Remote work is becoming more prevalent in our highly connected world. While these types of work environments offer many advantages, businesses must take care in assuring that organizational structures and consistency in business processes are maintained.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, remote work was on the rise. According to a Gallup report, 43% of U.S. workers telecommuted at least part of the time in 2018. During the pandemic, however, many companies have been forced to transform, virtually overnight, into work-from-home environments. This is forcing companies to take a first-hand look at the benefits and pitfalls of maintaining a remote workforce. Once the pandemic is over and we begin to find normalcy, staff at many companies will return to the office. That said, it is almost a certainty that more businesses will decide to maintain a higher level of remote status because of the financial benefits and flexibility it provides. When businesses transition to this model, the need to maintain organizational structures is crucial. Companies that can create and maintain consistency in their processes will be better suited to counteract some of the risks involved with working remotely.
The Problem with Distance
One of the biggest downsides to a remote-work environment is the issue of communication. Remote work requires extra communication to ensure everyone is on the same page. Overheard discussions, cubical wall meetings, and quick office drop-ins are not possible when everyone is distanced. What could once be accomplished with a quick pow-wow after lunch may now require multiple phone calls and/or emails. Email chains can quickly get out of hand and the simplest of communications can turn into an endless exchange. This is where creating consistent, automated business processes can help reduce the amount of communication that is required for a given task, especially those that are continually repeated.
Using document management software that allows for automated workflows greatly improves the efficiency and repeatability of operations. Because so many office tasks are repeatable, they can be made far more efficient with the help of electronic automation. Not to mention the fact that automating processes greatly improves accuracy and consistency. For example, let’s say a remote employee regularly creates proposals that need to be reviewed and approved by several team members and then filed into an appropriate folder location. Regardless of whether the document is paper or digital, this type of scenario can quickly get out of hand as multiple people give their feedback, resulting in various version of the document and confusion as to whether or not approval consensus has been reached. The back and forth communications can quickly create frustration. With a document management system, a digital workflow can be created that allows team members to approve or decline the document, and provide feedback via electronic notifications. Once approval consensus has been reached, the workflow could then automatically route the document to the appropriate location, keeping it named and filed according to consistent standards. While this is a simple example, even complex workflows can be created and customized to handle more complicated tasks that might include conditional branching, scheduled tasks and reminders, role-based security, and more.
Consistency in Policies and Procedures
Strong policies and procedures are critical when it comes to creating a business environment that is orderly and efficient. This is especially true when it comes to remote work environments. When policies and procedures are clearly laid out and understood by all employees there is less confusion, which reduces the amount of communication that is required for a given task. That being said, managing policies and procedures and ensuring everyone is aware and on board with the latest changes can be a daunting endeavor, especially when employees work remotely. This is where an electronic document management system can once again aid in simplifying these processes. A great deal of time and effort is saved when policies and procedures are managed in a centralized location and the process of notifying employees of changes (as well as tracking acknowledgment of those changes) is automated. Instead of sending email attachments with policy and procedure updates and simply hoping everyone reads through and understands the changes, automated workflows can send notifications when updates are made. Notifications can include a link to review the document from a centralized repository and require recipients to submit a confirmation that they have indeed read the document.
Compliance and Regulation
While strong policies and procedures can help to improve the efficiency of any business, business records and processes that are governed by regulatory requirements must be properly managed to avoid financial liability and risk. Companies that employ remote workers must be extra careful that record keeping practices and regulated procedures are being followed according to the law because distance makes it much harder to oversee that these tasks are being properly managed. Electronic document workflows allow you to define how records are kept and processes are followed in accordance with rules, regulations, and standards such as ISO. Recorded steps and actions in the system leaves an audit trail, providing a record that tasks were conducted according to requirements.
A structured remote workforce
The idea of maintaining a remote work environment can seem simple on the surface. The flexibility and cost efficiency that this type of structure provides is very appealing, especially in a highly competitive world where every dollar counts. However, if a company does not maintain organizational structure and ignores the importance of creating consistency in day-to-day processes, problems can arise that negate the advantages of a remote workforce. Deploying process management tools such as electronic document workflow helps businesses maintain structure and improve processes through automation, which ultimately improves the ways people communicate and interact.