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“Working from home” the three words that continue to fill managers with fear, panic over productivity gaps, lack of face-to-face interaction and, of course, the reflex worry that the employee is sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle. Emma Burgess Communications Manager at Interact-Internet.

The rising trend in home and remote-working has, of course, been to a large part driven by technology, the ease with which people network on the myriad of devices, culture and of course widely-available, high-speed remote connections. It is all transforming bricks and mortar into digital workplaces. The CBI (Confederation of Business Industry) identified 59 percent of employers who responded to a survey in 2011 [1], were offering employees the option of working from home, compared to just 13 percent in 2006. Look at BT, a huge advocate of the flexible workforce, with 90 percent of its employees been given the option of working remotely, or working flexible hours. And they have reaped the benefits including; greater productivity, improved employee satisfaction, motivation and retention.

It's taken as read that there is no shortage of technology options to help support remote workers; but above all else, what is fundamental is an intranet that provides employees with a secure, central place that everybody can access, regardless of location, time-zone or language. By providing an intranet that has the right blend of tools, you enable employees to communicate, collaborate and carry out essential business processes, which will alleviate the anxiety for managers about productivity gap. Global organisations, such as Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), a non-profit organisation, which is headquartered in the US, has 1,500 employees working in 15 countries – many working remotely and with differing shifts. Of course this can present huge challenges when it comes to sharing information, communicating, carrying out business processes and collaborating for remote workers. But by deploying an intranet that was easy-to-use for all of their staff, and the right blend of productivity, social and business process tools, enabled their staff to get work done, no matter where they are based, and the workforce is now able to comment, collaborate and find the information they need. This sense of community and improved organisation-wide communication has made it far quicker and easier to pull together information from individual, far-flung countries in one central location, which is needed by head office, to apply for funding proposals, which is fundamental for their foundation.

A smart intranet can have an online area that enables teams of employees who are working together on specific business projects, to collaborate and share ideas, ensuring all members of the team are in the loop, regardless of where they are located. An activity timeline will show team members updates and new content that has been added to the project, removing the need to search through old emails. Online discussion forums enable out-of-office workers to contribute to conversations, ideas and questions, both business and social-related, that would have traditionally taken place around the water cooler, removing the concern that remote workers may feel excluded from a company’s culture and social interaction.

Most businesses will have intranet that can be utilised via the myriad of devices such as; laptop, mobile and tablet and this will help make sure that workers who are on the road are not excluded. But an intranet really should have intelligent capabilities too, pushing the right content to the right person, just as those we see every day on the web, for example when Google pushes information to you based on the location you are in and Amazon shows you things you may be interested in buying, based on your search history and past purchases. This intelligence should be and can be within an intranet software platform and will have huge benefits for employees. Take sales people as an example, they may receive information on the intranet just before a sales pitch, which is critical to their bid. Being able to access the materials they need to make these last minute amendments, no matter where they are based, can be the difference between winning and losing a deal. The challenge lying ahead for HR is rebranding the term “working from home” for all levels of management, evolving it from a perceived productivity drain to a realised productivity gain.

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Emma Burgess, Communications Manager