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Remote possibilities

Why now is the time for your business to embrace remote working

By Cindy Bates

When was the last time you fielded a work call from the sidelines of your child’s sporting event or while in line at the grocery store? Chances are it wasn’t too long ago, considering the fact that an increasingly mobile marketplace is slowly but surely unraveling the sense of “office hours” and making it possible to conduct business in far more places than ever.

Not only has it become possible for you to work anytime, anywhere, but the ability to work remotely has actually become a business imperative, even for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

A recent survey conducted by Microsoft and Ipsos Public Affairs gauged the opinions and attitudes of 1,285 information workers in 15 U.S. markets toward telework at their businesses. The results indicate that telework is becoming more than just a corporate perk for SMBs.

More than half of SMB information workers (59%) say their companies provide access to tech support for working remotely. Additionally, 39% of respondents report that their company has a formal telework policy, and 72% of those surveyed indicate a positive preference for remote working.

A crucial ingredient for success

The statistics point to a growing acceptance among SMB decision makers that their success depends in part upon their ability to mobilize employees. Indeed, failing to embrace remote working and the technologies that support it could result in lost business opportunities, not to mention dissatisfied employees, clients and customers.

Millennials in particular have come to expect flexible work environments, and this means SMBs will face increasing expectations of telework options from their employees, while external audiences will demand more real-time responsiveness and access to information.

Yet, SMBs do have some catching up to do when it comes to capitalizing on flexible work arrangements and making the most of technologies that support remote working. On average, SMB information workers work remotely 3.2 days per month, even though they would prefer to do so eight days per month.

A win-win situation

When SMBs embrace remote working, it’s rare that one side gains more than the other, since telework provides a host of benefits to employees and employers alike. The primary reason to telework, as cited by the survey respondents, is to counteract transportation challenges, such as escalating fuel prices and long commutes.

Additional reasons for and benefits of remote working included striking a better balance between work and home priorities, increasing productivity and needing to complete unfinished work.

Employers who support remote-working scenarios also stand to gain, since they acquire access to a larger talent pool that stretches beyond their immediate geographies and reap the benefits of more productive employees. Employers also might find that remote-working policies enable them to reduce overhead costs, since having fewer employees in-house can significantly reduce office space requirements and energy expenses.

Furthermore, giving employees the ability to conduct business outside the office often means getting more face time with customers and partners, a bonus that can sharpen an SMB’s competitive advantage.

Developing your telework plan

Each business’s remote working policies and arrangements will vary, depending on the nature of an organization’s services and products. For example, a coffee shop will always need employees present during business hours, as the functions of food service demand the physical presence of employees. But, with the right technologies in place, coffee shop employees also could easily conduct behind-the-scenes tasks, such as accounting and marketing, from remote locations.

Therefore, as you begin or refine the process of developing your business’s remote-working strategy, consider the following, while also keeping in mind that every business is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all remote working scenario:

Does your company have a formal or consistent policy around telework? If not, make steps to form one. Establishing telework policies will help employees better understand their privileges and limitations and will also set a foundation for technology implementation.

What are your business’s internal and remote technology capabilities? For instance, how easily can your employees communicate and collaborate with one another inside the office, and do they experience the same capabilities outside the office environment? Incorporating internal collaboration tools and leveraging cloud-based software that’s accessible anywhere that employees have Internet connectivity will enable them to conduct business with greater efficiency and speed both in and out of the office.

How secure are your internal and remote systems? In an effort to increase accessibility and enable instant collaboration, many business decision-makers err by relying on public networking or social media platforms, even though these solutions are not appropriate venues for the exchange of sensitive ideas and information. Therefore, invest in communications technologies with heightened security protocols, always prioritizing the integrity of your business’s information rather than getting sidelined by free solutions that can’t guarantee the protection your business needs to succeed.

For today’s SMBs, the good news is that technologies that support telework are rapidly advancing and are also becoming increasingly affordable. There’s never been a better or more pivotal time for SMBs to capitalize on the new world of mobile work.

Cindy Bates is vice president of Microsoft’s U.S. SMB organization where she is responsible for the company’s end-to-end SMB sales and marketing efforts, including SMB strategy; business development; regional field sales; and national distribution sales, channel marketing, and customer marketing. Bates is an 11-year Microsoft veteran and blogs regularly at www.microsoftbusinesshub.com, where you’ll find technology tips and resources related to remote working.


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