5 Ways to Make Your Remote Office More Effective

With more companies going remote and employees demanding more freedom to work remotely following the global pandemic, it should be little surprise that the “remote office” is on the rise.

Work from home programs help modern businesses improve their ability to attract and retain talent—particularly by removing geographic limitations on the company’s access to talent. They can also help to improve employee morale and remove stress factors that contribute to employee burnout.

However, to get the most out of your company’s remote office setup, you need to know how to set up a remote office the right way.  

What Is a Remote Office?

The term “remote office” can mean different things to different people. It used to simply refer to a remote or branch office location separate from the company’s main office. However, that is not the definition of remote office that we commonly deal with when discussing remote work strategies.

If one were to modernize the definition of a remote office following the post-pandemic explosion of work from home and remote work programs, the following phrase could be added to the list of definitions:

A virtualized office setup with a comprehensive suite of productivity and collaboration tools that allow office staff working from disparate remote locations to work together.

In other words, remote office setup is the engine that empowers your company’s remote work strategy. Without the right remote office tools and solutions, you may be hard-pressed to make your remote work strategy effective for meeting your business goals.

Common Challenges of Remote Work

So, what are some of the bigger challenges of remote work that your virtual office setup needs to overcome? Here are a few of the things that have been known to trip up some companies when setting up a remote work strategy:

1. Time Management

Even in a traditional in-person office setting, effective time management can be difficult. However, in a remote work setting, that problem increases immensely. Between the lack of direct supervision, the inability to see one’s team members at will, and the prevalence of distractions that can crop up when people work from home or in a public area, there are plentiful ways for employees to lose track of time or fail to manage their time effectively.

So, any comprehensive remote office setup needs to have tools in place that can help employees overcome time management challenges. This can include things such as productivity and time tracking software, remote desktop control, and even collaboration and communication tools to make arranging remote one-on-one meetings easier.

2. Collaboration between Team Members

In a traditional office, it’s fairly easy for coworkers to have impromptu meetings with one another during the workday to communicate their needs, report progress on specific tasks, or even just say “hi” to remind each other that support is there if they need it.

However, in a remote work setting, such spontaneous collaboration is naturally more difficult to achieve—especially if communication tools are lacking. While email can be helpful for regular status reports and updates, employees can’t really be tied to their email clients all day to check for emergency requests.

So, an effective remote office setup needs to provide employees with collaboration and communication tools that make it easy to send important status updates and requests when they need to. This can include tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, which enable team members to send out pings and requests that appear on one another’s smartphones.

This may mean issuing company-owned smartphones to employees who don’t already own one—though most will since about 85% of American adults own one (Source: Pew Research Center).

3. Building Trust

Closely related to the issue of a lack of communication/collaboration is the issue of building trust when working remotely. Without the consistent face-to-face time that employees can get in the office (and the near-instant response to requests that in-person contact allows), it is difficult for new remote workers to build a rapport with their remote coworkers.

Instead of being friendly faces who provide instant guidance and support, they’re virtually anonymous strangers who occasionally respond to emails or send out various requests. Additionally, lags in communication can make it easier to miss incoming requests or to lose track of work—resulting in missed deadlines and extra friction between team members.

To combat this, team members need a way to manage accountability for work tasks and to ensure that important communications aren’t missed. This is where productivity management software and communication tools can prove invaluable.

It can also help to have a formal process in place for onboarding and introducing new team members to their coworkers and setting up a more experienced team member to walk the new person through the remote work tools your organization uses.

4. Technology Disconnects

One common challenge for many remote office setups is the risk of there being technology gaps in your remote infrastructure. This is especially true of ad hoc remote work setups where office solutions are added as new needs are discovered during the shift to remote operations.

For example, say your business adopts a new PaaS architecture for its remote work strategy. Normally this is a good move since it helps you virtualize your resources to allow employees better access that isn’t dependent on a direct line to your primary office. However, your business still relies on a legacy software solution that wasn’t designed to operate in the cloud.

This creates issues where the software runs in a spotty manner—causing employees working remotely to frequently lose progress as the software crashes and they have to restart from the last backup of whatever file they’re working on.

Finding a way to resolve this performance issue would be critical to making a remote office setup work efficiently.

