and those are creating dramatic impacts during this outbreak. The making and shipping of goods, for example, is an area where companies are experiencing massive disruption, even those that pulled away from China before the spread of coronavirus began. The disturbance throughout global supply chains is unlike anything we have seen before. Tourism and travel industries are also among the most directly impacted during the height of the viral spread.

Still, there are some issues a company can control. That’s where businesses can gain an advantage by focusing their efforts and creating flexibility. Implementing a reimbursement program can help encourage employees to upgrade their home internet service, so they have better video quality in virtual meetings.

Companies can reduce employee stress over this period of change by communicating clear expectations and guidelines for conducting work in a remote setting.

Having a mobile-enabled workforce can ensure better business continuity in spite of office closures.

Once a company has established a mobile-enabled approach, the business benefits are clear. In the near term, a mobile-enabled workforce can work through a health crisis without close physical proximity to coworkers that might put them at higher risk. But the advantages also extend to increased flexibility in multiple situations.

Conclusion

If you haven’t ironed out your mobile workforce plan yet, be sure to take the structural and cultural aspects of a good plan into account and keep state labor laws and reimbursement regulations on your radar. Once the current health crisis ends, your business will be more resilient and in a better position to thrive in the future.

Image Credit: Ketut Subiyanto; Pexels

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