Introduction

The idea of working from home (WFH) and the remote employee is something that we have all become far too familiar with in recent years and of course with the Covid-19 pandemic acting as a catalyst for remote work over the past year.

This rise in remote work has spurred faster adoption of employee monitoring and subsequently such software by companies who want to boost productivity — and keep an eye on WFH employees.

 

Working from Home 101

Companies may have initially found themselves scrambling to solve urgent security, data, and collaboration issues related to remote work without much preparation, leaving them vulnerable to security risks and introducing unnecessary inefficiencies into their workflows (which we hope is no longer the case). However, many employers are also allowing or even encouraging their traditional employees to work remotely, and for good reason.

As such, ensuring that employees have the necessary tools and even skills to work remotely has become essential. Furthermore, with much of the workforce being remote, companies themselves need to have the correct tools in place in order to monitor the productivity as well as the overall wellbeing of their employees.

 

What Are the Greatest Benefits of a Remote Workforce?

Now that the employee doesn’t have to necessarily need to physically be at the office, companies have the opportunity to expand the talent pool within which they search in order to recruit new staff- that is, they are no longer restricted geographically.

Other benefits include cost saving for organisations whereby they no longer have to pay for office space or pay less as a result of having moved to smaller offices to accommodate the limited number of staff that make their way to the office. As such utility and running costs are also minimized, as well as costs such as Wi-Fi and electric bills decreasing.

There is also evidence that remote workers are more productive. According to a recent Global Workplace Analytics survey, a full 53% of remote workers reported they were likely to work overtime. That is in comparison to the 28% of in-office workers (Nichols, 2020).

Furthermore, remote workers spared a hellish commute also report feeling less stressed.

What are the essential tools remote workers can use to connect and collaborate?

  • Remote Desktop
  • TeamViewer
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Monday.com
  • Trello

By now it should have become rather clear that not only having the right team for the job matters but ensuring that the team is well equipped for their respective roles makes all the difference when it comes to the success or failure to complete their day-to-day tasks. While a century ago the initial notion stood true, “A man is only as good as his tools”- Emmert Wolf- the adverse notion can now also be applied, “a tool is only as good as the team using it” -Adaptivist.

The New Normal

In the midst of a pandemic that’s led to unprecedented levels of remote working, digital tools to monitor employees in real time are gaining popularity among companies who wish to track employee productivity.

 

Employee Monitoring: How We Got Here

Employee monitoring to improve efficiency is not new, with controversies having stemmed over what should be prioritised: the rights of employers to see what their workforce is doing or an employee’s right to privacy and autonomy.

To put it lightly, keeping an eye on employees’ pre-dates the information age.

Despite concerns around privacy, digital employee monitoring has largely become an accepted practice in measuring not only performance at work but also the level of employee engagement.

For Human Resources departments, analytics applications can provide performance insights across an organisation’s workforce, help identify talent, and offer insights on where employees may need more development or support (be it professional, personal, or in terms of general metal health and well-being).

The future of remote working in 2021

While some companies used to offer the ability to work from home as a perk, it has now become the norm for most businesses. As a result, it is estimated that by 2025, 70% of the workforce will be working remotely at least five days a month (Castrillon, 2021).

As previously mentioned, studies suggest that predictions show that the need for large physical office spaces will gradually become a thing of the past.

 

A Guide to Managing Remote Employees

Now that much of the workforce is based remotely, managing and measuring their engagement is essential.

With this having been a tough feat for most organisations in a traditional working environment, one can only imagine the challenge that they now face with not having constant contact or simply the ability to physically observe employees in the workplace.

 

Keeping Employees Engaged

In previous research, we had considered Brofenbrenner’s (1992) structure of the environment which was adapted the working environment by Paquette & Ryan, (2001), and further considered when looking at employee engagement. The basis suggests that there are five (5) basic ecosystems wherein one exists:

  1. The microsystem– this is the layers closest to the employee and contains structures with which the individual has direct contact,
  2. The mesosystem– this layer provides connections between the numerous relationships that occur between the structures which that exist in the individual’s microsystem,
  3. The exosystem– this layer defines the larger social system in which the individual does not function directly,
  4. The macrosystem– this may be considered the outermost layer of the environment, which is not a specific framework,
  5. The chronosystem– this system has been added to the ecological model in recognition that for certain interactions to be effective, they need to occur regularly over extended periods.

