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Will the train and tube strikes push people into more remote working?

Today the London Underground is on strike. Later this week there will be industrial action on Southern Railway. The rights and wrongs of these strikes will be discussed elsewhere, but for the IT community there has never been a more important time to look at a remote working strategy.

There are good and bad times to check how remote working will deliver benefits to a company, and it’s reasonable to say that “before the nick of time” would be best. However, if people are asking to work from home there are a number of considerations and they are not always technical.

Remote working and management

One of the first issues to take to management is that they may not have the relevant skills. Managing a remote workforce is a different operation compared to keeping a group motivated when it is physically present. This is something that can be learned but it is not a trivial undertaking. Trust is a vital element of it, and this can go all the way back to the recruitment stage – have you in place the right people to pick up their tools and work unsupervised?

The technical underpinnings will certainly be important. Video conferencing is available but the cameras on most laptops are suited mostly to shorter conversations; people unused to a lack of eye contact and who might mumble a little could be thrown by the technology. It can be worth investing in better quality microphones at least.

It is also useful to assess the receiving equipment at the employee’s end. A domestic Internet connection will be good enough for most operations but if there is a problem it won’t be prioritised as highly as a business account,

Equipment is not the only issue at the employee’s end. It is worth having a contractual brief as to who is responsible if, say, the employee trips over wire or does damage to his or her back because they have been working at the wrong sort of chair. If they are at work and their employer has authorised them to perform their tasks from home, there needs to be some sort of disclaimer.

Environment is vital as well. Ironically, given the law governing remote working for people with young families, at least one of New Statesman Tech’s contacts once declared that the presence of small children – who can’t be expected to understand that their parents are unavailable – mades it impossible to work from home. And if your workforce is particularly young they are less likely than an older workforce to have a home to work from, since living with parents until later into life is still prevalent.

All of which is before a larger enterprise starts to consider the practicalities of engaging a complex organisation when it is geographically dispersed and ensuring people still feel part of their team, department and the overall organisation.

The rail strikes, although affecting a relatively narrow region, have highlighted these issues. The likelihood of a very cold January and February, with possibilities of snow, will only serve to emphasise them.

So, how’s your remote working policy doing?