Virtual teams are truly gaining ground in today’s workplace, thanks to the convergence of three factors:
1) More employers recognize the value of flexible work models,
2) Workers are open to remote options, and
3) New cloud-based technologies make it easy to connect, communicate and collaborate.
Many employers now allow members of their workforce to operate entirely from home — while other companies support more limited forms of telecommuting.
Telework = Serious Savings
There are compelling business reasons why organizations and individuals should evaluate this trend. According to research compiled by Global Workplace Analytics, 50 million U.S. employees have jobs that are compatible with telecommuting, and are willing to pursue it at some level. It’s estimated that, each year, if all those who are able and willing worked from home even half of the time, a typical employer would save $11,000 per person, while the typical telecommuter would save $2,000-$7,000.
But regardless of how much money telecommuting can save, one thing is certain — it’s essential to invest in viable technology to ensure that remote workers can succeed in their role.
3 Keys to a Telework Technology Plan
Before assuming which tools are ideal, it’s wise to look for helpful insights from workstyle studies. For example, a 2011 study by GIST profiles remote work behavior across multiple dimensions — identifying locations remote workers prefer, and revealing how they accomplish tasks on the go.
Of course, every business is unique, but when you develop a detailed technology plan for virtual workers, it’s essential to consider three key elements: communication, collaboration and connections. Here are some ideas to kick-start your process:
Communication: There are many technologies remote workers can use to stay in touch with team members, managers, customers, and others. Email probably remains the most common communication channel, but text messaging, chat, and instant messaging are also useful when people need to discuss projects, status and other issues in real-time. The good news is that many of those tools work in tandem or on top of popular workplace communications applications.
Skype and similar audio and video conferencing tools are highly affordable, reliable and are easy to deploy and support. They’re ideal for everything from small group meetings and business presentations, to more formal conference-like events. Google+ Communities and Hangouts are also gaining popularity as simple, freely available tools to help groups connect and discuss topics and projects via audio and video, with file sharing and social tools that enhance and extend those discussions.
Collaboration: Remote workers need tools that help them work together with others to generate ideas, solve problems and manage group projects. Google Docs is a great way to co-create content and share information among team members on an ongoing basis. Also, Dropbox and other cloud storage services are popular for exchanging, organizing and archiving content (especially larger files), and for easily accessing content while on the go.
Connections: With today’s vast array of freely available social media and cloud software solutions, keeping your workforce securely and reliably connected is becoming remarkably easy to do. Intranets provide dedicated virtual spaces that help distributed teams work together asynchronously, using embedded social tools to interact. And integrated suites of cloud-based tools like Google Apps for Business help workers easily create, share and manage all kinds of business documents and communications. To learn more about Google Apps for Business, watch this video overview:
Staying Ahead of the Curve
Whether you tap into new web-based tools, or you extend applications that your company already uses in-house, a technology plan is one way to be sure that all your remote contributors stay focused and productive, no matter where or when they’re working. The pace of cloud software innovation is so rapid, your biggest challenge may be staying ahead of new technology developments. However, your efforts should pay off, with telecommuters that are highly efficient and engaged in their jobs.
Does your company encourage telework arrangements? What tech-related issues do your remote teams face? What tools do you recommend to others?
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