Remote Employee Workforce

Written by on October 31, 2014 in Insight - No comments

Risks & Rewards: Could it work for you?

RemoteWEBDo you currently have a remote employee workforce or are you considering one?  A remote workforce is not for the faint of heart.  However, if you are already using a third party vendor for services such as coding or revenue cycle management then a remote workforce isn’t as foreign a concept as you might think.  Outsourcing business services is essentially a remote workforce, the difference might only be whether or not they are contractors, employees or a vendor relationship.  While some principles remain the same in any remote workforce situation, having an employee work remotely creates the possibility of more risks but also more rewards.

Trust and mutual respect are the foundation for allowing employees to work autonomously.  If you don’t trust your employees when they are working in the office next door, you certainly aren’t going to trust them to work remotely.

According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, 79% of U.S. workers say they would like to work from home at least part of the time (WorldatWork Telework Trendlines 2009).

GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics also offers fascinating statistics as follows:

If employees worked from home just half the time, the following would happen:

  • Typical business would save $11,000 per person, per year.
  • Telecommuters would save between $2,000 and $7,000 a year in transportation and work related costs.
  • Telecommuters would gain back the equivalent of 2-3 weeks of free time per year.
  • 36% of employees say that they would choose telecommuting over a pay raise.
  • Studies and empirical evidence shows productivity increases of between 15% and 55%.

Some benefits of telecommuting are:

  • Employee satisfaction
  • Reduce attrition
  • Reduce unscheduled absences
  • Increase productivity
  • Saves money
  • Increase employee empowerment
  • Increase collaboration
  • Expand talent pool
  • Environmental factors
  • Continuity of operations

The benefit to continuity of operations and disaster planning cannot be emphasized enough.  In the case of natural disasters or inclement weather, having a remote workforce allows your staff to keeping working.  However, in realizing those benefits, there are obstacles that must be overcome:

  • Mistrust
  • It’s not for everyone
  • Co-worker jealousy
  • HIPAA Security Issues
  • Infrastructure changes
  • Collaboration
  • Employment laws/OSHA

How can you overcome these obstacles in a way that makes the implementation of a remote workforce successful?

Business Impact Analysis

A business impact analysis is the first critical step in realizing a remote workforce.  You must analyze every piece of your business and workflow to determine how your workflow will change.  Can every employee do the same job remotely that they do in the office?  If not, how do operations change to make that happen?  Do you want all employees to work from home 100% of the time?  Do you want staggered time in the office?  Does your current phone system allow for remote workers and routing of calls?  There are many considerations in planning and implementing a remote workforce.

Policies & Procedures

Once workflow and operations are redesigned to allow for remote work, your next step is to revisit your policies and procedures to see what changes are now necessary.    From both an operational and human resources standpoint, many policies and procedures will need to be revised to accommodate the changes that a remote workforce brings.

Training

Managers and staff should have separate training during a roll out of a remote workforce.  Managers will now need to supervise employees in an entirely different way and they need to learn how to communicate with employees in ways that don’t necessarily come natural to them.

Your staff needs to know how their jobs will change.  Ideally, they have been included in the business impact analysis and have a good idea already of what’s in store for them.  However, what they don’t know is what are your expectations of them as a remote worker.  What measurements will you have in place to ensure that work is happening in an appropriate manner?  Employees will be submerged into a world of distractions, ie. dishes, laundry, family members and the refrigerator.  Communication methods will need to be identified and shared with staff.  Will you only use phone and email or will you also utilize instant messaging and group collaboration tools?

Additionally, you have to consider how you will on-board and train new hires.  Will it be done remotely, will there be an “in office” training period before an employee is allowed to work remotely?

Employee Qualifications

Before deciding if an employee has the qualities to work from home, keep in mind that you need to first determine if their current position is one that can be done at home.

When deciding whether or not to allow someone to work from home, some of the preferred traits are independence, organization, self-motivation and trustworthiness.  Does the employee have the home space and will to work remotely?  Not everyone does.  Some employees relish the idea of working from home and then they find out that it can be rather lonely.

An application process for the employee can be helpful to get them thinking differently about remote work from the get go.  Have the employee rate themselves on areas of communication, decision making, goal and objectives, initiative, judgment, oral expression, problem solving, professionalism, quality, responsibility and time management.  If the manager and the employee differ on the degree to which an employee rated themselves, that opens the door to a candid conversation about what needs to happen before an employee is approved to work from home.  As part of the application process, you can also include questions about the workspace, environment, family support, personality traits, ergonomics, safety and security.

Workspace Requirements

First things first, you will want to check with your Workers Compensation carrier to determine if they have specific requirements around covering a remote workforce.  If you plan to have employees in more than one state, how does each state’s Worker’s Compensation laws differ?  Do you want to place requirements on the employees around acceptable workspace to minimize your liability?  Do you want to ensure that ergonomics are appropriate?  Some requirements could include:

  • Work area must be enclosed and have a door which can be shut
  • Lighting must be adequate without glare
  • Desk Height
  • Monitor Height

You will want to consider if you want to do any type of home audit on the workspace to ensure compliance with the standards set forth.  This could be an employee self audit with a checklist and pictures, or you could have a company representative perform the site audit.

Technology & Equipment

One big consideration in a remote workforce is who is responsible for purchasing the equipment that the employee will have at their remote office.  If the employer does not provide the equipment, will you instead provide a subsidy?  Will you cover the cost of the internet for the employee?  There are other questions that might need to be answered first around where will data reside and how the employee will access your systems.

Additionally, from a technological standpoint, there are HIPAA and security implications that need to be taken into account when determining the best way to set up access and communication protocols for your employees.

Monitoring

As the old saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”.  Ideally, you already have measures in place that would be appropriate to also measure remote workforce productivity and efficiency.  Telephone system, practice management system, monthly key performance indicators as well as your timekeeping system will probably be your main resources for measuring employee work.  If not already in place, you could also consider using a time tracking software such as Toggl to monitor how employees are spending their time.  No one resource will measure everything and you may need to spend time manipulating the data to tell you what you need to know.

Communication

Ultimately, effective communication is the most important part of having a successful workforce.  Daily communication in myriad formats will help to ensure that your staff clearly knows your expectations and feels included as a member of the team. It also makes them feel comfortable reaching out to management in times of need and makes them accessible to clients with no interruption in service.  In addition to phone and email, some other options for staying in touch are Skype, Google Hangout, and GoToMeeting.  Additionally, you might need to consider online collaboration tools so that your team can work together when completing projects.  Some examples of those tools are Basecamp and Trello.  There is also the consideration of networking and creating a virtual water cooler.  Yammer is one such enterprise social networking service that can be used for both personal and work related topics.  Think of it as Facebook on steroids for work.  Finally, will you have any opportunities for staff to gather in person from time to time to collaborate as a team as well as to socialize?

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw

Now that you have the backbone for instituting a remote workforce, you only need to roll it out.  Take your time. Use this as an opportunity to make all of your processes more efficient and your communication methods more effective.  Question everything that you do now and include as many people as possible in the discussion. This is not an IT project or an HR project, this is an “everyone” project, and it will influence everything from your culture to your bottom line. A slow and methodical roll-out allows for a pilot program to ease you into the remote workforce world.  It gives you time to identify things that you might have missed in the Business Impact Analysis and allows you to take advantage of what you learn along the way. However, if you have done your due diligence and worked through the process in painstaking detail, then the rollout should be the easiest part of the process. That, and the commute.

By Michelle Durner, CHBME
Applied Medical Systems, Inc.

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