We’ve talked before about remote working and the pros and cons involved with making it an option for employees. But letting employees occasionally work from home is a lot different than hiring full-time remote workers—employees who rarely, if ever, set foot in the physical office because they don’t live in the same city or even the same country.
Remote working continues to be on the rise (in the last decade, the number of remote workers has increased 115%) as more and more organizations become open to the idea of having full-time remote workers on the payroll. But just because they may have had success with allowing employees the opportunity to occasionally work from home doesn’t guarantee the same for adding full-time remote workers to the mix.
There are challenges these workers face that, if left unaddressed, can easily push them from “remote working” to “remote quitting” to “not even remotely interested in working for this company ever again”. Fortunately, these challenges can be tackled and overcome by a robust, reliable modern intranet.
Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2018 report revealed that one of the biggest struggles cited by remote workers is collaboration/communication. The limitations the remote worker faces just trying to interact with their teammates can quickly drive a wedge between the two. But, as it just so happens, collaboration and communication are two of the main building blocks of intranets, and any modern intranet should enable users to:
- Message individuals directly and share attachments without having to use email
- Create and manage group chats
- Collaborate on projects and track progress
- Make video calls when there’s a need for a more face-to-face conversation-like discussion
Recently, one of my colleagues who also happens to be a full-time remote worker, made the cross-country trip to attend an event at our HQ. I asked him for his perspective on being the only remote-working member of his team and how using an intranet has factored into it. He echoed the advantages mentioned above, iterating the value in having access to an intranet: “It’s really great to have all those avenues to explore for assistance and communication”.
When you physically work alongside your peers, it’s so easy to ask someone a question on-the-fly. Like, leaning over your desk to ask Marcella if she can reinstate your access to the team’s project folder (that was “accidentally” removed right after you said her recent PowerPoint presentation needed more “zing”), or stopping Curtis in the hall to ask about a workaround for a recent product bug and getting a quick reply (a reply that you may need to get deciphered by someone fluent in developer-speak, but a quick one, nonetheless).
Remote workers don’t have that luxury of being able to lean over to speak to the person next to you or to stop someone in the hall for a piece of advice. However, this isn’t an issue when you have an intranet because even at their most basic, they should offer the following key features:
- The ability to see and send a message to anyone who’s currently online.
- A document library that can house an organization’s most current policies, procedures, guidelines, and other pertinent information.
And for remote workers who directly deal with customers, these two things are crucial. My colleague, for instance, spends most of his day on the phone with prospects doing product demos and discovery calls. So, when he gets asked for information he doesn’t have on hand, he needs to find it fast. Being able to easily pull up the content he needs or to get quick assistance from someone else who’s online, means he never has to sacrifice the flow of a call or demo by hitting that “on hold” button in order to frantically scramble for info.
Keeping up with the company
Difficulties finding out the latest company news or problems with staying properly apprised of important information can be an annoyance for anyone. But these types of situations can have an even more adverse effect on the worker who is already physically isolated from everybody else.
The remote worker who has to spend a portion of each day clicking through an inbox of non-relevant reminders, building or location-related notices, and in-house spam (like Amber’s daily Marketing reports, which he gets even though he works in Tech Support and doesn’t even know Amber. Unless you count that time when she emailed him to fix her monitor and he had to explain that he wasn’t their in-house IT guy, but the remote customer tech guy. And no, he couldn’t just take a look at it anyway, because “remote” means his desk is about 3,000 km away from hers). Well, he’s just one frustrated step away from hitting “delete all” and calling it quits.
But a modern intranet, with an always-updating news feed that allows users to catch up on the latest happenings at-a-glance, does away with all that. Especially if it also has a targeted content feature, which means no worker, remote or otherwise, will have to waste time sifting through content that doesn’t concern them.
Or as my colleague put it, our own intranet (the Jostle intranet) makes it “very easy to see what’s going on and I don’t have to worry about missing something important”.
Connected to the culture
Also cited in the Buffer report, was the other top struggle found to be facing remote workers— loneliness. And this should be the easiest to understand, since “remote working” is really just another way to describe “working apart from everyone else”.
It can be tough working day after day in an environment so far removed from everyone else in an organization. Not being able to benefit from the atmosphere provided just by working alongside others, let alone participate in any casual interactions most people take for granted, can easily lead to not only loneliness, but (yikes) potentially to depression.
I asked my colleague how he manages to deal with this particular aspect of remote working, because transporting someone to their physical HQ is one thing an intranet can’t do (…yet). He replied that “you can’t beat being in the office, but the next best thing is having this platform to make you feel connected. You can always see who’s online, you can reach out to anyone, access any info you need”.
He went on to say that even though he’s not there physically, there’s a sense of inclusion he feels when people at our HQ share their news, activities, photos, and updates to our intranet’s feeds. It makes him feel connected to everyone on a more social level.
So, even though an organization’s remote workers can’t physically attend the social committee’s lunchtime Mexican Fiesta party, a modern intranet can put them there in spirit. They can follow the real-time updates of the event, laugh at the photos, and add their surprised reactions to Janessa’s comment about her “homemade” queso dip (because even they know that Janessa can barely pour milk over cereal, let alone melt cheese and dice veggies).
An intranet can be a benefit to everyone in an organization, but it can have a profound impact on the success of remote workers by enabling them to reach a level of workplace connection that would simply not be possible otherwise. And this benefit doesn’t just stop at the worker. As author Dan Schwabel stated to Reuters about the importance of keeping remote workers engaged, “employees will work harder if they have a sense of connection.”
Which certainly seems to ring true for my colleague, who left me with this intranet affirmation: “Things are constantly being shared (on our intranet) and it makes me feel like I’m a part of everything. I always feel like I’m in the loop, and that keeps me motivated.”