By Andy Elliot, Marketing Director, International Markets at Mitel

Working from home or remotely is a practice that has been rapidly growing for a number of years, with many employees wanting, or even expecting, the option of working from home and more businesses recognising the benefits of allowing their staff the freedom to work away from the office. The business benefits can be anything from better continuity planning, cost savings, productivity and motivation improvements, and even widening the net for recruitment. However, some employers still have reservations about implementing home working policies.

For remote workers, having the tools that enable them to conduct themselves effectively from wherever they may be working is just as important as the reasons for them working remotely in the first place. However, for employers, there are many other concerns that influence their decision on enabling remote working.

Potential pitfalls

One of the main barriers is still managers’ trust issues, with the concern being that employees cannot be monitored correctly and may not be working hard enough. This is a common view, although in fact the reverse is more often the case. When employees are able to work where they best feel able to achieve results, not only can productivity increase but morale also tends to improve.

That is not to say that being able to properly manage and communicate with remote workers is not important, but often the complication for employers is ensuring that homeworkers avoid working too many hours. Many homeworkers will start their day earlier than expected and continue working later than scheduled, often because they feel they need to make up for misconceptions around working at home being a ‘soft’ option.

Another common issue is employees becoming isolated when working remotely. Companies must ensure that all employees, regardless of their work location, remain part of a well-informed, close team and build time interacting with colleagues into the work routine.

Interestingly, one issue that is often overlooked is the impact on the office environment for those that are not working remotely. Not only can effective teamwork become more challenging when team members are spread between office and remote locations, but also more generally, if people out of the office are difficult to contact, those in the office can feel a loss of connection with their colleagues.

Providing the right technology

The right technology is crucial in delivering an effective remote working strategy. Unified communications (UC) is helping organisations overcome these concerns and bridge the gap between the potential of home/remote working and the real world end-user experience. With the right tools and applications, employees can have an ‘in-office’ experience from anywhere, on any device — enabling remote workers to collaborate virtually with team members so that work can continue and productivity and morale are not affected.

At its most basic level, UC provides a variety of methods for interacting with colleagues, such as instant messaging and video calling as well as phone and email. Having these tools available anytime, anywhere, makes it easier to stay in touch with colleagues and encourages more contact.

However, there are many more advanced tools available to employers. For example, remote workers can use hot-desking to simply login to any handset, whether moving between floors, offices or at home, and their extension number controls the call flow and any enabled features such as pre-programmed speed dials, regardless of location. Customers need not be aware of the employee’s location, so such a system enables maximum accessibility without appearances being an issue. From the business perspective too, this is a very cost-effective way of rolling-out a remote workforce because of its ‘plug and play’ nature.

An effective UC solution enables access to conferencing and collaboration tools via soft, desk or smartphones and provides workers with the ability to share a corporate directory, work on documents or presentations, set up audio and video calls, send instant messages and see each others’ presence status. Whatever device the user chooses at any given time, the UC platform should be able to support all of the features and functionality that they need and expect.

Moreover, UC systems can also incorporate the same management and monitoring software that managers might expect to have available in a call centre, regardless of where employees are actually located. With the right technology systems managers have the freedom to monitor working hours and identify any potential problems.

So rather than pitfalls, by looking after the end-user and providing them with the tools they need to work most effectively according to their individual needs, UC creates opportunities - providing businesses of all sizes the flexibility to enhance productivity, widen the geographical recruitment pool and retain highly skilled employees.