5. Maintaining Employee Work/Life Balance

With a traditional office setup, where employees come to a centralized location, clock in for the day, then leave at a set time, it’s relatively easy to separate personal and professional time to ensure some measure of work/life balance. However, a “work from home” strategy can make it difficult for employees to consistently make a clean break with work for the day.

For example, let’s say that Bill is working on a major project that needs to be done by the end of the week. Because he’s working from home, the first thing Bill does every day after waking up and taking care of basic necessities is to turn on his computer and start work on the project.

He works until about 5:00 pm and, right as he’s getting ready to “turn off” for the day, he sees he has an email with an urgent request. It’s something simple, so he just does it really quickly since he doesn’t want to leave his coworkers in the lurch. Then, he gets a notification from his phone. Before he knows it, it’s 10:00 pm and he’s still on the computer.

After repeating this process for a few weeks, Bill’s incredibly tired—and both the speed and quality of his work are starting to slip. Additionally, Bill’s fed up with working long days and is looking for an opportunity to change to a job that lets him spend some quality time with his family—much like the 38% of American workers who are looking for a new job opportunity that will let them improve their work/life balance.

To keep employees like Bill happy and productive, it’s important for remote office setups to have a strategy in place to allow employees to shut down and take personal time each day when the normal working hours are over. This doesn’t always mean using technology, either. It could be as simple as setting up remote work policies that discourage team leads and managers from sending requests to their direct reports after a certain hour.

How to Set Up a Remote Office for Increased Productivity

So, what can you do to improve productivity among your remote employees? Here are a few basic things to consider:

1. Nail Down Your Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) Policy for Remote Employees

When using a remote work/work from home strategy, it’s important to define whether employees will be expected to provide their own technology tools (computers, smartphones, etc.) or if your company will be issuing them company-owned tools that they need to use. The advantage of having employees bring their own devices is a reduction in capital expenditures on devices. 

However, providing company-owned devices allows for greater control over how employees use work devices and allows you to create a unified tech stack instead of having to try to integrate each unique device type different employees bring to the table. Additionally, using company-owned devices can help improve security, since you can ensure that remote desktop management and security software is installed to wipe the device remotely if it is ever lost or stolen.

2. Create a Policy for Managing How Employees Communicate.

When working remotely, when and how should employees send requests for information, resources, and assistance? Which communication channels should take priority for each type of communication? What hours of the day should employees not send out communications? 

These are a few of the questions that you should try to answer in your company’s remote work and communication policy. The sooner these details can be ironed out, the better. Setting limits on communication can help employees maintain a better work/life balance by keeping them from having to worry about getting requests and messages at all hours of the day.

3. Plan Out How Your Software Stack Will Work with Your Remote Work Platform

Not every software can smoothly transition into a cloud-based architecture, nor will they all readily communicate with the other software tools your company needs to use. When creating a remote work strategy, it’s important to check how compatible all of the different software tools you plan to use are with one another as well as with the other programs you use. While native integrations are ideal, you may need to compromise and set up an application programming interface or two to get important business solutions to communicate with one another.

4. Try to Streamline Your Technology Stack as Much as Possible

The more software programs you try to get to work together, the more complicated managing your tech stack will be. Review all of the different solutions that your business uses and try to see if there are any that are redundant. Additionally, you could check for newer solutions on the market that would allow you to replace multiple other solutions by combining the different functions of the older programs into a single tool. Cutting extraneous software from your tech stack not only simplifies management—it can help you save money on software licensing fees, too!

5. Work with an Experienced Managed Services Provider (MSP)

Creating the perfect mix of technology solutions to empower your remote work strategy can mean going through a lot of trial and error. This takes time and can be incredibly expensive. 

Leveraging the support of an experienced MSP can be a major time- and budget-saver for businesses that need to set up a remote office ASAP. The MSP will often know which pieces of hardware and software (both local and cloud-based) will be the best fit for your needs—having experience in dealing with a diverse array of solutions from working with other companies in your space. They can also take over the complex task of managing your tech stack so you can focus on running your business instead of worrying if that productivity tool is going to go down without warning.

Do you need help empowering your remote office setup? Reach out to the team at IT Proactive today to get started!

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