However, now that these ecosystems have shifted from the traditional workplace to the perceived workplace which the individual has created in their remote working environment- previously known as ‘home’, the factors impacting upon the employee in their respective workspaces now shifts and can no longer be controlled, manipulated, and adapted by the employer, but rather rests on what the employee makes of it for themselves.

 

Remote Work Requires More Engagement

In an office setting, a positive attitude and strong relationships open the doors to advancement. One of the disadvantages of working remotely is that it’s more difficult to highlight professional achievements (Castrillon, 2021).

In a remote setting where employees collaborate mostly via email or services such as MS Teams and even Whatsapp, engagement is much harder for workers to convey and for employers to identify. By participating in virtual events, being active in online meetings, and keeping enthusiasm high, employees will be able to stand out as leaders while working from home.

It is however, also up to the employer to offer these opportunities for engagement- be it introducing ‘periods of engagement which may include: a ‘games hour’, offering non-compulsory training sessions for individuals to attend and engage with their colleagues, create a book club for the novel enthusiasts in the organisation to engage and discuss their favourite books for instance.

 

Measuring Productivity

Remote work has changed performance management considerably. Organisations will increasingly focus on work done instead of hours worked, thus making tools and apps to help manage remote employee performance more essential.

Some methods may include:

1.     Create a policy for measuring work-from-home and remote employee productivity- At the most basic level, productivity is a measure of output per unit of time.

2.     Define key performance indicators (KPIs) for each role in your remote team– you will need to establish different KPIs for the relevant roles within your organisation.

3.     Create milestones for each task you assign to an employee– It’s easy to track progress when a task has clear milestones.

4.     Use a task or project management software to track work and create visibility– it makes good business sense to keep everyone on the same page by using a cloud-based project management software.

5. Implement a robust reporting structure- The reporting structure you implement depends on your and your managers’ preferences. Many people like to get an end-of-day report that lists day’s progress. Others are happier with a weekly update. Keep the report formats short and to the point.

 

How to Be Productive at Home

With all the modern comforts of home beckoning for our attention, it would be understandable if employers saw a dip in productivity, yet the opposite is true.

1.     Take breaks.

Many people find success using the ‘Pomodoro Technique’, which follows this method (Ostlund, 2012):

  1. Choose a task.
  2. Work on it for 25 minutes.
  3. Put a check mark on a sheet of paper after the 25 minutes are up.
  4. Take a five-minute break. (This marks the completion of one “Pomodoro” sprint.)
  5. After every four Pomodoro sprints, take a longer break.
  6. Continue this throughout the day until your workday is over.

2.     Follow a schedule.

3.     Keep a to-do list.

4.     Eliminate distractions.

 

Encouraging a Balanced Work/Life Dynamic

With the current and obvious socio-economic position that we find ourselves in, the WFH option has given man the opportunity to remain in the comfort of their homes while continuing to churn out their typical day-to-day output, and in most cases, much more.

Many organisation’s workforce finds themselves working on their living rooms, kitchens, lounges, and in some cases even in what was once their sanctuary- the bedroom.

As such, employers need to ensure that they are stepping in and encouraging their staff to establish and maintain a work-life balance in order to maintain their sanity, sense of control, and mental health- particularly in such times where the happenings in the greater world around us is so out of our control.

1.     Create and maintain your specific workspace

2.     Learn to “switch off” your business

3.     Wear the role

4.     Drop the shame and embarrassment of interruptions

5.     Block out your time and maintain your schedule

6.     Accept that there is no ‘perfect’ work-life balance.

7.     Prioritise your health.

8.     Don’t be Afraid to Unplug.

 

Conclusion

Working from home has become a pivotal part of the way in which organisations are operating today.

That being said, research has found that while the remote employee are more productive, in most instances, the work force is taking some strain when it comes to drawing a line between home life and work life.

Furthermore, organisations have now found the necessity in adopting software and other tools which not only helps them measure remote employee’s productivity but also assists their employees in managing their time and projects more effectively.

Beyond the essentials surrounding employees working from home, lies the crucial need for employees to establish that seemingly mythical ‘work-life’ balance. Really making the effort to establish and maintain that balance much needed- especially when it comes to the physical and mental well-being of the individual and for better functioning as employees.

 

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