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Do you agree that work isn’t somewhere we go anymore, it’s something we do?

In favour of it or not, remote working is becoming increasingly commonplace. Employers are dropping the typical 9-5 and giving their workforce the freedom to work wherever, and whenever they do it best.

But, if you let your staff work remotely, does that mean they will lose their professionalism? Or worse still, will they mislay all their motivation and spend all day on Netflix? Some managers fear their workplace productivity will plummet if staff aren’t there to collaborate face to face. Will colleagues stop communicating as effectively?

It’s not just the behemoth tech businesses like Google, Amazon and Apple that are shifting to a flexible workplace culture, either. SMEs, public sector businesses and third sector companies are embracing the digital workplace, too.

So, does remote working improve company morale, or does it mean a loss of control and a break down of communication? I am always keen to speak to real people that use transformative technology to drive a better environment in their businesses. As part of our most recent report, The Technology Trinity, I spoke to three IT leaders driving digital transformation across private, public and third sectors. Their insights reveal honest experiences and candid advice on how to manage a team remotely.

Attracting talent in the legal profession

Mabel Evans, IT Director at Fieldfisher

Technology and digitisation are shaking up the legal services industry. A rise of on-demand, online legal services that are cheaper to provide and equally well paid means that newly qualified lawyers may be less inclined to join a traditional law firm with equally traditional working practices.

Millennial-generation lawyers often favour the opportunity to work remotely, recognising that modern legal work can be carried out from any location. By providing this flexibility, legal firms are able to continue attracting the freshest talent.

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What’s more, legal firms are investing in tech that enables their workers to access information securely off site, providing a more efficient service to their clients. Despite this, digital transformation is often met with resistance in the legal profession. Mabel Evans, IT Director at Fieldfisher, in our report explained why.

“In the beginning, people were used to having a handset on their desk. Our workforce kept thinking of every possible reason to keep their physical handset, like calling IT when their device wasn’t working. But now, most people have laptops and mobiles.”

As humans, we’re often creatures of habit. We like processes we understand and feel comfortable with, even if they are less efficient. The key, according to Evans, is to provide a genuine use case to your staff, and let them experience the benefit for themselves.

“This is where our technology is finally helping people understand the potential in their working lives. Suddenly they have a use case and at that point they realise the possibilities.

Talent trumps geography in healthcare

Dr. Graham Evans, Chief Information and Technology Officer for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust & South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

The NHS is straining under the weight of increased financial pressure, so remote working is more of a necessity than in other industries. With a cut in resources and alarming numbers leaving the professions, NHS physicians are spread across wider locations, expected to service a broader section of the public.

With NHS staff visiting and treating a wider geography of patients, effective remote working and unified communication tools are increasingly critical to provide the necessary standard of care.

In order to access the best people and spread vital knowledge, Dr. Evans looked at technologies to empower staff to work from different locations and collaborate more efficiently; this included a ubiquitous network across the country. In The Technology Trinity, he explained why.

“With our new services, we could pick the most relevant, talented people irrespective of where they live within the UK, to do the same job anywhere in the country.”

Unfortunately, giving staff more flexibility didn’t automatically result in increased collaboration within such an inherently traditional system. There was some resistance to giving staff more freedom and relinquishing control among middle management.

“The biggest issue relating to technology adoption during my time in NHS England was line management as opposed to technology. Because so many came from former parts
of the NHS such as strategic health authorities and primary care trusts, they were used to working and living in the same geographic locations. In creating a more nationwide approach, a digital workplace enhanced collaboration, productivity and output.”

But as Dr. Evans explained, you have to free your staff to let them work more effectively. You don’t need to see your staff every day, or know exactly where they are working. Accountability should be based on output, quality of work and achievement, not physical presence. Unfortunately, a lack of trust can hamper innovation and digital transformation. Dr. Evans, meanwhile, offered some advice about how to manage a team remotely:

“Ultimately, it’s about trust. You have to trust your staff, give them the tools to get on with the job, and manage people the way you’d want to be managed yourself.”

Spreading resources in the third sector

Martyn Croft, Former Chief Information Officer of the Salvation Army

With tight budgets in the third sector, charities need to find creative ways of doing more with less. Remote working opportunities enable not-for-profits to access a far larger pool of human resources, and share skills across multiple locations.

According to TTP Recruitment, managing a mobile workforce is increasingly important to charitable organisations, but over 85% say it is their main technical challenge. So how should charities manage a team remotely? According to Croft in the report, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) was a resourceful option for the Salvation Army.

“Something that struck me was that allowing your employees to use their own mobiles was a very compelling idea for the third sector. With BYOD you can shift your hardware costs on to your employees.”

Knowing that he was in a workplace with a systemic culture of doing things more traditionally, Croft set about combating a potentially negative reaction to digital transformation. So, what was his advice?

“We made time to make sure everything just worked. There were absolutely no excuses. Our staff couldn’t blame flaky, unreliable broadband or a slow connection.”

For the Salvation Army, getting staff buy-in was down to education and collaboration between all branches of the organisation. By taking the time to engage all divisions, learning how staff would like their flexible workplace to function, it became a people-led project. Involving non-technical brains in the process that made it successful.

“We empowered everyone with knowledge on why centrally stored files are better for business security, productivity and transparency.”

So, flexible working and managing a remote workforce has significant benefits to all types of businesses — cost savings, improved resource sharing and access to the latest talent. Across all sectors, meanwhile, it’s a challenge to shift inherent workplace cultures. Managers and staff aren’t always comfortable with more flexibility, so it’s essential to involve the entire business in the changes.

Education and collaboration is essential to ensure everyone’s voices feel heard, and your staff understand the specific benefits for both themselves and the wider business.

Read more revealing insights from our tech experts by downloading The Technology Trinity report.