CXO

How IT can help remote workers be more productive: 6 tips

As more tech pros make the switch to remote work, IT departments may need to make changes to their policies to allow remoters to get things done.

Tech is the top industry for remote work, according to a report from Remoters.net, with about 29% of those in the field hiring workers for remote jobs.Working remotely continues to be seen as desirable due to the increased flexibility and work/life balance it offers professionals, and it is, in some cases, becoming more of a norm. In fact, those who work in computer or mathematical fields work remotely more frequently than their peers.

This push toward remote work has the potential to affect the job market. According to one report by Softchoice, 74% of office workers said they would be willing to abandon their job for another that has a better or more frequent work from home policy—even without a pay increase.

SEE: Telecommuting policy (Tech Pro Research)

To keep up with the change, IT departments and tech leaders may need to adapt their policies to better suit remote workers. Because a bulk of a remote worker's tasks are reliant on the internet, IT support proves critical.

"Telecommuting can be an inherently productive way to work, as long as workers are empowered with the right tools, technology, and connections to coworkers and the company at large that they need to be successful," said Rachel Jay, a career writer for FlexJobs. "IT departments should make themselves accessible and available to remote workers. They should have processes and procedures in place in order to help workers who aren't in the same building as them."

When that technology is not there, the remote worker loses their ability to be productive.

Here are six tips for IT teams to ensure that their remote teams are able to get the most work done.

1. 24-hour tech support

Gartner analyst Carol Rozwell, a remote worker herself, said that her day starts earlier than most people's. If, in those early hours, she has a problem with one of her devices and has to wait until regular business time to resolve it, she could lose several hours of work.

"If IT ensures that technical support is available literally 24/7, that helps every employee, but very definitely the remote worker, whose hours may not be predictable," Rozwell said.

2. Updated tools

Often, remote workers are able to be productive based on their own discipline. If their technology isn't working, however, they often can't get any work done, regardless of their efforts, according to Raul Castanon-Martinez, a senior analyst at 451 Research.

Because of this, IT managers should make sure that remote workers have access to the tools they need, and that these tools are up to date, according to Jay. Spotty technology and software can be the biggest hindrance on productivity.

3. Human connection

Active engagement, Castanon-Martinez said, was, until recently, the primary IT focus for remote workers. Because of this, many companies implemented collaboration tools such as messaging and mobile conferencing apps. IT departments must ensure that these apps are properly installed and functioning to keep connections and collaboration between teams strong.

If this is done properly, it becomes less IT-focused. For example, a way for managers to boost remote workers' engagement is to remain in contact with them on a personal level, Rozwell said. She recommended that managers take an active presence in their remote workers' working lives to make them feel connected.

"Explicitly mentioning what people are doing and giving employees a chance to talk, for instance, during a team meeting about something that's personal also helps to establish a good relationship," Rozwell said.

4. New software investments

As the IT focus for remote work shifts, many new vendors are emerging to fill any potential gaps in user productivity, Castanon-Martinez said. Some software startups, such as Sapience Analytics, have been created to help both employees and employers know how the remote worker's time is being managed, he added.

5. Security

IT departments face a major challenge when it comes to security for remote workers, which Castanon-Martinez called "uncharted territory." He noted that there are many startups in this space with security as their primary focus. Some offer tools that immediately identify security gaps and protect information from insider security threats, which is a major concern when working remotely.

The devices remote workers use should be provided with strong security from the company, Rozwell said.

"If you think about the classic—maybe stereotypical—example of a remote worker who may go to a coffee shop and be logging in from there, it's important to ensure that there is protection for the company's files, and the worker isn't forced to use just an open network," Rozwell said. "That's not always possible when you're on a public network, but there certainly needs to be some security precautions that will alert an employee."

Rozwell said that this kind of security could be guaranteed through a VPN or website screenings to avoid potential malware attacks.

6. Accessible corporate applications

IT departments should ensure that remote workers have access to download the corporate applications they need to complete their work in a timely manner, Rozwell said.

"It's important to ensure that the applications that employees need to access have been tested and work well—both functionality, speed, [and] the visualization of the information itself—work on whatever devices employees have," Rozwell said.

The "classic model for IT" involves locking down devices and ensuring that applications outside of the corporate portfolio couldn't be installed, Rozwell added. She encouraged IT to be more generous with that policy, especially as it relates to remote workers.

For example, remote workers may need access to apps for note taking, mind-mapping tools, and more tools that could make them more productive, she said.

Also see

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Image: iStock/Jelena Danilovic

About Laurel Deppen

Laurel Deppen is a student at Western Kentucky University.

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