There has been a distinctive shift from traditional office working to hybrid and remote working environments since the pandemic. Remote working can offer workers greater flexibility and less stress, increasing motivation and productivity. And a more engaged, productive workforce is excellent for a business’ bottom line.
But mass remote working can present challenges for businesses and their employees, not least when it comes to health, wellbeing and safety. Understanding these challenges and learning how to communicate with remote staff is essential for companies looking to make remote work set-ups a success.
The significance of mass remote working
The trend of mass remote working was borne out of necessity from the pandemic; however the trend is here to stay. Remote working gives employees freedom in where and how they work, making it a popular option. In fact, 98% of remote workers would like to work remotely to some degree for the rest of their careers.
The goal of remote working is to increase productivity and wellbeing by offering a better work-life balance. Remote employees don’t have to commute, giving them more time to enjoy at home. It also allows them the autonomy to work in different places and shake up the predictability of routine when it suits them. This increases motivation and engagement, which translates into greater efficiency and higher-quality work. So, remote working benefits employers too.
That said, mass remote working requires a significant change in how managers communicate with and oversee staff. There are also potential technological roadblocks and personal challenges to consider.
To help, we’ll examine 9 common challenges of mass remote working and offer solutions to help realise the potential of a remote workforce while fulfilling duty of care.
Issues with technology and infrastructure are common roadblocks to mass remote working. Technological challenges include:
- Infrastructure and technology costs
- Network access and compatibility
- Data security issues
1. Infrastructure and technology costs
First, there’s the cost of supplying a remote workforce with the necessary infrastructure and technology. Home offices must satisfy your company’s risk assessment guidelines and technical requirements.
So, the following may need to be supplied:
- Furniture, such as an ergonomic desk and chair
- Hardware, like a high-speed router, computer, and office phone
- Software, such as CRM or accounting software
There may also be maintenance expenses, such as the cost of PAT testing company-supplied electronics every six to 12 months.
On the other hand, moving to mass remote working is likely to reduce costs in other areas. For instance, there won’t be a need to maintain a large office, reducing utility bills, rent, security expenses, and so on.
In addition, tools like an all-in-one remote monitoring and management (RMM) solution allows remote workers to be added and removed as necessary, reducing transition costs.
Read more about working from home legislation and risks.
2. Network access and compatibility
A fast, reliable Internet connection is essential for remote workers. But home Wi-Fi networks aren’t always up to scratch, so network access issues are common. There can also be software compatibility issues if employees are using different programs.
Make sure employees have the technology to support fast connectivity, such as high-speed routers or Wi-Fi boosters. Conduct an IT audit as well to be sure that employees’ personal devices are compatible with the company network and software.
Finally, make sure remote workers can contact the IT department to quickly resolve network and compatibility issues, helping to reduce lost productivity.
3. Data security issues
Home networks and devices are less secure than ones used for business, making them more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Remote workers may also access the company network from several devices, such as phones, laptops, and tablets. This can expose sensitive data to criminals.
To combat data security issues, make sure remote employees have up-to-date security software and VPNs. Workforce management software can help keep track of the devices accessing the network. Plus, passwords and anti-virus software can be managed remotely.
It’s also essential to train remote workers in cybersecurity best practices. This includes what to look out for and how to report suspicious activity.
Mass remote working has several implications for managers that require new ways of operating. Challenges include:
- Remote HR monitoring and recruitment
- Distanced training and development
- Payroll handling and expense management
4. Remote HR monitoring and recruitment
Remote working makes it impossible to physically monitor teams to ensure they stay on-task. Recruitment is also more challenging when managers are unable to organise a face-to-face interview with potential candidates.
Additionally, while going remote opens up a wider talent pool to recruit from, managers may have to sift through hundreds of resumes to find the ideal candidate. So, remote recruitment can be a more time-consuming and tedious task.
The solution to both problems lies in software. In order to monitor teams, software for timesheets can be used. This will track productivity, performance, and engagement in a single app, providing complete visibility across remote teams, helping to set realistic deadlines, prevent overworking, and identify opportunities to delegate.
Likewise, recruitment software automatically highlights the most promising candidates and automates tasks like interview scheduling. This saves time and streamlines the recruitment process for both managers and candidates.
5. Distanced training and development
Training and development are also more complex with a remote workforce. If employees are in different time zones, scheduling training sessions at a time that suits everyone can be difficult. What’s more, while independent learning works for some, others need more guided learning.
It’s important to disseminate a training brief that sets the topic and learning objectives beforehand. Use a combination of live sessions (for instance, on Zoom or Microsoft Teams) and short online modules for employees to work through independently.
Make sure health and safety are at the heart of any training, especially when training lone workers – learn about the importance of training lone workers.
Managers should be available to answer questions and go through the training with anyone who doesn’t understand.
6. Payroll handling and expense management
It can be complicated to manage payroll and expenses if remote workers are spread across different countries. Different nations have different tax and labour laws, and each have their own set of forms and paperwork. For example, employees have to fill out a P60 form in the UK but a W-2 form in the US. You also have to account for different currencies and exchange rates.
One option is to outsource payroll to a third party that specialises in payroll for remote employees. Another option is to invest in accounting software with built-in payroll. This software automates the payroll process and guarantees you follow the latest tax legislation.
With accounting software, weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly payrolls can be processed, providing payslips in minutes. This saves time and reduces errors. Plus, current and historical pay runs can be viewed and analysed securely online, helping to make better decisions.
The best accounting software also includes features such as:
- Creating and sending invoices
- Tracking and calculating taxes
- Automatic bank reconciliation
- Cash flow forecasting
- Multi-currency banking
- Shared access
Learn more about accounting software and the benefits it could bring.
Finally, although remote working is better for employees in principle, practically, it can present several personal challenges.
7. Balancing personal and professional life
While remote working should give employees a better work/life balance, this isn’t always the case.
Working from home can make it harder to switch off, blurring the lines between work and home life. Time management can also be an issue, so employees may work more at home than if they were in the office.
Employers should check in regularly with remote workers and provide time management software to help them stay on track.
Encourage employees to establish a clear routine, so they know when it’s time to stop working and relax. Scheduling regular breaks can also increase focus and productivity, helping to prevent overworking.
8. Isolation and burnout
Perhaps the biggest challenge of remote working is the potential for isolation and burnout. When you’re working from home, you don’t have the same level of social interaction you’d get in the office. This can lead to feelings of loneliness for staff and their managers.
Social isolation leads to poor mental health and burnout, which reduces motivation and harms productivity. This is bad for both employees and businesses.
To combat this, invest in effective communication and collaboration tools—for example, Slack for HR teams or Sage Intacct for accounting teams. Managers should also look at how to address employee mental health struggles in the same way as in the office.
The responsibility doesn’t solely rely on the employer. Employees could consider joining a coworking space or working in a public place like a coffee shop. Similarly, with so many others working remotely, they could organise to work with a friend, family member or colleague.
9. Financial assistance for employees
Working from home can increase employee expenses, so companies often provide financial assistance.
Employees may make purchases on their personal credit or debit cards and submit their expenses to the finance department for reimbursement. The problem is that this makes it harder to control employee spending.
A better way to provide financial assistance is to give employees a pay rise or bonus. Alternatively, use software to accurately track spending and make sure no one goes over budget. That way, you can support employees without hurting the company’s finances.
Mass remote working presents challenges for managers and employees alike. But, by investing in the right solutions, these challenges can be overcome. Technology is crucial for enabling mass remote working; software automates and streamlines employee workflows, making them more productive. It also lets managers monitor and communicate with their teams, provide training, and process payroll for staff dotted around the world.